Shifra: Out of Hasidic Orthodoxy

Autonomy, Deconstruction, High Demand Religious Group, Jewish, Podcast

This week’s guest is Shifra Lowen. Shifra grew up in a small, well-controlled Hasidic community in Canada. As a girl, Shifra wanted to do everything according to the rules of their village. At the same, she desperately wanted forbidden things, like a kitten or a pet bird.

At 17, her marriage was arranged to someone she knew and even liked, and Shifra was on Cloud 9 for a while, though suspicious of her own happiness. Then her husband did something unthinkable.

“…Imagine my shock and fear when I found out that my husband visited a library.” 

Visiting a Jewish library was only the beginning of Shifra’s world coming apart, but slowly she would realize it was all for good—for the good of their whole family. 

Years later, after much learning and growing, Shifra and her family are thriving, living in accordance with their own values and not someone else’s rules.






Finding Our Way Podcast


“I was told from a very young age that libraries are a bad thing.”

“What greater danger—in a sheltered community—than to be aware that there is something else outside of this little bubble that they’ve created for you?”

“We were not told about mental health, nothing…I just understood that there was something else going on.” 

“Now take this to the next level, when things really got hard: Imagine my shock and fear when I found out that my husband visited a library.” 

“One day, my brave little boy had enough, and he ran away from Heder…Once he had the courage to run away, he gave me the courage I needed.”

“…my husband’s first transgression, so to speak, of trying not to hit our children had started us on the journey of liberation.” 

“Imagine what happens if a whole family leaves a [small religious community], they open up a door for other people to do that!” 

“The most joyous day of my life, aside from the day I got married, was the day that I was able to see my kids, the first day of school, going into a place where…they’re going to have the childhood that we wished to give them, that we never had.” 

“…I do not consider myself an atheist; I do consider myself an atheist of the cruel monster-god that I was taught.” 


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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. Thank you to all my Patrons for supporting the podcast. You too can have an ad free experience of the podcast by becoming a patron at atheist. If you're experiencing doubt, the dark night of the soul or deconstruction, you do not have to go through it alone. Join our private Facebook group deconversion anonymous and become a part of the community. You can find us at

last week's guest was Holly Laurent, she's incredibly funny and she is the comedic mind behind mega the podcast mega is an improvised satire in the world of a fictional megachurch. They've just released the first few episodes of a comedy investigative miniseries inside the world of their own show called The Rise and Fall of twin hills. The Rise and Fall of twin Hills is a hilarious riff on the self important to seeking that happens around church scandals and the twisted psychology of those who are inside them. This mini series is chock full of ridiculous scandal. If you think the real mega church pastor improprieties we've seen over the last few years are bad. Get ready for the outlandish high jinks of Pastor Steve Jetson. If you're a fan of great comedy parody or just want a light hearted take on deconstruction, then go check out mega and their new mini series that started on May 21. Look up mega now and follow them. You're not gonna want to miss the rise and fall of twin hills. It's on Apple, Spotify or wherever you get your podcasts.

Special thanks to Mike T for editing today's show. onto today's show. Our lien interviews today's guest Shifra Schiffer grew up in Hasidism, a very orthodox Jewish tradition. She was very highly constrained and what she could do. A part of this theology was that any pleasures experienced now in this world would be subtracted from those in paradise. So no pets, and no seeking after pleasure. She talks about hitting the lottery in an arranged marriage, her husband turned out to be a great person. Her and her husband began to, in our words, deconstruct asceticism, her husband's great sin was going to the library, one of her husband's other deconstructed ideas was that of not spanking their son. And the culmination of that came when their young son was being abused at school. And in the schools, the teacher Raby would have a lot of power, and ultimately was using corporal punishment against shivers will, and that brought things to a head and she has this great line where she says, so if you come to think about it, my husband's first transgression, so to speak of trying not to hit our children, has started us on the journey of liberation. Today, Shiva has more spiritual but not religious. She has a YouTube channel at Shifra Lowen. As well as an Instagram, @yiddishe_, of course, links will be in the show notes. Here is our Arline interviewing Shifra.

Arline  3:53  
Shifra Welcome to the graceful atheist podcast.

Shifra Lowen  3:56  
Hi, thank you so much for having me. Really excited to be here.

Arline  4:00  
I'm excited to get to know you better you and I connected last year when I was on an Instagram Live with Robert affinis, who's also been on the podcast. And you and I connected after that. And we've chatted off and on in shared books. And so I'm excited to hear your story.

Shifra Lowen  4:15  
Thank you so much. I really appreciate it. So I was born in the US actually. But my parents moved to Canada when I was a little baby. So my story starts in a little village outside of Montreal. Okay, back. And I was raised very sheltered. Hasidic in a Hasidic. So, my education was in a religious school so we didn't have like secular studies. Like Rick curriculum in a public school, we had our own censored version of Whatever it is, we had to learn if it was geography, if it was phonics, whatever it is, they hired people to censor out pictures of television, of dogs stuff like that. Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. So I vividly remember, as a second grader, I think it was when we still had those goetia books, the second year books for reading, and there was a full like, picture book, basically. So it was a picture of a dog and a family enjoying their pet. And it felt so I don't know, like, otherworldly, you know, to have a dog to enjoy, like, it sounded. So I don't know if I if I wished to be in that story. But it was like an adventure to find out things that did not exist in my world. You know, in our world, there was no such a thing as a pet. We were not allowed to have dogs or cats, because they are not a kosher animal. A bird is allowed, supposedly, but in our community, people did not have any pets at all. And the funny thing is, one of the other reading books had like a whole family of kittens that were born. And I was so jealous. Yeah, I literally wish that I could have a kitten. And I came home to my mom. And I don't know if I begged her something. But she was like, right away, adamantly saying like, this is not allowed for us. And she told me that when she was growing up, and she visited her grandfather, they had a little bird in the like, in a cage in the house. And she I don't think she promised me to buy a bird. But I wish that one day, she would at least a bird you know. So back to the censoring the books. So as I grew older, it became a lot more strict to not expose the children to anything outside of the world of this little village. And we only had Jewish reading books that speak about doing good deeds that are all, like part of the religious curriculum, but just in in the English language, you know. Okay. So basically what happened is, I was told from a very young age, that libraries are a bad thing.

Arline  7:48  
Oh, wow. That would make sense, though, because they can expose you to everything that you're not allowed to

Shifra Lowen  7:55  
access. It's a source of information, like what greater danger in a sheltered community than to be aware that there is something else outside this little bubble that they created for you, right? Yes, absolutely. So I still remember as a kid, this huge poster that was in the hall of the school, I might, I must have been in first grade. And I hardly could read what it said. But I asked someone and they explained to me that it said that libraries are forbidden. And even the ones that call themselves Jewish libraries, because next to Taj, the little village that I was raised in terrier stash, like a half an hour away is Montreal, and they have a Jewish public library where even religious Jews come to find some reading material for the kids. But this community was very strictly Hasidic, and they were very against going to a library altogether. So on that poster, as a one as a grade, one student, I've just like, took that in so seriously, like it said clearly that it's the trap of the devil and like you should stay away.

As I grew older, I was a very diligent student took in everything very seriously. And I actually started writing songs to glorify this lifestyle, because I believed in it so wholeheartedly, and I wanted so badly to encourage people to stay on the right path. And not just to stay on the right track, but like to give themselves away for God like, because what we were told is that this world was not ever meant to be enjoyed. It's just a passageway. and it's a place to acquire our rightful place in paradise. So basically, every moment of our lives has to be dedicated to accumulate as many good deeds as we can. For every good deed will earn us more joy in paradise. And even more. So, if you are enjoying on this world, then it will be subtracted from your. In other words, it wasn't like taught in a straightforward way like, yes, it was very cleverly taught to the kids in a way where when you say to somebody, something straightforward, they have a chance to question it right? And to think like, does that make sense. But when you say to somebody something subconsciously, if it's like, between the lines, and they just constantly repeat this message in different ways, then it becomes accepted as natural. Like, this is the wage just it's

Arline  11:13  
that's a fascinating point. I don't know that I could have ever articulated it that way. But yeah, you you hear messages, they're not explicit, like, I don't know, that I ever heard, I went to Christian churches don't know that I ever explicitly heard. If you do X, you will go to hell forever. But all the messaging around Hill gave me the impression that there are certain things if I did those, we didn't necessarily believe in losing our salvation, which you know, the all these little phrases that you learned, and whatever the religion you're in, but I knew there were certain things that were definitely off limits, and no one necessarily had to explain it. So I know what you mean, as far as they don't say it explicitly, because like you said, then you can question it. And they do not want you to question it.

Shifra Lowen  12:00  
Sure, not? No. And actually, my husband was told, like ever, even like the time that spent swallowing your saliva has to be dedicated for studying Torah. Otherwise, you're going to pay a price, you know. So that's like a whole nother level that the boys are taught a very different way than the girls were in separate schools. Like, you can't even call the school. It's like a learning center or whatever. But they call it a school. For the girls and the boys, they call it a hater. For the longest time, I've been so conditioned to try to find joy in serving God, and trying to encourage others about the joy they will merit for sacrificing their life for God. And then, at 17, my marriage was arranged. And I got married to a wonderful young man who happened to be the brother of my best friend. Okay, so I was lucky that yeah, it was set up, like very many people in the community, got married to somebody in New York. And for me, I had actually, somebody who lived in my neighborhood, I was already familiar with a family. I already liked the guy because he seemed to be a very kind hearted person. So I was like, not just open to the idea, but I was actually excited to be part of my friends, family and all that

we got to meet for somewhere between 20 and 35 minutes. I don't remember exactly. Obviously, you know nothing about life, you're so sheltered. So what the discussion is, it's just an official date, to say that you met your future partner, because the law in the, in the scripture or whatever says that you are not supposed to marry somebody before you see them. Hence, if they if they are ugly, and you hate them, and it's not fair to them, that you're you're gonna stay married, and, you know, so basically, we had a we had a date, but we didn't talk about our lives together. We just spoke about scripture, stuff like that, you know? And I remember this glorious feeling like while he was talking like something felt so right, like, I felt like at home with him, you know, like it felt safe. And for the first time, I was like, after after the after the arrangement was set like yeah, out, there's there's a ceremony where you break a break plate and you shout, mazel tov. So it's like to celebrate that this engagement should be complete and and it's also to commemorate the broken temple. It's a whole it's a whole custom the way they they do the marriage arrangements. And what happened was I felt very much like I finally have somebody who I feel I can ask anything. That's awesome. Because growing up, some things were off limits, but it felt like this person is so safe for me. I was like, overjoyed. I was so grateful. The way my my arrangement happens. It was really, really like, I don't know if it's one in a million that like, really you have somebody you can click with because it's, it's it's randomly paired up, like there's a matchmaker, and they just see if the family is matched. So it's like really not. Wow, yeah. It's really not so simple. So as I was saying, I was overjoyed. And we got married. And I was so ecstatically happy that I felt guilty coming to school, I worked at the school at the time, I felt guilty coming to school every day, and like seeing that people have the regular kind of life that I've lived till now. And I wanted them to have this kind of joy that I

Arline  16:34  
have. Oh, wow. Yeah, that makes sense.

Shifra Lowen  16:38  
And then my mother got concerned because she saw me like, literally glowing. And she was afraid that my bubble is gonna bust I'm gonna come down from from space, and I'm just gonna wake up to a different kind of reality. So she actually warned me she's like, like, I shouldn't not not only her, I remember my cousin also telling me like after the seven days of celebration, like the bells stop ringing, ringing and it's like, all the glory fades. And I was like, I didn't know what she was talking about. And then my mother was like, I saw the concern on her face. And she was like, sometimes it takes like, three months, and then you come down from the clouds. The honeymoon was, I was laughing in my heart, because to me, it made no sense. Like, I know, who am I married? I'm overjoyed to be with this person. I can try I feel safe with them. I feel at home with them. Like what better thing can? Like? Can I wish for like, Why? Why are you thinking that this has to go wrong? You know? Yes. Yeah. But even though she didn't understand who I married, she ended up being right, because marrying this guy in a place like Tosh was a recipe for disaster. Oh,

Arline  18:13  

Shifra Lowen  18:14  
because he did not fit the mold. He did not. He was not a person who was going to thrive in this environment. So something had to give

it started being really, really hard, because in that culture, the expectation of a young man is to wake up extremely early, go to prayers. If if you have work like in some families, the newly wed husband can go to work. But most families, they have to sit and learn at least for the first year or two. In colo so you got to be staying in cola all day and just be very, very good learner, like study the Talmud all day long and stuff like that. And my husband, he had a very troubled childhood like traumatic, like next level, very abusive and domestic. Like a lot of turmoil, basically, his parents were fighting constantly and and it's no big surprise because his father grew up in a home that was like straight out of the Holocaust. His father's father spent six years in the Holocaust he was actually a gendarme. Outside of the Auschwitz crematoriums, he had to carry the bird bodies. The Yeah. Like that's that's the that's the level of trauma that was brought into his family. Obviously, his wife was also from Berlin, she witnessed the Christiana. And that was my husband's father. Yeah. And it was an arranged marriage. So obviously, not everybody's as lucky as me. And he married the oldest of 15 kids who came from a very traumatic home as well. Her older brother had fallen down as a kid and hit his head and was not functioning properly. And she always had to not just take care of this big family of 15 kids, but also had to cope with taking care of that child. And she was uprooted from her childhood, home at the age of 11, leaving all her friends behind all her family and her most beloved grandfather, everything behind because her father believed that staying in Israel was a sin, and they have to move to England. There are a group of people called the Torah Carta. Okay. And they go protest against the State of Israel. Okay, because they believe that you cannot live in Israel, and celebrate the State of Israel, as long as the Messiah hasn't come.

Arline  21:43  
Oh, okay, because it's the Messiah who will reinstate Israel, not like government, people

Shifra Lowen  21:48  
are correct, because there are three warnings, curses, or whatever it's called, vows that that God made that you should not take back by force, Israel, something like that. In any case, take a child who has been through so much trauma, match them up with another child who grew up straight out of the Holocaust, and forced them to live together. While they are incredibly incompatible. Yeah, you can just imagine what kind of disaster that was not just that, in this community. There was no such a thing as birth control. So she had one child after the other literally, when my husband was seven years old. He already had six siblings.

Arline  22:39  
Oh, my heavens, as a mom, and how difficult having little tiny kids was for my mental health, and I only had two. That's a lot on your body and your mind and your family. And that's a lot. Oh, my heavens.

Shifra Lowen  22:54  
Yeah, he was seven or eight years old. And he literally was the oldest, the only son of six sisters. So as I said, he came from so much trauma. Yeah, he was suffering from depression. And from what they diagnosed as OCD. And he was supposed to in that state function as if nothing is going on, as if he had not gone through any trauma and just function like a robot wake up at this in this hour. Go to the synagogue, get there on time for study. He was such a devote devoted member of the community. But his his body didn't cooperate with all these demands, you know. So that's like the smallest challenge that we had, but it was a big one, nonetheless. So it was a constant. What is it called like? Juggling? I was going to school hoping that he's going to have a left to synagogue by the time I get home, to prepare lunch. And then I prepared lunch and everything. And I was so excited if I found that his bed was empty, because sometimes the depression was too strong. And obviously he so then you had and I did not know about anything, right? We were not told about anything about mental health, nothing. But I just grasped I understood that there was a lot more going on and I didn't like think oh, he's lazy. That's that's not what how it was. So that was a good thing. Yeah, that's good. And when I got home, and he was there, I was devastated obviously. But even if he wasn't there, I would call him up ask if he's coming home for lunch because that was the hour that I had off from work at school. The school was just around the corner. And I was waiting You're waiting. And he was, I would call him to the cola. And he will say, yeah, he's on his way. But maybe he was still in the middle of prayer that he had to finish. But he couldn't share with me because he was so stressed and worried about that. So he's on his way, and then he didn't arrive. So there was always this kind of juggling because he had to finish his obligations in the synagogue before he got home to eat. He couldn't eat before he finished prayers and all that. And I had to get back to school. So we were like, missing each other. And I had warmed up the food and then, gosh, it's gonna be cool. By the time he gets home. Like, that was like the beginning. Right? When when when the bubble was busted, and it was all thanks to the structure. It was nothing with us, right? Yes, it was because of the unrealistic high demands that were put on this young couple. Right? Yeah.

Now take that to the next level, when things really got hard. imagine my shock and fear when I found out one day that my husband visited a library.

Arline  26:20  
So I was thinking, you're about to say you're pregnant, or Oh, my gosh, she had an affair. Buddy went to a library, which is just like this.

Shifra Lowen  26:31  
I love the example for your give. Yes, yes. Yes, exactly. That, exactly that if I was pregnant, that would have been a joyous occasion, because in the community, like, if you're not pregnant by by the year, then something is wrong. And you gotta go to the doctor and check if it's a bit at a bad sign, you know,

Arline  26:51  
oh, my goodness. But he went to a library. Oh, now a Jewish library, which has Jewish ivory, but okay, but we're at least you know, at least he didn't go see all the, all the the heathens with their public library. Okay.

Shifra Lowen  27:06  
So that was like a shock. Yeah. And at the same time, it was maybe exhilarating to because, like, teetering on the edge, like, like, like, I love the thrill of like, not staying in the stagnant. Like, box, you know, so, I was happy that he was actually introduced to the library by his dad. Oh, wow. And I was only worried that my family shouldn't find out because that would be terrible, you know, like, he would be considered like, something is wrong with him. So I'm gonna fast forward to when I had my first child turned three years old. Okay, my husband comes home one day. And he's like, since our child is already three years old, we're starting to teach them the laws and like, all the things that he they should do making a prayer before the food and after the food and, and not touch any of the electronics on on Shabbat and stuff like that. I want us not to hit our children. So I love the smile, you're looking at it. That's so beautiful. And I was horrified. I felt like he just fell off from the moon. And he's coming to me with this outrageous idea. That makes no sense at all. Because like, how else will I ensure that I do right by my children? My teachers have taught us and if you do not hit your children, they will grow up wild animals. How can I sacrifice and jeopardize the future of my children? And they will not grow up to the God fearing. Good people? If I do not hit them. Okay,

Arline  29:17  
I have a question real quick. So, at this point, did you know what he had grown up in yet? Or did you not know any of it?

Shifra Lowen  29:26  
Yes, I did know a little bit like even now, how much is there that? I don't know. Right? But like, Yeah, I had an idea. Yeah.

Arline  29:33  
Okay. So you didn't know that. The reason I ask is thinking of what he's coming from when it comes to hitting children. But I also my husband and I very much were taught that we needed to hit our children in order to make sure that they knew they were under authority and obeyed the first time and all this stuff. And so, anyway, go ahead. I want to hear how this plays out.

Shifra Lowen  29:57  
So thankfully, my husband is like them. Almost a patient teacher, like he, right away knew that my resistance, and my anger was not because I didn't love our children just as much as he did. It was because of this fanaticism that I was raised with. And he just needed to find a way to open my eyes and explain it to me. That's exactly what he did. So he patiently explained to me, he showed me in the holy books, how the rabbi's say that you got to treat your child in their younger years, with so much care and to even spoil them in the first five, six years of their life. Because that's the foundation of the person they become. Give them so much love and and shower them with, like, all the comfort that you can. So that was a relief for me that I am backing in the holy books, even though it's very radical to my family, but at least I have something I have a ground to stand on. Right. So I agreed. But obviously, I had no reference point like how do you discipline a child without hitting that stormy journey? Like? Not easy at all? Because you don't have a library to find parenting books from right.

Arline  31:29  
Oh, yes. Good point. Yeah.

Shifra Lowen  31:32  
So basically, it was not easy.

Eventually, we're going to skip a big part of the story where my husband was ostracized, and persecuted in the community, a whole long, traumatic experience. Eventually, we moved away from that little village of carrier stash. And we moved to Montreal.

Arline  32:05  
Oh, wow. That has to be a huge culture shock.

Shifra Lowen  32:08  
It was actually inside of a Hasidic community in Montreal. So the culture was not yet so drastic.

Arline  32:18  
So it's, it's changed, but not quite correct

Shifra Lowen  32:22  
as drum like, it was a relief that I was not under the nose of so many villagers who could see my business every second of every day, I was like, starting a new life felt more liberated. I'm outside in the world, I can just walk into a pharmacy, I remember that first night after the moving truck left. And I had to pick something up from the pharmacy, I literally felt as if I had just went on adventures to Safari or something, you know, like, my goodness, I could walk the aisles and just meet with people from all walks of life. And just like, just be, you know, like, I don't have people staring down like, it's like free, like, like, you just have a chance to be in the world not like boxed in somewhere, you know. So basically, I enrolled my kids in a Hasidic school in Montreal in a Hasidic hater, my boys. That's a whole long story as well, because at first, my husband wanted to send them to a place where they can learn English. And I was not ready for that, because I felt I needed my parents moral support, I really needed my mom's moral support, even though we didn't talk much, but just knowing that she's on my side, and not to alienate her with such a big, like, drastic change. You know, she already was very, not happy about how my husband was conducting, you know, things and, and the community had, like, really carried his name through the mud and all that. So I really needed her still very much. And I couldn't afford that kind of big step, you know? Yeah. So I put them into a hider. That was supposed to be very good, according to the chief rabbi in Montreal. And in the beginning, it sounded like it wasn't wonderful. My son came home smiling. He had things that he didn't have in touch they in the summer, they had daycamp, which was not something that existed in touch at the time. I was in seventh heaven, things are finally working out. I could breathe a sigh of relief. So I thought the beginning of that school year of that hater year was after the High Holidays, and obviously, they came was over and he got a new teacher who was very strict. And he did not come home very happy. But I was in denial and left just hoping that I'm like praying that things will somehow sort themselves out because I cannot cope now with any new hurricanes, you know, I had enough. My ship was almost broken. I can, you know? Yeah. And then he came home one day and he said his Rebbi, which is what they call the teacher and hider Robbie slapped him in the face.

Arline  35:25  
Oh, wow.

Shifra Lowen  35:28  
So I was horrified to hear that because I had specifically made sure to keep close contact with Robbie, check in with him every week or second week, because I was told growing up that when you have a contact with Robbie or the teacher, then they pays close attention to your child. And that's the way to, to make sure that your child is well taken care of. And this rabbit has ensured we every single week your child is a an amazing kid. He's at Sadek. He's the best kid in class and all that. Like, how does that happen? Yeah, yeah. So I called up the rugby that night. And I tried to be diplomatic about it. But I was very firm. Like, I wanted to know, like, what's going on here? You know, I didn't say it that way. I was like, I'm so shocked, because you're telling me that my son has a tattoo. But then he came home today. And he said, You slept and like, what I want to understand what's going on? And he's like, Oh, no, don't worry. Don't worry. It was just that the kids were so rambunctious, it was like, right before pouring. They're so excited. And I had to discipline them. So I made him an example. Just don't worry. Tell your child. He's still excited. He's still the best kid in class. I hardly touched him. I hardly touched him. That was this great. House. Thanks. So angry, but like I do here, you know, like, hopefully this guy got the message, right? Don't hit my child. Obviously, he didn't. So this continues to happen again and again. And anything that I did I call the administrator. it only got worse because the rabbit was angry at my child for telling his mother literally had to beg my child to go to school or basically not beg. I almost forced the child. I promised him good things when he comes home and it was horrible. Because like literally forcing my my child into the lion's den he was every day that something happened in class. He was traumatized. Even if it wasn't him. That's being kid. Like just watching the kids getting hit. Yeah. And one nice to he, my brave little boy finally had enough. And he ran away from hater. Oh, wow. So I was home, minding the in the kitchen and stuff. And suddenly the door opens. And I'm like, that's early, one or two o'clock, like what's going on, and I see my son in the door. And that was it. Once he had the courage to run away, he gave me the courage that I needed. Because I did not have the booth to make that decision to take on another like, unimaginable task of finding him a school in a place that I knew nothing about. Like I had just arrived. I had nobody to ask. I did not know how to go about anything. And now that he had the guts to run away from hater, it was like, yes. Thank you. We're not ever sending this child back to that theater again. Yes, yeah. It was a wonderful feeling of like, being able to tell my child we are going to find you a better place a better school like rain or shine, we will have to figure this out. So if you come to think about it, my husband's first transgression, so to speak, of trying not to hate our children, has started us on the journey of liberation. Oh, wow. Because this child was not raised in a place where it was normalized to be hit. Although I did from time to time still hit my kids. I did lose it sometimes. But it was not a thing that was okay. That it is the way it's supposed to be. Right. And that gave him the courage to No, no, this teacher was wrong. He had parents who believe that was wrong, right? Even if they did selves messed up.

So, thinking of how much that courageous step of my husband to have the patients and explain to me why this is important? Actually, this freed me for life. Oh, wow. It saved our whole family. Yeah. Because what happened afterwards was even more challenging and more scary. Because the community started rallying against and that's not the whole community, per se. But like the leaders, the activist, the ones, the agents that are in charge of taking care that the the the bubble stays completely closed.

Arline  40:56  
They were

Shifra Lowen  40:58  
trying everything they could to stop us from leaving this bubble. Imagine what happens if a whole family leaves a place like that. And they open up a door for other people to do that. Yes, absolutely. Yep. So they put everything they could into this case, we became a case, right. And they basically went and made a claim against us to Child Protective Services. Oh my gosh, because after a while that we were trying to find a school we didn't find because they made sure to tap our phones, which I didn't know about. And they were calling the schools to tell don't accept our their kids, they're crazy. They don't know what they want from their life. Like, don't start with this family. It's like a bad a bad idea. So we were left without any options within the religious community. And that was the goal. And when the child protective services got the claim that my child is being isolated and abused, and blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, and a whole long list of lies. They had to investigate. So they sent us a letter that we should respond. But because I was constantly warned by the activist in the community, that child protective services will come after you your children will be taken away, we have already been living in this trauma that people will take our kids from US legally, we were told it's possible to do that. Because in Canada, there's a law that if the grandparents are denied access to the children, and the children are used to having the grandparents in their life, then they can claim that you're abusing your child at home. I don't I don't remember all the details. But it was serious. I knew that I had no language to defend myself, I hardly knew a word of English. Like I could tell you. I like the color red. But I couldn't express my thoughts, eloquently like to try to understand how to find the words to say what I want to say, right. And I knew that they did, they had everything in place to make sure to fight me on this, right. So for a long time, I've lived with this fear. And now when I got this letter was written in handwriting, no letterhead. So I was like, Oh, this is just the what they call in the community, a posh Courville it's just a random guy trying to scare me. And I got a second letter. And this time it was typed up. But the names of the kids were like, so hilariously spelled, like instead of Le mela that was Ella jumbo like, like, a stupid mistake that didn't make sense that if it's a government agent, they should have my names in the records and not mess it up like that. Right? Wrong, actually, because CPS does not necessarily check the registry of the Medicare. You know, it's like they're two different departments. So they just write down whatever the person who call tells them. It's, you know what I mean? If they make a claim, you know,

Arline  44:31  
and they spell things as best they can. Okay, I see.

Shifra Lowen  44:34  
So what happened was, I didn't take that letter seriously either. Then I got a third letter. And this time it had a letterhead and it was typed up, and it said, If you don't call us up as soon as possible, we will have to go to court and get a warrant. Wow. So I had no clue what a war weren't was I was a girl who grew up in a sheltered community like carrier stash, but I didn't know what court was. Yes. So I came to my husband very frightened. And I'm like, they want to take us to court. And I was like, literally, almost like trembling, right? And my husband called me down. And he's like, What are you worried about? You're not in the wrong here. You are protecting your child, you just tell the judge the truth. Okay, so I breathe. And I'm like, okay, but what's still there? They're saying, like, I have to call them and he's like, so call them what's, what's the problem with that? And I'm like, I don't know, I don't want to call them. I already had experience in the community so many times that when you give a finger, they take a hand, I don't want to open the door to that kind of abuse. I don't know who it is. I don't trust them, you know? So my husband says, so don't call them like, what's the worst that can happen? Oh, dear. I didn't know what a warrant was. So what's the worst that can happen? They're gonna take us to court. Okay. I'll tell the judge what's going on, right? obviously wrong. And one nice day, there were police banging on our door. Oh, wow. Open up. This is the police. And I was convinced that it was people from the community pretending to be the police. So first of all, I knew from my end that you should never open the door for the police. Because once you open the door, you allow them to interrogate you, legally, you have a right to refuse to open the door. So I told them, I am allowed to refuse to open doors and said, okay, but we're going to have to break down the door. So stay away. Because they're starting. And I'm like running into my bedroom, picking up the phone and calling 911 people are breaking into my my house. I thought it was speaker from the community. So I was as I was holding the phone, talking to 911. My bedroom door opened up, and whom do I see? blue uniform police. So here I had escaped trauma from a community hoping I came to the city where there is some kind of accountability, you can just do with people what you want, like in the community, right? If you're in danger, you can call police. And now who are those who are attacking me? People who are supposed to protect me? Yeah. Thankfully, because I had that experience I can. I can't really grasp but I can have a glimpse of an idea what people of color go through, right? Because it was never meant to protect them. But for me, that was the most traumatic day of my life. Because everything was like topsy turvy, everything, like my whole my whole world turned upside down.

So thankfully, I kept my calm and I explained to them, I showed them the letters, I explained to them what was going on. So that was a miracle that I was able to hold it together and they saw my kids were happy. There was no abuse going on. They were like, okay, so Okay, so now everything is understood. You're gonna cooperate with us? Yes, sure. Of course, now that I know that it's real, you know, that it's real. Yeah. And eventually, I did find a school for my children. A whole long story with that, because the Child Protective Services didn't want to close the case so fast. Oh, haul, long story. I'm not gonna get into it. But the most joyous day of my life, aside from the day that I got married, was the day that I was able to see my kids. The first day of school, going into a place where they are actually going to be allowed to be kids are actually going to be able to have an education that helps them that gives them tools in life. They're going to have the childhood that we wish to give them that we never had, you know. That's awesome. Yeah, so I must point out because this podcast is called graceful atheists that I do not consider myself an atheist. I do consider myself an atheist of the cruel monster God that I was taught. I see. So that's in short, and I do love a lot of the things that I was thought in my childhood that I now recycled and I'm using it to enrich my life instead of stifling my life. You know,

Arline  50:08  
there are things within Christianity that like things Jesus said or things I learned at church that like I can, I can keep some of those things. There's a singer named Derrick Webb and he was on the podcast, and he said, God doesn't get everything in the divorce. You know, like, we should be able to keep some of it. So yeah, so where are you now as far as what what does spirituality look like for you? What is? What does it look like for your family? Like, where's your hubby at work?

Shifra Lowen  50:37  
So I wouldn't say that my hubby believes in God, or my kids believe in God, you're gonna have to ask them. I'm just talking about me. I believe in a benevolent God, I don't call it God. I call it the universe. It's just because it's triggering. You know, I understand. Yes, we are members of a community. That's called Reconstructionist. Judaism. So we love it there because the focus is not on the rituals, like my husband made me realize while I was still living in carrier stash, how people are not important, only the rituals are important. Like, you take the parchment that the Torah is written on is a lot more revered than actual human. Wow. You know, yeah. So so that's what really excited me about this synagogue, that it's not about the rituals, the rituals are aside ornaments, so to speak. We celebrate the holidays, for me, the High Holidays, whatever it is, but it's the focus is not that you have to get those things exactly. As a certain way. You know, the focus is community. And that's what I love. I love community, I grew up in a little village. So there's nothing I love more, you know? So there is such an option of having your cake and eat it too.

Arline  52:04  
Oh, that's awesome. Yeah, we talk a lot on the podcast about community is a human need, like we are mammals, and we need other we need other people around us. And there are a lot of people who stay in whatever their religion is, simply because if you leave, you will not have anybody, you may not have anybody, even different people that I've interviewed and heard their stories on the podcast. Like finding people in real life is still hard. They have lots of found lots of people online, but finding just in real life people is difficult. So that's awesome that you guys have a synagogue that where your values align, instead of being in conflict.

So Shifra Is there anything that I have not asked that you that you would want to talk about that I haven't hit on?

Shifra Lowen  53:02  
There's so much to talk about, but I don't want to like waste another hour because like we can't pack it all in? I'm writing a book right now. And the interesting thing is that you just mentioned about the loneliness. I recently uploaded a short video on my YouTube channel, which is on my name on my legal name. Clara Wasserstein, actually, but you can also Google Shifra alone, and you're gonna find it as well. Basically, I shared my journey from utter isolation how I found community again after having lost my faith in humanity. Yes, yeah. And how I was shocked, actually, because after 12 days, I didn't even expect it. Then I opened my channel and I see it has over 4000 views already. It's like such a basic human need, right? Connection is such a basic human need. And people are unfortunately, we live in a world where loneliness is so rampant because of this. What is it called? pretense of connection that we have on social media? That is like really not the way that we were meant to be connected in real life? You know? So people are, I don't know, it's like starving for connection, basically.

Arline  54:20  
Yes. Yeah, I agree. Do you have any recommendations, books, podcasts, YouTube channels, anything that has been helpful to you over the years or is right now just something you're loving?

Shifra Lowen  54:31  
So right now something that I'm really loving is a podcast called finding our way. It's by Prentice Hemphill. I really love how it grounds me it's really has a unique perspective on things that are happening in the world. And she interviews like, I don't think that they are still continuing the podcast. I think it had like, two or three seasons during COVID And she's interviewing changemakers and real incredible trailblazers. So it's phenomenal. Like it feels healing to me to listen to that podcast. I'm not a podcast listener, like, it sounds unfair that I'm on a podcast. But I'm not like, I don't really listen to podcasts often. And that's one that I really love to go back to.

Arline  55:23  
That's wonderful. Well, thank you again, so much for, for being willing to tell your story and for your authenticity. And thank you again, Shaffer, I really enjoyed this.

Shifra Lowen  55:35  
I really enjoyed it as well, thank you.

Arline  55:43  
My final thoughts on the episode, I really appreciated Schiff for his willingness to, to hear new ways of thinking about things. So when her husband mentioned, not using physical discipline with the kids, like this was a completely new thing than anything she'd been taught her entire life. But she trusted her husband's judgment, they were willing to have a conversation, he was patient with her and like, her kids are growing up in a situation where they know their parents will, will fight for them, and not fight with them, love them care for them. And just do things differently. Because because it's better rather than sticking with the things they always knew. Because that was just tradition. And the willingness of her and her husband to venture out find a new school for their kids to join a completely new synagogue, a new version of Judaism that aligns with their values that isn't in conflict with the things that they hold dearest, is just awesome to be able to watch a family to hear about parents who are willing to do whatever they can for their kids, even if it flies in the face of everything they've ever known. So Shifra thank you so much for being on the podcast, it was such a little light. We had lots of crazy internet issues, but we made it work and it was wonderful. And I really, really appreciate you being on

David Ames  57:24  
the circular Grace Thought of the Week is about freedom or autonomy. Often in the segments, I say, the truth will set you free. But here I want to talk about the freedom that we experience on the other side of deconstruction or the other side of deconversion. Obviously, the great irony is that within our religious traditions, we are told that freedom comes by being committed to our tradition being committed to the community being committed to the belief system, being committed to Orthodoxy. And the irony on this side is that letting go of that orthodoxy letting go of that, restraining tradition, we actually experience real freedom. Another way that freedom is misused is in the hard right sense of rejecting any sense of obligation to community writ large, or the world in general. I do think on this side of deconstruction, we become members of the community of the world. We have escaped the high demand traditions that we are a part of, but then we can voluntarily embrace our commitment to humanity in general and the people around us out of our secular Grace out of our concern for people, rather than the obligation of the tradition. Next week is community member Ben, you're not gonna want to miss that episode. 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. If 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 restful atheist podcast part of the atheists United studios Podcast Network

Transcribed by

Get You a Graceful Life Philosophy

Blog Posts, Philosophy

Without religion, how do you find meaning? How do you live well? How do you find out how to live well? What is life about, anyway?

Secular Religion

Throughout her book Doubt: A History, Jennifer Michael Hecht weaves the idea of a “graceful-life philosophy.” These life philosophies are formed after a region becomes more cosmopolitan—many cultures living next to each other. Since you can’t escape being confronted with challenges to your own beliefs, this confrontation of views leads to doubting whatever your accepted religion is. But losing your religion, eating, drinking, and being merry aren’t satisfying for most people. The graceful life philosophies provide that meaning. In fact, Hecht calls them “secular religions” since they serve many of the functions of religions.

This week I’d like to talk about these “graceful life philosophies.” In future posts, I’ll talk about how to go about adopting such a philosophy. If you’re anything like me, you might get overwhelmed by the quantity of choices. I recommend starting with curiosity. “Oh, that’s interesting,” instead of, “I need to get started now!!”

The following “secular religions” provide answers, or at least guidelines for:

  • Making sense of how the world works.
  • What life is about; what’s the big picture.
  • What we should spend our time doing.
  • What it means to live life well.
  • How to handle life’s challenges.
  • How to prepare for death.


Some philosophies of life are more fully-formed and can replace religion for most things. Not only how do you pursue a good life, but also how to live with others, how to eat, dress, etc. They may provide community and events. Examples include:

  • Stoicism: fulfillment and happiness come from living according to our nature as humans. This happens when we live as the best humans we can: thinking and acting rationally and living for the good of ourselves and others.
  • Non-theistic Buddhism: you should pursue the Eightfold Path toward a better life for you and those around you.
  • Epicureanism: pursuing pleasure and avoiding pain are natural and normal, so go with the grain and do that well. You can achieve ataraxia (mental and emotional tranquility) if you do.
  • Secular/atheistic versions of established religions, like Christianity, Islam, or Judaism

Some philosophies may be less fully formed but might form the solid core of a life philosophy you build yourself over time. The fact is, we all cobble together our own philosophies of life as we gain experience. These might provide fewer answers to mundane questions about how to eat, dress, etc., but they’re helpful places to begin. Examples of these partial philosophies include:

  • Secular Humanism: We’re human, so let’s work to develop and help humanity and the world around us.
  • The teachings of Ecclesiastes: There is no absolute meaning, no life after death, but life is still good, and one’s own work is good. (Doubt, a History, p78)
  • Existentialism: Ut is up to each individual to create her own meaning and values in life by engaging in the world, by pushing back against oppressions that threaten to limit our possibilities and by getting out there and doing things—not just contemplating what you might do. (How to Be Authentic, Skye Cleary, xii)
  • Absurdism: There is no intrinsic meaning, but we crave meaning anyway. We must face this absurdity by constantly keeping it in front of us and acting against it, living life to the fullest. (The Myth of Sysiphus, Albert Camus, throughout)
  • Pragmatism: What works is more important than what accurately reflects a complex, incomprehensible reality (How to Live a Good Life, p245 and following)
  • Effective Altruism: We should dedicate at least some of our resources to making the world a better place and ensure these resources get put to the best uses they can. (How to Live a Good Life, p256)
  • The Satanic Temple: “The mission of The Satanic Temple is to encourage benevolence and empathy, reject tyrannical authority, advocate practical common sense, oppose injustice, and undertake noble pursuits.” (The Satanic Temple website)

Even the teachings of Jesus could be included here if you ignore 2000 years of religious cruft. In his book Jesus for the Non-Religious (which I haven’t read), John Shelby Spong describes Jesus as breaking tribal and religious boundaries and prejudices.

Starting to Get Started

As you’re coming out of religion, wondering what to do, it may be worth learning about various philosophies of life. Here are a couple caveats to bear in mind:

  • You are not behind! You’re not starting from scratch.
  • There’s no race to some finish line. This is about your life, so you can take the necessary time.
  • None of the philosophies are perfect. They all have limitations.
  • They are not one-size-fits-all. You will build your own philosophy of life anyway, and it may be cobbled together from multiple. My philosophy is a strong dose of Stoicism, plus a good helping of Christianity, Epicureanism, Buddhism, and Skepticism.
  • Learn to distinguish life-hack from a life philosophy. We’ll get more into this over time.


Holly Laurent: The Rise and Fall of Twin Hills on the Mega Podcast

Artists, Comedy, Deconstruction, ExVangelical, High Demand Religious Group, Podcast, Podcasters, Religious Trauma, Secular Grace
Listen on Apple Podcasts

This week’s guest is comedian and writer, Holly Laurent. See her full bio and work here

Holly tells a bit of her story, growing up in a fundamentalist evangelical household. From the fear of demons to eternal conscious torment, Holly is still dismantling the indoctrination. In comedy, she’s found a way to express her “voice that always got [her] in trouble” as well as an accepting community, something she struggled to find in the church.

Her podcast Mega has a new five-part mini-series parodying the downfall of an infamous Mars Hill pastor. Episode 1 of “The Rise and Fall of Twin Hills” drops May 21. It’s going to be a crazy ride!


Holly’s site

Mega the Podcast



“Sometimes laughter helps during certain types of hurt, and sometimes it doesn’t.” 

“I speak English and I speak Evangelical…”

“Nobody listens when you’re on a soapbox, but if you can make someone laugh, it can be really disarming…it opens up the possibility that there could be some reciprocity.” 

“I may be in the messy part forever.”

“My healing, my path is not linear. I feel like it’s more shaped like the milky way…”

“I see a lot of similarities between ‘preaching and teaching’ and performing.”

“The word that, I think, really defined the first three decades of my life is…fear.” 

“I think real love is a lot like truth, it liberates, so I’m trying to get better at recognizing cages.”

“If I can make you laugh, you’re in the palm of my hand a l little bit because at the very least, you’re listening…”

“Comics are supposed to be the truth-tellers.” 

“I want comedy to be my higher power.” 

“If having to be more intentional with our language and our content is what’s required at the moment, great! That’s a new challenge.”

“…the cognitive dissonance of trying to maintain and push a narrative of a god that’s both an authoritative, genocidal dictator and also have it be ‘the most loving, the most incredible love that you’ve ever had in your entire life!’”

“Everyone played their part perfectly so that I could play the game. The Church and my parents, everyone…they believed it so deeply that I did…”

“One of my biggest indictments of Middle American Christians is that they are theologically illiterate; they do not know what’s in their book and I do.”

“I think that’s what all these ‘Jesus and John Wayne’ dudes are…big man-children.”

“I don’t need and want love. I am love. I have love. I am this love.”

“What improv and comedy taught me is that deep, active, conscious listening is a posture and willingness to be changed.”

“Love yourself and be love, rather than need love…and we’re going to make things better!”


Join the Deconversion Anonymous Facebook group!


Secular Grace

Support the podcast

Podchaser - Graceful Atheist Podcast


“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 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 for supporting the podcast. If you too would like an ad free experience of the podcast become a patron at atheist. If you're in the middle of doubt, deconstruction, the dark night of the soul, you do not have to do it alone. Join our private Facebook group deconversion anonymous and become a part of the community. You can find us at

This week's guest is Holly Laurent the mind behind mega the podcast mega is revealing a brand new series that is absolutely out of this world. Mega is an improvised satire in the world of a fictional mega church, and they are releasing a comedy investigative miniseries inside the world of their own show called The Rise and Fall of twin hills. The Rise and Fall of twin Hills is a hilarious riff on the self important truth seeking that happens around church scandals and the twisted psychology of those who are inside them. This mini series is chock full of ridiculous scandal put it this way. If you think that the real megachurch pastor improprieties we've seen over the last few years are bad. Get ready for the outlandish high jinks of Pastor Steve Judson. If you're a fan of parody and satire or a comedic take on what it's like to be in the middle of deconstruction, then go check out mega and their new mini series that comes out May 21. The first episode of the mini series The Rise and Fall of twin Hills is out now go check it out. You can find them on Apple Spotify or wherever you get your podcasts.

Special thanks to Mike T for editing today's show. On today's show. My guest today is Holly Laurent. She is the comedic mind behind mega the podcast. Mega parodies the experience of the evangelical world with heart compassion, and satire at the same time, Holly's brand of comedy and her words is doing comedy at the height of her intelligence and connecting with the audience on a deep level. Holly is one of those amazing people who can use comedy to communicate to break down barriers to get past people's defenses because she's being honest and raw in that comedy. You're gonna hear that now in this interview, that Holly brings the self honesty to the table. That is what makes her such a great communicator. Here is Holly Laurent telling her story. Holly the rot Welcome to the graceful atheist podcast.

Holly Laurent  3:16  
Very happy to be here. This is my favorite stuff to talk about. And I don't even know what your questions are. Yeah.

David Ames  3:25  
Well, for like the two people listening to my podcast who don't know about mega, can you give them the introduction to your podcast?

Holly Laurent  3:33  
My podcast is a comedy and it's called mega and it is an improvised satire from the staff of a fictional megachurch, where we parody the power powerful systems and structures in place in terms of the what I consider kind of corny and cheesy mega world backdrop. Yeah, and and every single episode, we have a different comic who comes on and plays a different person who exists in that world. And we it's and we just improvise together and find a lot of really fun stuff. We laugh a lot. And one of the most interesting things that has come about from this podcast is it has brought me into a really delicious world of really wonderful people of you know, X van Jellicle 's and people who are deconstructing and like a really lovely supportive community that I was not even aware of before my podcast and which is really really lovely and it's sort of surprising to us at Mega that we have the audience we do because I think half of our audience is is kind of Christians who I don't know are probably like We're the cool Christians we can laugh at ourselves. We I'm not sure I'm not sure what they're thinking. But and and a lot of people who find themselves on the other side, people who have moved to being evidence based people and Have faith based people or however they describe themselves. So, um, I think, yeah, we have, the feedback I hear a lot is that so many people find it to be incredibly therapeutic to be able to laugh about some of this stuff. And you know what, sometimes I hear from people who are like, I go through periods where I can't listen to my gut because I don't find it funny. And if I'm hurting, sometimes it sometimes laughter helps during certain types of hurt, and sometimes it doesn't. And so we actually have our Patreon episode that comes out every week is called a mini. So we have the mega and we have the Mini and in the Mini, we just play ourselves, we are ourselves, we're not playing characters, and we kind of deconstruct all the ideas that our characters are we're wrestling with in terms of content that comes on the weekend episodes of purity culture, or scandal in the church and how people of faith navigate that, but the way we approach it is that we it's very Christopher Guest in its tone, I guess. It's very much like a mighty wind or Bastien show or a show like that. We're, we're playing to the top of our intelligence and sincerely playing characters, who are deep believers, and I believe we're playing them very lovingly, and we're really humanizing them. And we're exploring that point of view that me and my co host Greg grew up with, I really got it hammered. Hammered. It got hammered home, to say the least. And so I use my bilingual. I speak English and I speak evangelical. Yeah, I use my my by link quality. I think I made up a word to, to just create a specific backdrop that is really fun. comedically, you know, a lot of like, more specificity kind of creates, like a universality in terms of comedic language. So yeah, we have, we have a really good time with it. And I've enjoyed playing both sides of being the believer exploring that point of view, in a comedic way that, at the very least, makes people laugh, or hopefully even might help people. And it's really for us, I come from a tradition of improv and comedy where the, the way I believe the best way to make a statement about something or the best way to create a conversation is to be the thing that you have commentary about. And because nobody really listens when you're on a soapbox, but if if you can make someone laugh, a lot of times it can be really disarming. And then you're actually listening or opens up an opportunity for there to be some reciprocity or kind of a, an open, open dialogue. And I really don't have any interest in punching down at believers and taking swipes at individuals. I really, I really am kind of a I agree with. Oh, man, what's his name? I'm having a pothead moment. George Carlin. Yes, I really agree with George Carlin that like I love people, I don't like groups. And so I'm not I'm not punching down at any individuals in any way, shape, or form. I'm really intently, intentionally punching up at the power structures that really do kind of seek to control people and to oppress people. And that I really believe these systems cause deep harm, some harm that is becoming known to some and some harm that is not even detected at this point, which is really insidious. And so that might be placing a lot of responsibility on to a half hour comedy, but yeah, but seriously, that's where I am.

David Ames  8:52  
Yeah, my drop, we're done thanks.

I want to circle back to a lot of things that you just said. But I really do first want to hear just a bit about your personal story. What was like for you, as a believer when you really were a believer and growing up and so and then maybe lead us through? When the doubts came and what that was like for you?

Holly Laurent  9:25  
I really always struggled. It's hard to say because of revisionist history and memory being very, not trustworthy.

David Ames  9:38  
But honest about that fact. Yeah. Yeah.

Holly Laurent  9:41  
But you know, like, every time you revisit a memory, it's like you open up that folder, make some notes, cross out some old stuff, make some changes and put it back on the shelf and that memory keeps evolving through time. And I keep changing I mean, I'm, I'm always changing like if we had this conversation on a different weak, I'm positive, the conversation would be very, very different. Yeah. And I'm really in that messy. And I may be in the messy part forever. I never have felt like, ah, Hive, like, like a long jump you where you land in the sand and you're like, ah, that's where my feet are. Mark those two footprints that is me now it's all over. Yeah, I really, I really feel like my healing. And my path is not linear. I feel like it's more shaped like the shape of the Milky Way galaxy where it's just kind of a swirling thing with like, arms that shoot out, and then it comes back into the center and then shoot out again, and just a swirling kind of mass. That's what I feel like emotionally and intellectually. But the way I can describe to the best of my ability, my memory of having grown up with a very, I was in a high demand, religious environment in terms of sort of a fundamental evangelical culture. Both of my grandfather's were pastors, my so both my parents are preachers, kids, I'm a preacher's kid. My dad is currently the pastor of a mega church, but used to be an itinerant evangelist that was traveling around the country bringing the Good News of the Gospel to high school assemblies and mega churches and county fairs and you name it. And before that my parents had one of the first ever Christian rock bands. And so they in their day were considered very edgy and controversial. And, you know, should you be singing about Jesus? And it sounds like the Grateful Dead? Is that a problem? It was a problem for a lot of Christians. So my parents were kind of considered I think, yeah, some like for runners in the evangelical movement that has brought us well, Trump frankly, that that's all I do blame them emotionally. But yeah, they were kind of at the beginning of that like hold Jesus movement and you know this countercultural Geez long haired Jesus dude who loves you, like you've never been loved before. And a lot of their generation I think, really needed to feel some kind of that love. They came from parents who didn't talk didn't touch didn't affirmed in anything. And man were they just starved for love, at least my dad was. And he that that message really gripped him and transformed his life. And now it really feels almost like a love addiction or something. Really trying to know how to best navigate navigate this relationship now based on where I've come. And until a few years ago, maybe five years ago, I wasn't even like publicly speaking about what I believed because I was so afraid they would hear it.

David Ames  12:57  
Right? Do I have this right that you actually traveled with your dad at one point when he was doing the itinerant preaching?

Holly Laurent  13:03  
Yeah, like, as a kid, I would go on the road with him a lot. Because if I didn't, we would never see each other because he just that was his, like, kind of full time thing. So like, in summertime, like if he was going to be the chaplain at like a youth group, you know, summer camp, he would take me along for the week, and I would be wandering around the, you know, camp, looking at all these like Christian Church kids, you know, go to chapel every night and learning canoeing during the day. And I got a perspective of both sides of the curtain. You know, my father being a human being behind the curtain, and then being this really charismatic, storyteller, counselor, communicator. People really, really responded to him. And so I watched the power of that performance. I think it's probably it sounds crude for me to call it a performance but like, at its deepest essence, I just don't think it's, you know, an accident or it's a coincidence that I also became a performer because I see a lot of similarities in it in terms of preaching and teaching and, and performing.

If I had to really sum up, I am a, an extremely highly sensitive person, just very, very, very sensitive. So a lot of the messaging I was hearing there was all the love of like, it's a love like you've never known. It's a perfect love. It's an unconditional love. All of that I was getting that but it didn't matter as much as all the messaging of simultaneously demons and eternal torment of Hell, and what I grew up believing was reality, which was my entire reality was based on God and Satan, Heaven and Hell, angels and demons, and the stakes were fucking high. Because it is all eternity. I mean, I remember as a kid just wishing, like why couldn't? Why couldn't he just like, annihilate us? Like just pure annihilation would be compassionate, you know? Like, why do I have to be an eternal torment and gnashing my teeth for all in all eternity infinity, a sideways eight, that's forever of gnashing teeth for how will I have teeth left, you know, like a little kid mind was just so terrified. And the word that really defines, I'd say the first three decades of my life was fear, just just so. So afraid. So, so, so, so afraid. And all of that, you know, to this day has been stuck in my gut and my hips. And I'm having to do a lot of work now, like physically and in terms of embodiment, and realizing that I have completely dissociated from my body because it was so sinful, and dangerous and tempting and going to drag me straight to hell. And so I didn't enjoy. I didn't enjoy it. Yeah. Oh, my God. Pleasant. Yeah. No, I because I was so I'm creative, and imaginative and sensitive and emotional. So like, every time I had night of sleep paralysis, which was a lot like I had so many nightmares and stuff, but I would get sleep paralysis, and I really thought they were demonic attacks, right? I could feel like a huge, like, you know, demonic Talon coming out of the sky, the size of my body and putting its point into my mouth, like during a during a sleep paralysis episode, and I watched my dad cast out demons, as a kid with eyes rolled back and foaming at the mouth and guttural noises. And it took me well into my 20s. Before I was like, oh, people have seizures at music shows. And that is the sound of a grand mal seizure, not a demon that is responding to the powerful name of Jesus being spoken in its presence. So there was a lot of there was a lot of there is still a lot of dismantling of a lot of reactivity that I think I have to all of that. It's really hard sometimes to have a compassionate and understanding view of someone who is still in the church and experiencing it as a good thing. Because to me, it feels like, oh, that abusive relationship I used to be in where, you know, they seem to be beating the shit out of me all the time. What like, well, I guess they're being good to their new girlfriend. You know, like, yeah. Yeah, so there's a lot of cognitive dissonance, like all all of us who've kind of been through that stuff.

David Ames  18:01  
You know, several things, you know, pop out of just that discussion. One is that I think, adults Christians, I say that it's not that they take Christianity too seriously, it's that they don't take it seriously enough. And what you're describing is, as a child, you are taking it literally and seriously. And experiencing the trauma from that. And I think adults are able to compartmentalize and, yeah, you know, like, we believe this, but, and a child is not right, the child's getting the main line of that and experiences the full brunt of it. And children suffer from that. And it sounds like, you know, unfortunately, that this was pretty painful for you.

Holly Laurent  18:42  
It was and the hard thing about that, too, is that that's, that's just going to be an individual journey, because there's really no telling them or helping them understand that. I'm just a, I'm just a stark, raving liberal feminist who's pissed right at a, at a really lovely program, you know, in their mind, and that's okay. It's also like, same thing, you can't control the narrative after a breakup. Yeah, their friends are gonna think you're an asshole and your friends are gonna think they're an asset. You know, it's like,

David Ames  19:19  
yeah, that's a good analogy. I like that, actually. Because that's, yeah, that's very close to the reality. Yeah.

Holly Laurent  19:25  
Yeah. So I think yeah, there's so much work to be done and I'm always doing it

I had a friend recently tell me that she was talking about in her relationship, her partner is sort of ruminating and talking about her parents all the time, and the the abuse and the destruction and all of that, and as I was listening to my and describe that I was like, Oh, is that me? And then I, and then I was watching a rerun of succession recently. Do you watch succession?

David Ames  20:10  
You know, I haven't yet yeah, no, I'm familiar with it. But oh, it's so good.

Holly Laurent  20:16  
I really like it. It's but but there was a, it's basically like a parody of the Murdoch family, you know, controlling like conservative news and being like horrible, horrible people. And actually, that is like damaging the earth and like creating real, real problems. It's not just damaging humans is damaging the entire planet. But but there was a scene that stuck out to me when I was watching it recently to where the eldest son of Rupert Murdoch, of the Rupert Murdoch character was in a new relationship with a woman and she said to him, you talk about your data a lot. And I was like, Huh. And I've noticed that because my friend who, who I was discussing this with was like, I think that thing that you're ruminating about all day long, that is sort of like running your thoughts, and running the programming in your mind. That's your higher power. And I'm, like, interesting. Yeah, I really, I'm really working on changing my thoughts now being more intentional, trying to be more mindful, and looking for ways to continue to liberate myself. Because I do think the the message of the Gospel according to most Christians is love. But since I didn't experience that, then I want to do a breakdown of what love is. So what is love? Because if, if, if, if the story they gave me of what love is, really created some harm. Let me return to what love is, then because what is it and it might be a different definition for every single person who describes it. But there are certain things I believe to be true about love. And one is that I think real love is a lot like truth in that it, it liberates it, it liberates. And so I'm just trying to get better at recognizing cages. And, and, as a kid, I remember having real infinite thoughts, at least to me felt like bigger thoughts than the limitations of our own per sections in our in the language that we speak. Like, I remember, as a kid, when I learned the alphabet, I was like, Okay, that's interesting. Now I know, 26 of them, I can't wait to learn the rest, because I figured it went on into infinity, right? Like, like the way they say color does, like, but we, but our ability to see it stops at violet. So we essentially can see three colors and their variations. And we think that's it. But it goes on, and on and on and on and the spectrum. And I remember my brain being like that. I remember, I remember, our neighbors had kittens, and we were playing with the kittens. And they were like, this one's a girl. This one's a boy, this one's a girl. And I remember having the thought, that's weird that they're all only boys and girls. Yeah, because I figured that gender went on forever. Right? Right. And why would there only be two of all the you know, and, and, and then I remember those outside forces of socialization and education, coming in, and immediately limiting my ability to think and speak and everything became about limits. And I think the limiting nature of Bible based teaching. And I mean, if you really start, I think if you really start to break it down, it's it's everywhere, like I at one point, in terms of a high demand religion, discovered that the Cage had never been locked, and that I could push the door open. And I could come out. And I think for a long time, I pushed the door open. And I would come out in short, little stents and little experiments and then go back in Yeah, at least sleep in there at night. Until the day when I realized, like I, I can run, I can just run and be free and never go back to that cage. But I look around and I'm like, oh, man, if you start breaking it down, and this is kind of why I want to go get my PhD in linguistics, because I really think there's that that at its essence that so much of our human angst is because of the limitations of the language we speak and our ability to think and the the ways in which we believe lies and we stay trapped and caged. Because if you look everywhere, the cages are everywhere. It's like oh, late stage capitalism. Cage. Yeah, our education system can cage like, policing that is a cage. Like there's so many of us. I remember having that thought as a kid. I remember thinking about money and being like, I think money is the problem, like money because everything revolves around money, like money is the actual problem. And then I grow up into this day. I'm like, yeah, that is still the absolute problem. That's the problem. Anytime a good movie gets made, it's despite the money people not because of the money people. It's just, I know, I'm like, really? I don't hear a

David Ames  25:35  
couple things. One, like, please go get your PhD in linguistics, I think I think you're on to several things there. You know, there's there are those theories about even just speaking multiple languages, that you have a different perspective on things, I think there's definitely something there about being a human being and being trapped in language.

I do want to hear though, about, you know, in your 20s, you're recognizing that it was about fear, or maybe in your 30s. And you're able to go out out of the cage for a little while, like, what was that experience? Like, you know, what were the things that let you be free that led you escape as it were?

Holly Laurent  26:18  
Honestly, I owe a debt of gratitude to comedy, I would say comedy. Well, I found myself in a little improv theater in Chicago, where I started to feel community connection and acceptance, belonging, you know, I'm just going to every improv class I can take and getting jumping in every show I can. And I remember distinctly, in the beginning of my life in comedy, I remember thinking, I can't really be cast out from this. And that was a big fear that lived inside of me with imposter syndrome and all of this stuff within Christendom. Of, of I always was like, Oh, I'm a pervert. I'm disgusting, because I'm thinking things. I'm not supposed to think I'm longing for things I'm not supposed to long for oh, no, I'm a disgusting, wretched pervert. And, and I'm going to be found out I'm going to be cast out. I mean, think about it, the very first story, I mean, besides Eve, acting on her own will and then not just destroying everything for her but for all humankind forever. Not just that story of a beginning. But even predating that story is Lucifer who reading Paradise Lost recently, I was wondering if Lucifer is actually a sympathetic character, because yeah, to to question absolute authority is a good thing. And, and to demand absolute authority with annihilation as the only other option. Well, again, annihilation would be kind, compassionate. And again, why why a huge question I have is why why not destroy Lucifer, and all of the fallen angels. And what I also discovered for reading Paradise Lost recently is that most of our ideas of Satan and the devil are actually from Milton and not from the Bible, there's actually very little in the Bible. And, and I kind of, I kind of, I'm related to Lucifer in Paradise Lost when better to better to reign in Hell than to be a slave in heaven. Like, that idea is really interesting. And I think there's a cool conversation to have there. And honestly, it's always been my natural bent. I'm very anti authoritarian. People tell me it's because I'm Aquarius. I don't know enough about all that shit to speak to it. But, but I have I've always been very my mid and that's just, I don't know, I don't even know what personality is per se, but it's always been. My natural instinct is to if you're my boss, if you're a cop, if you're in charge, or whatever, my natural instinct was always to be like, fuck you. Yeah. Like, and, and so.

David Ames  29:09  
I have not been terribly good with authority figures either. So yeah, right.

Holly Laurent  29:12  
Yeah. I'm like, and not that I want to be one. I just don't want to live in your fucking cage. So I, yeah,

David Ames  29:24  
couple things. I'm gonna jump in here and just say we recently had a guest, Audrey, I think it was who talked about for her the deconstruction was deconstructing the devil? It reminds me of your story, and not like, you know, demons were very real in our growing up faith tradition. And it wasn't until she said, Oh, the devil is not real, that it wasn't God that wasn't real. But it was the devil being not real that her deconstruction process began and in earnest at that point, and so I think that's interesting that that that parallel with people who grew up in a more charismatic environment that it's just recognizing that oh, wait, this is kind of a story. You know, this isn't actually All and then being able to yeah, go and move forward.

Holly Laurent  30:03  
I relate to that. I think that was a big part that was a big Jenga piece that when removed helped the topple go down quicker. Same for me was Audrey I think it was I remember two things in college when I when I discovered that people in charismatic sects of all world religions speak in tongues. I was like, hold up. Hold the fuck up. Yeah. Wait, what? And even like in satanic, I even learned that in satanic rituals. They speak in tongues, and I was like, Okay, wait, wait, wait, wait, wait, wait, wait, wait, wait, like that was a huge moment for me where I was like, Oh, wait, is this from the inside out? And not from the outside in? Because otherwise, the Holy Spirit is working with Satanists? And, and also, yeah, I had a philosophy professor handed me a book called The Myth of Satan and asked me to write a paper on it. And I was like, offended by the very title. Yeah. And but yeah, that was a big one. That was a really, really, really big one.

David Ames  31:00  
Yeah, interesting. Since I'm here thinking about I think it might have been Stacey and not Audrey, but credit to both of them. Interesting idea.

I do want to segue to comedy. And then first just introduce myself to you like I was the kid of my grandparents had HBO when I was way too young watching Richard Pryor and George Carlin you've already mentioned, and we're Robin Williams, and, you know, some of these early guys and you know, comedy was just built into my life all of my best friends from growing up is because we would just cap on each other the you know, like that we like we showed love by tearing each other apart incessantly. And so comedy has always been beloved to me. And I think that satire is such a deep way to communicate the subtleties of being a human being and, and so I find what the work that you're doing both as improv and satire, super fascinating and that you said it already earlier that it is a way to get beyond people's defenses. So I want you to just talk about what was comedy like for you? How did you get introduced to it? And like, when did you start to do improv?

Holly Laurent  32:18  
I was forced into improv in college because of an acting class I was in where the, my, my teacher had just done a Paul Sills workshop over the summer and brought back improv to our college campus and was like, we're gonna be doing improv this semester. And I was like, oh, no, I hate that. And then I was so scared of it just because I had such crushing low self esteem. And everything in improv is you and so I did was so afraid of being judged for anything that came out of my mouth. And so of course, having to face that drag. So I moved to Chicago because I kind of thought of it as the sort of Mecca of improv at that time, definitely, like long form, was really having its kind of punk rock heyday, when I was in Chicago, so I signed up for every class I could and just was like, Okay, let's face this fucking dragon. And then, of course, in so doing, I discovered my little inner weirdo, my little comedic voice, that I had been telling to shut up for a really long time, because I thought it was the unacceptable side of me. It took me about 10 years, I remember, I was working at the second city, I improvised every single day and did every single show and class and tour and everything I could for a decade in Chicago, and finally got to the national touring company of the Second City. And then within three months of that got put on the mainstage cast, and then was able to write and run three different reviews for three years on the main stage where I was doing eight shows a week, six days a week, my absolute dream, like Please Don't pinch me, I never want to wake up. And it was inside of that, where I was improvising every single night and being paid for it and having equity insurance at the time was so and it was somewhere in an in an improv set. Where I was in a an, I was in a scene with one of my best friends in the whole world, Edgar Blackman, and we were improvising. And I felt this thing come from my deepest, deepest waters. And it came it was a sensation that came up inside my body. That happened simultaneously to a big laugh that I had just got from the room. And as I felt that really big laugh. I felt it affirm that deepest voice of like I realized that that laugh had come from me being in flow and unconscious. and allowing my little inner weirdo to speak. And that's when I stopped trying to improvise. And I just started allowing myself to drop into that flow better and not do it like him or her them. But me, and and that voice the voice inside of me that was always going to get me in trouble. And so I had to keep it under such lock and key speaking of cages, when I kind of started to let her out, I think that began the transformation inside of me that I guess I could call healing. I struggled to call it healing, but just changing, transforming, becoming, allowing myself to become the creature that I am. I guess that sounds sort of highfalutin, in a way, that's

David Ames  35:57  
your word progress. Yeah. Why for more

Holly Laurent  36:00  
progress, rather than the thing? I thought I was supposed to be all the shoulds which are should just equals suffering. Yeah. And so and so you know, there's lots of like, with comedy, I think. There's so many interesting things like the live comedy is my favorite, because it's a little bit like being on a surfboard waiting for the sets of waves to come in you. You're improvising, like in stillness, stillness, stillness, but you're watching, like, the waves. The waves that come to a surfer, are very similar, I think, to the waves of laughter that come to comic. And so you start to read those waves and figure out how to manage the plastic water at when do you want like little ripples? And then when do you want the big ones? And do you have the patience and guts to stay flat for a while to get a way bigger, more satisfying wave? Or do you want to? So all that stuff is really fun for me of like, tinkering around with like, what is funny? What is improv funny? What is sketch funny? What is film funny, what is live funny? What is funny, that works the next night. What is funny that only works in that one moment that I think that comedy The way it's interesting because I've I've done a lot of research into why a lot of men think women aren't funny, and so much of it is like a deep unconscious. A lot of people think that laughter is there's a primal thing that happens. When we are laughing together, we're showing each other our teeth, which is a very like primal animal thing, when you show your teeth to each other. And that there might be something that is happening intrinsically in. Because we've all been raised in such a misogynistic and patriarchal society, like there's something where men really don't like that, if I can make you laugh, essentially, in that moment, I have controlled your body in a way you're a little bit out of control that like, like, that was a like surprise and a physical response that was out of your control. So maybe you don't want a woman controlling you in that way. Or maybe you only want a female to be, I don't know, fucking sexy and alluring or whatever. And comedy feels like it's too much of a leadership role in the moment or whatever. But um, but I, I think what's happening is, if I can make you laugh, you, you're in my head in the palm of my hand a little bit, because at the very least, you're listening, which is the main thing that no one is doing now in our like, highly divided times. And I have learned through incredible failure, I have learned that as you're reading those waves of laughter and you're timing those out and figuring like what ones to ride and how to keep moving the room that a conversation starts to take place, this reciprocity of ideas, and it's a time where you can slip in, you know, comics are supposed to be the truth tellers, like just pointing things out shining a light in that dark place, shining a light in that dark place. How do we feel about this? Doesn't this seem kind of bizarre? And I think the the really interesting thing to me, is when the audience gives you the nose, the laughter a lot of times is yes. And the like, ooh, the grunts and groans and the hisses are our nose. And I'm, I've learned to now always look for those nose because I'm like, oh, okay, now we're getting to something like that. Okay, why don't you like that? And what I've learned is once you get those No, no, no, no, not they're not there. No, no, no, you back up, motherfucker. I I've learned I've learned that when they tell me to back off of something, that I've found an important thing. And so I don't often push past that point. But then I start to dance on that line and be like, well, then here's where let's then let's talk about this. What else is here? Yeah. Because yeah, I think the goal is that you leave a comedy show, feeling a little less alone and maybe a little less caged.

David Ames  40:38  
Don't want to get into too deep of water skier, but I am interested in your opinion on you know, I think comics today talk about they kind of complain that they can't make certain jokes. And I think you're right, that there's an element of comedy, that is to say the thing that is uncomfortable for everyone to hear, and a bit of truth telling. And so how do you balance that for yourself? Like, like you say, maybe not crossing the line, but going up to it?

Holly Laurent  41:04  
Yeah, it's a tricky time. It's a really tricky time. Because, you know, in the same way, the stock market has to reset itself. So does comedy, you know, like, and speaking of prior, like, some of that content is so harmful.

David Ames  41:19  
Oh, yeah. Oh, yeah. No, yeah, I've served basically everyone I mentioned are super problematic and 2023 eyes. Absolutely.

Holly Laurent  41:26  
Definitely. And I talk about this all the time with a lot of my friends in comedy have like, huh, like, you remember how I used to start this? That one set? Yeah, I wouldn't use that word anymore. You know, like, like, yikes. And I kind of follow Sarah Silverman's ideas in that regard of like, in certain ways, you know, holding someone's jokes from the 90s are, the odds are anytime holding that against them is like trying to show you know, Shaq a picture of him as an eighth grader and be like, You were only 510 You were only 510 You were only 510? Why are you trying to be 510? And he's like, I've grown. Yeah, yes, that was me then. But I've grown and I've, I, I really look for that in the artists that I listened to and promote and, and take in. Because as we know, looking at comedy right now, there's a lot of really, I'm looking at a lot of mostly white guys, but not all, but above a certain age that are there. So I'm so disgruntled. And I'm like, You know what? And I'm like, Come on, man. Grow, grow. Keep growing. And but you see it everywhere. Like it's the same problem with you know, Fox News, parents and liberal kids like what at whatever point you circle the wagons then I guess it's just that's all you're gonna get from them is is where they draw the line. But i really i i really like I just heard a friend of mine Mike yard do a set at the cellar in New York, where he told a joke about like, you know, all the school shootings is a real problem in this country, we have a real problem and it doesn't seem to be going away. And I feel like we need to get creative and look at what might be perpetuating this real problem. And he was like, and I just want everyone to think about I'm butchering this Forgive me, like, look, let's look at the candle industry. Because everyone goes and buys candles for these like vigils afterwards, and the candle companies are making out like crazy. And he and the audience kind of gave him a like, No, we're not allowed to laugh about school shootings. And he stopped in the moment I was watching him do this clip. He was he's talking about me. He's like, No, that's a good joke. Like that joke is okay, the target of that joke. Like, we're not laughing about dead kids. Right? You have to understand target. And I really don't have any good feelings right now about people who target marginalized groups that are suffering. It really hurts me because I guess, you know, I want comedy to be my higher power and um, you know, there's I guess there's cognitive dissonance to like, you know, when you ask a Christian like, how they feel about you know, the mass genocide of like Noah's Ark and like what why the two by two cute animal story and not like all the dead floating bodies of the entire world, even though I'm like I think that was probably a region that got flooded. Yeah, that to the writer was the whole world. But anyway,

David Ames  44:51  
I do think it comes back to you talking about punching down and or, excuse me, punching down and you know, punching up towards power structures as opposed To the marginalized and the disaffected. And that seems like a pretty bright line, that's obvious to anyone who's listening for most of the time. But I agree with you that we are having a bit of a reset right now, particularly in comedy.

Holly Laurent  45:13  
And it probably it needs to, you know, I mean, look at all the comics that we grew up on, using language and saying things and targeting groups that we really do need that reset. So even if that does make everyone in comedy, even the well meaning people, like get in trouble and get canceled and get all that like it, it's worth sticking with the conversation, wrestling and grappling with it, and trying to keep going and elevating comedy to the height of your intelligence with a sensitivity to that, because I mean, I even remember back in my training, like a lot of teachers being like, you know, going blue is, you know, sometimes if you get a dirty joke that hits really hard, it's great. It's worth it. But for the most part, just defaulting into going blue is it's just hack, it's lazy. And so if if having to be more intentional with our language, and our content, is what's required of the moment, like, great, that's a new challenge, give me the sandbox of like, sensitivity and transformation and evolution, over continuing to let something I believe in do harm, like, which is exactly my indictment of the church and people who, you know, remain part and parcel of a murderous, harmful commerce in the name of love, who really, I mean, if you look at all those individuals who are in church every week, and each individual deeply believes like, this is a good thing. Yeah. And, and every comic who is, you know, pushing their, their, their content, they deeply believe that thing, or it's deeply hitting a nerve in them that is, you know, making them obsess about it or whatever. But, like, it's funny, like, you mentioned, Robin Williams, like, when Robin Williams appeared in LA on the scene, like all the standups were like, fuck him that's not stand up. They were like, What is he doing? It's not it's not, you know, he's, he's not. And then he, but he's Robin Williams, you know, like we have to, we have to let each thing like, grow and transform and evolve and stay alive. And I think that's probably a lot of the suffering in and the angst inside Christendom right now is the the cognitive dissonance of trying to maintain trying to continue to push a narrative of a God that is both, like an authoritative, genocidal dictator, essentially, don't hold that. Also hold that and also have it be like the Most Loving, the most incredible love that you've ever had in your entire life. Yeah,

David Ames  47:56  
I love the way you say, to do comedy at the height of your intelligence. That's the kind of comedy that I that I enjoy. And I imagine that improv must be that every second that you are on stage

as a segue here, I want to hear the the formation of mega the podcast. So how did this idea come about? How did you collect the various comedians that have participated and just tell us the story about mega?

Holly Laurent  48:29  
Mega, um, kind of got forced on me? Okay, um, well, not really, I want to do a podcast and I pitched a whole bunch to this network, and they weren't going for anything. And then I had this in my back pocket. And I was like, I was kind of at a point where I was like, I don't want to, I don't want to think or look at or talk about that world anymore. Like, it was such a massive part of most of my life, and I'm really trying to move in a new direction. And but they were like, No, that's the one that's it, make that and so I kind of created a show Bible and like, named the church and the world and the ministries and sort of like, designed the format of it, and I recorded a pilot and and then it just kind of grew into itself on his own. And then during the pandemic, it kind of saved my ass because it allowed me to when the pandemic hit, I was used to performing multiple times a week and that had been for for 20 years, I'd been doing that and so then to not be performing anymore, was a real blow and so mega kind of continued to itch that scratch and then it also kind of introduced me to this new really kick ass community and the way we get guesses we just because of having come up in the improv scene, we just know so many incredibly funny people. And so we just started begging and borrowing from our friends. In the geniuses of their minds and having a guest on every single episode and, and yet it kind of became this thing that I'm glad I'm really glad and grateful to it, because I think it forced me to stay reckoning with that part of my history and continuing to try to have compassion for it and myself. And who knows, you know, sometimes if I get really metaphysical and get in, like, get stoned, I think like, you know what, maybe in the journey of my soul, I don't even know if I believe in any of the Buddha's stuff. But like it, let's say, for the sake of thought argument like that there is a journey of the soul. And let's say that you kind of do pick your thing. And let's, you know, I wish I hadn't picked the United States of America, I wish, I think there would have been cooler eras and places. But but let's say to put some agency in my soul, like, let's say, I picked this. And let's say I picked high demand mind control called to see if I could learn how to think and find and find it on my own No, no, and, and explore the gray and not stay cozy in the black and white. And so I guess, if I, it, let's say that to give myself some agency and not be a victim of it, let's say something like that happened metaphysically, then then then what? What does it mean? Because I guess I did. Do it. At least I got out of this cage. And so what's what does that mean? It doesn't mean keep uncovering cages? Does it mean? I don't know, I don't know. But I did have a high thought recently of like, well, I guess, if in that scenario, there's anything maybe productive from exploring it as a as a thought experiment is, maybe it can give me gratitude for where I came from, rather than angst and resentment. Because everyone played their part perfectly. So that I could play the game. You know, like, the church and my parents and everyone like the fundamentalism and all the like, because, like, they believed it so deeply that that I did, and, and so now, it's really tricky to be in loving relationships with people who fundamentally see reality differently than me. That's really tricky. And it's also a part of why I'm so interested in linguistics. And I should be spending the rest of my life learning as many languages as I can, because our ability to think is based on the language that we speak. So I think somebody who speaks 10 languages can think 10 times more than me. And that's really interesting to me, because a huge part of it is I'm like, is this semantics with me and my dad, I made a, I made a comedy short, I made a film that I wrote, directed, called brought to you by Satan, where I explore the idea of like, is it just semantics? You can can me and my dad look at the exact same thing and what I what he sees, he would describe as a powerful stronghold of Satan. And what I see as I stare at the exact same thing is addiction and abuse. Yeah, and who knows, when you're caught in the talents of addiction and abuse? Maybe it does feel like a powerful stronghold have an invisible monster. I just, I just don't know.

David Ames  53:41  
I really, I really think that, you know, that internet meme a few years ago, the dress, you know, that just shocked people that their their perception was different, that one group of people were seeing a blue and one was seeing gold and just could not believe each other that there's no way you can't possibly be experiencing it that way. One of the things that I talk about a lot is that a deep human need is to be known to be understood. Yeah. So you were talking about love, I think a definition of love is my ability to be authentically me and your ability to be authentically you and to connect somewhere in the middle of that, that's kind of love for me. But it's that feeling of you're both having, like you just said the same experience. But your dad sees it as a powerful, lovely experience of love and then transcendence and connection with other believers and you see it as a trap, and pain and trauma and and nothing good there. And, you know, and it's like, how do you reconcile those two perspectives? And I don't know, I, I guess me waxing philosophically. I think it is more than that semantics. But one of the things that we gain being on this side of the bubble is what by previous guests, Alice Greczyn said it really well, I'm no longer good at fooling myself. I've gotten less good at fooling myself. It's not that I'm impervious to fooling myself, but I'm less good at it now, having been in the bubble, and now out of it, and like, there's something to be said for being aware or self aware enough to recognize I can feel myself I know what that felt like, felt very real for a long period of time. And now I don't want that anymore. And so I'm on the lookout to make sure that I don't do that again.

Holly Laurent  55:33  
Yeah. And I recently heard someone say that attempting to change someone's mind is non consensual. And I was like, oh, yeah, yeah, yeah. And and, and maybe that brings us back to the power of comedy and storytelling, which is that it that is a place where it is a consensual connection. Yeah.

David Ames  56:04  
So back to Vega for a second. You hinted at this, that, you know, first of all, it's spot on, right. Like, I mean, you know, again, I know everybody's listening has heard mega but if just in case you hadn't, right, you guys are playing full tilt. Christianese if evangelical that's at it kind of peak. What is almost difficult to satire, you know, you're doing it at this peak level. But there's a sincerity to it, there's a heart to it, that it doesn't feel cruel. It feels very honest. And more to my questions to you is like, how does this not hurt you? How are you able to do this on a weekly basis and not have that be? Re traumatizing for you yourself? Let alone maybe one or two listeners out there?

Holly Laurent  56:51  
Oh, what a compassionate question. I really appreciate that. And the honest answer is that it does hurt me sometimes I hear things tumble out of the voice of my character that bother me and hurt me physically. And I'm really I'm doing really intentional work right now trying to get into into my body as a human being a lot of embodiment work. I'm in a class right now called embodiment and embodied sexuality. I'm taking a dance class, which is absolutely terrifying for me dances and most the most like never, not in a million years. It's it's I don't even like to go to weddings, because I'm like, Oh, is there going to be dancing? Because I'm so awkward and self conscious. And I don't know what to do. I don't know how to dance. I don't feel like I have rhythm. I'm so insecure, I'm all these things. And so I'm like doing all this work to try to safely come back down into my body. And sometimes when I hear my character, Halle say stuff, I feel pangs in my body. I'm like, Oh, I don't know, I and I've introduced other characters where I play Halley's Sunday, which is an adolescent male version of, it's basically me playing me as a teenage boy. And I really like those episodes. And I'm like, can I just change characters? Because, because his name is de and he comes in as the skeptic and he's really wrestling with it on an emotional level and stuff and Hallie, my main character is, is toxically positive and completely trapped in a cage. And I'm trying to, I have tried to play a really long game with her of like, of her slowly, kind of getting a little bit fucked up by her deep knowledge of the Bible, because one of my biggest indictments of most middle American Christians is that they are theologically illiterate, and that they do not know what is in their book. And I do. And I, you know, took Greek in college and used to be able to translate the New Testament and I have really dedicated myself to grappling with this. And I feel like a lot of believers have not and so so with my character, I'm trying to use her deep dedication to biblical truths as a, as a seed that is starting to grow inside of her, trying to play it as a really long game of slowly breaking her down, because this podcast won't go on forever. And we are going to end it at some point. And I'm like, How do I want to end it? And, and I'm feeling it in my body to comedically of like, oh, I, I used to, I used to chuckle at a lot of things, she said. And now if I'm feeling physical responses to those ideas, even though I'm perpetuating these ideas in a comedic way, again, it's it's that is your higher power, the thing you're focusing on, you know, and so how much do I want to give it and all of that and saying, like, when people tell me like, sometimes they go through periods where it's hard to listen to mega like, that hurts me to even though I completely understand. Yeah, I completely understand. And I'm like, it hurts me to say it sometimes, too. Yeah, so I don't know. I don't know. It's a dance. Real dance. We recorded it but and I'm trying to find new ways of playing that long game with her exploring other characters. And then yeah, we have a mini series that is a spin off that's coming out that we're gonna be able to play other characters too. And that's going to be really fun. It's it's a parody of the story of Mark Driscoll this toxic, authoritarian style white guy who started a church and then spectacularly exploded it with his own toxicity. There was a Christianity Today, podcast that came out last year, I guess it was massive. Yeah. Where they detail the it's called The Rise and Fall of Mars Hill about this spectacular explosion of a megachurch. And so we're gonna parody that because we got a so and, and so far, I think it's gonna be four or five episodes in total. And I've been working on editing the first episode, and it's really funny. And man, it is really, I think it's like, because it's a different format, we're able to take like, much stronger swings, and we're, we're being way more risky with it. And that, that excites the hell out of me. And I'm, and I'm really, really, really excited about it. So it's, it's all good, because it's helping me. You know, gestate whatever, whatever thing is next, you know, I feel like what you're doing with this podcast is going to lead you to the next thing you do. Sure. No, yeah. So yeah.

David Ames  1:01:48  
So Holly, this is how dedicated I am. I went and listened to the rise and fall of Mars Hill in preparation for this conversation. Wow, what did you think of everything super painful? Yes,

Holly Laurent  1:02:01  
it's painful, right?

David Ames  1:02:02  
There's just a couple of things I wanted to bounce off of you. So one is to give a little bit of credit, you know, the Christianity today, you know, does try they make the attempt to be self aware and to self criticize their movement. So and that's about as much praise as I'm going to give them because they also show throughout this, including the host, Mike Cosper. I just complete blindness to the larger factors right? It's not just that Mark Driscoll is an asshole it's that the structures are dangerous and and hurting people. And then the other thing that I just found deeply painful was the the advertising in between. So in this podcast that is about criticizing celebrity pastors, it'll this pop on this celebrity pastor podcast come join me doing it. It's just Oh my God, it was painful. It was.

Holly Laurent  1:02:55  
That's bananas.

David Ames  1:02:57  
Yeah, just the whole talk about read the room. Oh, totally. Yeah. So you know fascinating project all the way around and I really look forward to listening to how you guys parody it so

Holly Laurent  1:03:08  
Oh, well, you sweetheart. I mean, I really hope that when our our version The Rise and Fall of twin Hills comes out yeah, that you will I pray that it will graft over it will skin graft over all the burns for the Mars Hill one. I it's it's so interesting. I full disclosure, David, I think I only got through two or three episodes because I can imagine because my brain started leaking out of my ears when I got to hear his voice from the pulpit. I I was so filled with rage again that I was like, this isn't good for my body. I'm getting filled with cortisol.

David Ames  1:03:49  
Yeah. Yeah, I think a few times, you know, I'd be listening to it with earphones. And I, you know, be walking around the house doing chores or something. I'd be like, Oh, come on. Family members would be like, what I'm like nothing. I'm just just listening to a podcast.

Holly Laurent  1:04:06  
I know. So I think you'll really like I don't want to give it away. But it's my favorite thing is that we give in our in our party, we give the Mark Driscoll character who is the lead pastor, the fictional lead pastor of twin hills, our church, Steve Johnson. We we really give him a home man. It's so funny. We come up with a pretty great way to expose to expose him as both an absolute degenerate and also a big fucking baby. Yeah, yeah, I think that's what all of these Jesus and John Wayne dudes are. I think they're big man children and I have over the course of mega I have dedicated myself so deeply to continuing to stay in scholarship like this Listening to Bart Ehrman all the time trying to educate myself about New Testament knowledge, context, understanding of the Scripture understanding like original manuscripts understanding how text has changed understanding, you know, the act, what does it actually say? What does the Bible actually say about homosexuality, about Satan about all these things, like I've dedicated myself so deeply to it. And lately, I've found myself at a point where I'm like, this could change, but I'm like, I don't care anymore. I don't care what's in the Bible. I don't care what it says about homosexuality, I could give a fuck, like, I am looking for love. I'm looking for, again, liberation. And excavating that isn't really doing it for me. And I'm afraid it can keep me kind of angry and in resentment rather than gratitude. And I'm really looking for ways to change my thinking and my higher power or whatever you want to call it. And it's interesting even the word atheist day. God damn it, it's centers Christianity, it still has them centered. It's on our it's on our dollar bills is on in our Constitution. It's in all it's just so centered all the time anyway, that I'm like, how do I move away from that as center and continue to feed myself with things that remind me that that system made me want love, and need love and look for love and feel like I needed it so desperately. And that made me a vibration on this planet of need and scarcity. And that's also what I was experiencing. And outside of it, I'm like, Oh, I don't need and want love. I am love. I have love. I am this love. Like, I have it. Okay, I feel it. I'm trying to send out vibrations of like, there's love here. If someone was flying over and they were wearing like, like, love, like goggles, like green light goggles or whatever, they would see a little beacon like, down where I where my body is right now on this earth. It's like being warm. Like, there's love here like, I'm love. And so what I want to draw is, is I want to draw love to me by being love. Not by being a desperate sad, fearful, angsty, lonely, frightened kid who who is grasping for God, or a community that is promising that if you if you play your cards, right, I want to be like, You know what, fuck these cards. Yeah, I'm not playing this game. I'm gonna go. I'm gonna go. I'm gonna go play another game. And again, I'm in the messy part of that. I haven't like, I haven't arrived anywhere. And maybe you and I should talk in a year and see if we're both completely different people. Yeah.

Do you have any better words that you use? Like, uh, not better words than atheism? But like, more words?

David Ames  1:08:31  
Yeah, this whole podcast is what I call about secular grace. Right? And then yeah, this is this is the idea that the, you know, the horizontal, I recognize that. What we love about grace, the agave, when the love in the Bible is, is actually people connecting with each other. And when you start to look at even miracle stories, right, even miracle stories, often it's like, oh, well, this first responder showed up out of nowhere and saved me or you know, or this nurse took the time to help me out or this person gave me $10 When I was hungry, there's always another person involved. Right? And it's this is just the recognition that it is human beings being good to one another. That is the is the thing that we crave is the love that we've that we've been trying to describe and, and go after. Yeah, I agree with you. The language is hard. I call myself a humanist, but that can be misconstrued as well. You know it I don't think there are good words for it. So I use a whole bunch and I you know, I say yes, I am an atheist, but that is kind of boring. It's that what I believe in is people right? Like I believe in people and that's the thing that you need to know and so I'm constantly on the lookout for better words as well. So if you find any let me know.

Holly Laurent  1:09:51  
Because we are really limited we're not only limited to like the our perceptions and our senses, like we're, you know, we're living in three dimensions and And we have five senses. So that's all pretty. That's a pretty tight sandbox. Yeah, yeah. So like, there's a, I don't know, there's part of me that's like, there might be something. I don't know. I don't know what the, you know, the Hadron Collider in CERN, you know talks about the God particle. And you know, I wish they wouldn't call it the God particle. But there is something that is binding everything and I agree with you that it's connection. And I think that's actually at the heart of your, the thing you're scratching out with comedy is like, comedy is just connection. It's, it's, it's human connection. Yeah, and, and surprise, it's basically like you're connecting with me for a few moments. And then I'm gonna make you breathe differently by little elements of surprise, as we're connected. And yeah, and I think that's what improv is. And I used to always tell my improv students back when we still had improv theaters and training centers, before the pandemic like that improv is just about connection. It's about you. I tell everyone on my first and the first class all the time, and they never believed me. But I'm like, I'm going to tell you the secret to improv, and you won't believe me. But if you do this every day for 10 years, it something will kick in and you'll be like, oh, yeah, that's that's true, is that the secret of improv is listening. That's it. It's just listening. And people's biggest difficulty is getting over that hurdle. Because your inner monologue is so loud, because you're so self conscious when you're being observed. And when then when you're putting pressure on yourself to be funny, and low, literally on stage. And on stage, which is, you know, obviously, it's the Seinfeld joke of people would rather be in a casket than giving the eulogy. But like, so it's you're overcoming all these like great fears, or you're not overcoming your you're working inside, have great fears, and doing it anyway. And, but it is about listening. It's just about listening, if you just breathe and listen to what your partner's saying and respond to it. And then it just becomes a multi layered, like listening exercise where you start to have to listen to yourself, listen to that inner weirdo. Listen to that, like that, that whatever that little deepest, authentic spark of you is like listening to that, listening to the audience and listening to your scene partner. And if you can combine those levels of active conscious listening, because most of us, I think, we we confuse we think listening is the way we the way we listen is actually waiting, we're waiting for our turn to talk. Yeah. And waiting for your turn to speak is not listening, like deep. What improv and comedy taught me is that like deep active conscious listening is a posture and a willingness to be changed. Interesting, and, and that is listening. And when two people are are doing that, they are connected. And then that connection is the spark that makes magic and makes us laugh.

David Ames  1:12:59  
Well, I think I think we have to wrap there because I think you've just described describing comedy in the same way that I talked about. What we're trying to do here on the podcast is like, you know, in these interviews, as people are telling their story, there are moments that you've talked about the wave, right, I can feel the moment of oh, that was that was good, that's going to connect with the audience. Right? And it's, it's generally about being honest and vulnerable. And, again, authentically yourself. So I'm going to take that from you and, and run with it. So thank you. Thank you for that. We're not certain about the release date for the for the parody. So I will hear from your publicist when that is and we'll publish you know, we'll make that abundantly clear. Intro and outros. But how can people reach you? How can people find mega how can they connect with you?

Holly Laurent  1:13:50  
My website is Holly And same on Instagram, but Mega and mega podcast on the socials. And yeah, I have all my I have that brought to you by Satan shortfilm on my website and all that. So yeah, listen, rate and review mega it helps us so much. And move love yourself and start to be love rather than need love, and we're gonna transform this place. We're gonna we're gonna make things better. Yeah, at least we'll have a little bit better of a human experience for we're not exactly sure why we're here. But here we are. And if we can help each other and help ourselves suffer a little less, then I say hell yeah to that and thank you David for such a thoughtful, lovely conversation. I really really dig you and I really have enjoyed this and the pleasure has been mine and anything that you take from this I feel like that's a gift And I'm so happy to give give it to you. So all the best.

David Ames  1:15:04  
That's awesome. And I might take you up on a year from now let's check in with this dude again.

Holly Laurent  1:15:08  
Okay, I would love it. This is my favorite shit to talk about. I can, I could go on and on and on and on and on. And maybe I'll be like starting my, my linguistic program by then yeah, I'll be writing a dissertation on the nature of reality as defined by language.

David Ames  1:15:30  
Final thoughts on the episode. My all time favorite interviews are with comedians. I've had. Karen Alia, from the deconversion therapy podcast. I've had Leon Lord who's a stand up comedian. And now Holly Laurent from Mega the podcast. These are always my favorite interviews because I think comedians have insight into human nature that is at least significantly better than the average pastor. What I think makes Holly in particular very good at satire and comedy, is the honesty that she brings to the table. Her story is gut wrenching, growing up traveling with her dad in evangelical circles, recognizing it as performance. Her seeing herself because she was a woman as threatening and bad. She talked about as a child, demons were real. And the trauma of that is evident, even today, but it's that realness. It's that honesty that makes her improv so powerful and so good. I think that's why mega the podcast is so ultimately successful. Although it's absolutely critique and satire. There's also heart and compassion and recognition in the characters. The first episode of the new mini series, The Rise and Fall of twin Hills has just dropped. I'm going to be checking that out shortly. But the the subject matter, the rise and fall of Mars Hill about Mark Driscoll is very target rich. So I expect that it's going to be absolutely amazing. And you should check it out. I want to thank Holly for being on the podcast for being rigorously self honest, for sharing with us her story and her comedy and her incredible mind. I love the way she said she does comedy at the height of her intelligence. We're going to talk about the human connection part in the secular Grace section of this podcast. But thank you so much, Holly, for being on and sharing your story. The secular Grace Thought of the Week is human connection. How could it not be? As I've said, Now, repeatedly, I'm a huge comedy fan. And it is so powerful to hear Holly talk about comedy and improv in particular is about that connection that improv is about listening, active listening, instead of just waiting for your turn to speak with a in her words, a posture of being willing to change. That's brilliant. Holly said, connection is The Spark. And she talks about anticipating and riding the waves of laughter and being willing to sit in the quiet time before that happens to get the better laugh. I just love everything about that conversation and her perspective there. What this podcast the graceful atheist podcast is about is human connection. So many things that we call spiritual, are just about human connection. When you think back on your church experience, what were the good things? Was it the sermons? Was it going to the building? Or was it the potluck? afterwards? The coffee breaks, going to IHOP with friends? Was it somebody who cared about you when you were sick, and they came to your house and brought you food? The entire point of secular grace of my brand of humanism is that it is human beings being good to one another. That is this spark, that is this thing that we are searching for. It's what we are referring to when we say connection in the transcendent sense. I don't mean to imply that it is mundane. But I do mean to be explicit that it is not transcendent. It is just people. And that's fantastic. You don't have to believe anything. You don't have to force yourself to accept unwarranted truths. You can just love people and be loved by them and experience that sense of transcendence, that sense of spark, and connection. Next week, Arline interviews Shifra that's going to be an amazing conversation. Until then, my name is David, and I am trying to be the graceful atheist. Join me and be graceful. The beat is called waves by MCI beats. If 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

Transcribed by

Josh de Keijzer: After God’s End

Agnosticism, Atheism, Bloggers, Deconstruction, Philosophy, Podcast, Post Theism, Scholarship, Secular Grace
Listen on Apple Podcasts

This week’s guest is Josh de Keijzer, PhD. Josh writes at After God’s End: Fragments of a Post-Christian narrative  

Josh grew up in an evangelical home in the Netherlands. He knew his family was “set apart,” different from the mainstream Dutch culture. 

“I realized…I had been brought up as an evangelical…We were always part of a minority. ”

As a teenager, Josh took his faith seriously, so he had a hard time with the adults in the church. Their actions did not line up with what they believed, and the hypocrisy was rampant. 

Josh had always wanted to visit the US and was able to attend university and seminary in the States where the questions really began. 

“[I was at] a solidly evangelical seminary but there were plenty of people who did a lot of questioning. I have to credit them for opening my eyes…”

Josh’s questions led him out of the Christian church, but he hasn’t given up on spirituality. Josh’s life has meaning as he lives with compassion and love for others. Always a beautiful thing to behold. 







“I realized…I had been brought up [in the Netherlands] as an evangelical…I realized that we were always ‘set apart.’ We were always part of a minority. ”

“I really hated worship music. I’ve always hated it.” 

“[I was at] a solidly evangelical seminary but there were plenty of people who did a lot of questioning. I have to credit them for opening my eyes…”

“I was given white privilege even as a foreigner.”

“[Justification by faith, now] simply refers to an immaterial fantasy in order to avoid material responsibilities.” 

“Systemic thinking does not come easy for evangelicals.” 

“I call myself a radical theologian but not a Christian.”

“Even though I’m not a Christian, I’m not against religion.”

“Basically 99.9999% of all god concepts are neurotic constructs to drive us away from ourselves, and so, therefore, I’m not too excited about religions.”

“If religions go, then you get something else. You get ideology, and all ideology is just as bad.” 

“That’s the problem with religions and ideologies. They are not just glasses for how we see the world; they are our eyes, our instrument for understanding…”

“Knowledge is social and perspectives are transmitted socially.”

“There is no meaning in life, and you need to accept that before you can create meaning.” 

“…once you leave the Christian faith you don’t have to become an atheist. Atheism is often another version of a committed point of view about which we cannot say anything for certain…”


Join the Deconversion Anonymous Facebook group!


Secular Grace

Support the podcast

Podchaser - Graceful Atheist Podcast


“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 Network. Welcome welcome. Welcome to the graceful atheist podcast. My name is David and I am trying to be the graceful atheist. Please rate and review the podcast on the Apple podcast store, rate the podcast on Spotify and subscribe to the podcast wherever you are listening. If you are doubting deconstructing going through the dark night of the soul, you do not have to do that alone. Join our private Facebook group deconversion anonymous and be amongst friends. You can find us at Next week's guest is Holly Laurent from the mega podcast. Holly and the mega podcast crew are amazingly funny. And now they're about to do a special series that you're gonna love. Mega is an improvised satire in a world of a fictional mega church, and they're releasing a comedy investigation mini series inside the world of their own show called The Rise and Fall of twin hills. The Rise and Fall of twin Hills is a hilarious riff on the self important truth seeking that happens around church scandals and the twisted psychology of those who are inside them. This mini series is chock full of ridiculous scandal put it this way. If you think that the real mega church pastors improprieties we've seen over the last few years are bad. Get ready for the outlandish high jinks of Pastor Steven Judson. If you're a fan of great comedy parody or just want a light hearted take on deconstructing the harmful beliefs we know so well then go check out mega and their new mini series that comes out on May 21. My favorite past episodes have awesome guests like Cecily Strong and Louie Anderson. So look up mega now and follow them. You're not gonna want to miss the rise and fall of twin hills. It's on Apple, Spotify or wherever you get your podcasts. Special thanks to Mike T for editing today's show. On today's show, our lien interviews. This week's guest Josh de Keijzer. Josh calls himself a radical theologian. He no longer calls himself a Christian. You can find him on Instagram at after God's end. And he brings a really interesting perspective to the table. Josh is Dutch the discussion that Arline and Josh get into reflects on the differences between the Netherlands and the United States. Near the end, Arline and Josh talk a bit about post modernism. And Josh begins to describe something that I would call secular grace. Here is our lien interviewing Josh de Keijzer.

Arline  2:54  
Hi, Josh, welcome to the graceful atheist podcast.

Josh de Keijzer  2:57  
Thank you, Arline.

Arline  2:58  
I'm super excited. A past guest, Tony, George sent me your information and said, Hey, he may want to be on the show. And I reached out and I was already following you on Instagram. So I was excited when you said yes. And yeah. I'm excited to hear your story. So the way we usually begin is just tell us about the religious environment that you grew up in and tell your story.

Josh de Keijzer  3:21  
Okay. Well, thanks for inviting me on the podcast. And I'm excited to tell a bit about myself. I'm, I'm from the Netherlands. And I have studied in the United States from 2009 to 2017. So it was a long time. an MA in, in Christian thought and then a PhD in systematic theology. Oh, wow. And so I left America, actually, I wanted to stay in America and teach at a college but the whole theology thing in academia was collapsing. So an early sign an early sign of, I would say the de Christianization, or the upcoming de Christianization of the US anyway, so I had to leave and and after returning to the Netherlands, I was unable to make the significant meaningful theological connections. So my academic life finished with me leaving America and now I'm a copywriter and enjoying it very much and taking on bigger names, and bigger jobs. And I'm a ghost writer. Now I write books for companies and for people. And I'm always able to throw in quite a bit of my theological heritage, even though I'm no longer a professing Christian. Anyway, so I started by being born in the Netherlands a long time ago in the 60s. He's, and it was only much later, let's say, you know, toward the end of my stay in America, that I finally realized that I had been brought up as an evangelical as an American Evangelical. Oh, wow. And specifically, you have to attach evangelical to, to the nomenclature because I realized that growing up as a Christian, we were always set apart. We were part of a minority. And we had our network of people. We were not alone, as a family and as a church. But we also didn't really fit into the wider scheme of things. We were strangers in a strange land. Yeah, so later, I realized that's because I was an American Evangelical. And so I've always had a deep interest in America. I also had family in states in the Seattle area, my uncle and and emigrated to the United States in the 60s. So it was kind of an infatuation like America was the real deal. That's where that's the origin of my faith, and, and the whole shebang. So I grew up as an American Evangelical, and we met American missionaries who would come over to Europe, and we, my father was very much in love with an organization that originated in America by the name of Operation mobilization, okay. And he always wanted to join that organization. But he didn't. But eventually, I did. And I spent a couple of times with a couple of years with Operation mobilization on their, on one of their ships, initially, until it sank in South America, and then stuck around for a total of eight years with that organization. During that time, I also wrote a course for like, missionary awareness. So, you know, if deeply, deeply invested, and later I did my bachelor in, in theology, and biblical studies, and then eventually I ended up in, in advertising as a graphic designer, and later as an art director, but I wasn't really satisfied intellectually, I guess. And so it feels like I had an intellectual awakening. And then we're talking like, early 40s. But the intellectual awakening was accompanied by a renewed interest into sources of my faith and the foundations of my Christian faith. So I, I got deeply interested in apologetics, and which is the defense of the Christian faith. A lot, lots of that in the US. And I applied to go to seminary in applied for a seminary in the US for my Masters, and then got admitted at a Christian thought program. And by then I'm in my 40s. So that's where I come from.

Arline  8:02  
Yes. Wow. Okay. I'm curious. What is you said, you guys were set apart. You are clearly like this American version of evangelicalism. What is the like religious look of the Netherlands? Or is that it's very broad, or is it very secular? I have no idea.

Josh de Keijzer  8:18  
Oh, the Netherlands is very secular. Okay. So we experienced our de Christianization moment in the 60s and the 70s. And by the 80s. Basically, nobody went to church anymore, but nobody is not entirely fair. There are still, you know, a bunch of Catholics in the south. We have strong roots in Calvin Calvinistic reformation. But it's, it's only present mostly as a cultural cultural memory. And it is not a there. So we have our Bible belt to like you have in the in the US, we have our Bible Belt. It's really like a narrow strip that crosses the entire nation is like this, where the very conservative people live. And as an Evangelical, I did not belong to them. I had a allegiance elsewhere.

Arline  9:22  
So what did your upbringing look like? Like, was it Church on the weekends church on Wednesday night? That's what I think of evangelicalism, like the more modern music, or was it traditional? Was it at your home to that was another thing

Josh de Keijzer  9:35  
that started to house church in? Oh, wow. The late 60s. And I still have fond memories of that, you know, I don't ascribe to that faith anymore. But fond childhood memories of you know, all the interesting stories of the things that happen there. But yeah, it's very much a kind of a brother in church, met at a house and later at a A synagogue that was no longer in use in our town, gathered a group of people, I think the maximum number of members at one point was at 88, or something, usually much smaller. But there were a lot of a lot of hypocrites around. And let me nuance that because we're all hypocrites we cannot get by in life without being hypocritical. But there's, there's just like the basic level of hypocrisy. And then there is next level hypocrisy where people really try to achieve objectives with sneaky by sneaky means. And I've met a lot of dead men a lot of that. And so as a teenager, I struggled with my faith, because I liked all the music of the world. And I like punk music and new wave, you know, if we're talking about the 80s, and I was a member of a band, I was a singer and a keyboard player. And on the, on the other hand, the faith thing. So I struggled with that. And now when I look back, I realize that even back then, the hypocrisy that people had, and not just general hypocrisy, but people who try to con my parents and, and put them down and just did humiliate them. And replace them. I guess it really did something to me at a subconscious level. I know that I always hated worship music, I just hated it. And luckily, being the pianist at church, you know, you hit along and you turn all those songs, either in jazz or, you know, whatever you fancy you improvise around the song. And so that was the fun part. But actually, I really hated worship music. I really hated it. I've always made it. Interesting, right? Was that, like an early rebellious response? I guess. So I guess like did, this didn't work for me.

So and then later, when I, I came to the US to study theology, I was invested at a sort of an intellectual, from an intellectual point of view, looking that, you know, if you can nail down the intellectual foundation of Christianity, then you don't have to worry about the worship styles and stuff that I don't really care for. But then at least you were making a contribution at a very fundamental level, that kind of, I think that was my objective. And so he can make your contribution that way intellectually. But the culture never appealed to me.

Arline  12:42  
Oh, that's fascinating. I liked a little bit of both of it. Like I also have good memories, I did not grow up in the church. But my years in church, for the most part, were good. But I did I liked the Hillsong music, but I also liked the reading all the dead white guy books like So thinking back to when you were young, and you're talking about being rebellious, like young people take their often will take their beliefs very seriously. Like if Jesus really is the only way to God and like all the stuff that you're being taught is true. When you see people's lives not be changed, and the way they treat your family and the hypocrisy. It's much harder to like, make it work. Because it's like, if there really is a Holy Spirit, who's supposed to be changing people, why am I seeing this kind of behavior from these people, especially the adults that you're supposed to look up to? And things?

Josh de Keijzer  13:32  
I was not self differentiated enough. So in my view, it was just like, my dad was being beleaguered by evil men. Yeah, of course, that's not what Christians were like. So there was something wrong and maybe it was the devil. You know, he was he was waging a spiritual warfare here. And oh, good. Those lines. Yeah. So I think I think my rebellious ness is more at a subconscious level. And my hatred for worship music was a sign of that. It was it was a sign of things to come.

Arline  14:04  
Ha, that's funny. That's funny. So yeah, so what happened? Were there small things that happened that you started losing your belief? So we're

Josh de Keijzer  14:12  
no, no, no, not at all. So I struggled with my faith, but I was committed and I remained committed. And by the time I had my intellectual revival, or whatever you want awakening, I was, I was still firmly committed to the Christian faith, and already gone through a couple of phases of, like, recommitment or deepening or whatever you want to call it. I don't care. But so no, the questioning started only at the seminary. That's where I started going haywire from the Midwest, and I'd finally kind of achieved my dream. And so it was at the the Walhalla of Christianity, so to speak, you know, my, my blend of Christianity and And so now I have come to the truth right now. Now I would figure it all out. But then we were. And this is a personal anecdote, so I'm not going to go too deep into it if you don't mind. But in my family situation, stuff went really bad. Between me and my wife. It resulted in me living alone on campus. For the rest of my stay in America. Okay, so that was a first dent. And I'm like, so How was this possible? You know, the Lord guided us it was God's will. God knows everything, he knew that this was going to happen. So how can God make this happen? Why couldn't he have prevented us from going because then this wouldn't have happened bla bla bla. So you know, the questions start coming. And I guess my I also met people at that seminary, it was a thoroughly solidly evangelical seminary. But there were plenty of people who did a lot of questioning, and to credit them for, you know, opening my eyes, like, Hey, you can think differently. You don't have to be a mentalist. And one of the one of the major insights was, and it wasn't my first year that I realized, hey, look, you can describe certain things as sin, you know, or rich people need to repent and and get right with the Lord. But you can also do family marriage therapy, and then help them see where it comes from, and not sin, and they start feeling much, much better in the Lord. So that kind of I realized that. So I struggled along and try to embrace some some like postmodern notions, blah, blah, blah. But the big change for me came. In my second year, I had a black classmate, and she posted something on on Facebook, and one evening, where narrated how she had been stopped by the police in her own her own neighborhood. And police had told her, Hey, you drove through red light? And she had answered, No, I didn't. And then I said, okay, but next time, you know, you better be careful. And so she narrated that. And suddenly, it dawned on me, comparing myself with her situation. There she was in her own country, in her own name, having to experience these things on a regular basis. And here I was, as a foreigner, in America, driving my sports coupe, vehicle, speeding everywhere, all the time, under any circumstance, not just not worried. It's like, it's not in my mind that I should be worried about the police. And if I would have been stopped by the police, I would have thrown my hands in the air and say, I'm sorry, officer, I'm not from here. I'm from Europe, and we drive differently. I was just not thinking what I was doing. I'm sorry, it would have just let me get off. But hey, if you're a black, it's a different story. Ah, even even in the northern parts of the Midwest, and, and so I realized what was going on I was I was given white privilege, even as a foreigner, and I was living it out subconsciously, like all these other white people around me. And she was not having that, any of that. And she had to be careful in her own neighbor. So that set off a chain reaction. I finally started seeing racism from like, from the inside. I was already pretty much aware of it, but I started seeing it from the inside. And next I realized that racism played a large part in how things were being done at my seminary and university, because they have diversity committee. Oh, sure. And guess who was on the Diversity Committee of this all white seminary? X, black person? Why Asian person Z? And who is the president of the committee? Asian background, Professor, okay. Yeah, like African American professor. And so they were allowed to do their little thing in their little corner. As long as the rest of them could just go on doing what they were doing.

Arline  19:24  
It didn't look like anything was actually going to be changed or accommodated.

Josh de Keijzer  19:29  
at a deep level, not at a deep level. I see. And, and then, of course, you start hearing the voices and it started it's with like, a theologian, like what's his name? Nevermind, nevermind, his name doesn't matter. Like a very moderate, pretty conservative theologian who had a Hispanic background. We noted that you know, in history, the history of theology See that many decisions were made out of concerns of power, and over truth. And so you started, I started seeing more and more of that, and it became more and more uncomfortable.

And so I would say that racism was the big, the big chain, the big changer for me. Because how is it possible there you have a seminary, and we all have the word of the Lord. The Bible is God's absolute word contains God's absolute truth. And you know, we are so lucky to have it and to understand how it works. And so let's expound the Bible, the word, let's do a little bit more of Bible study or systematic theology, and you know, can get doctrinally righteous. But at the same time, they these very people were not able, and still, to this day, and 10 year from now will not be able to address the latent, not just even latent, blatant racism in their city. So what then broke?

Arline  21:10  
Again, it goes back to like, for me, at least I understood that the Bible, the Holy Spirit, all these different spiritual things were supposed to change people's lives. And when you watch people who have privilege and power, use those things for more privilege and power, and not to take care of the groups of people that when I would read the gospels, and even the Old Testament prophets, it looked like this is the stuff that God cared about. Now, I have a very, you know, a different perspective on lots of lots of parts of the Bible now, but Jesus seemed to hang out with the disenfranchised people. And yet, we watch, especially white American evangelicalism literally keep power and privilege for themselves and not not want anything to change, because why would they want things to change? Because then other people might have privilege and power and they don't? They don't want to have to share anything. It's, yeah, but it doesn't make any sense. Because you think that they're being changed by this magical supernatural stuff?

Josh de Keijzer  22:16  
Yeah. And so the funny thing is that, that I realized at one point that the entire theological structure structure, the way theology is set up, is a setup, to avoid the moral consequences of, of the gospel, whatever the gospel may be, I don't know. I don't know what the gospel, but it is, it's insane. So it always talks about the personal sins, and and it always addresses the vertical relationship between a believer and God. And so it's a very sterile kind of faith, justification by faith. For instance, when Luther first coined that that term, in the early 1600s, early 16th century, when he first coined that term, it was a revolutionary term. And it meant justification as in just pneus, as injustice for free. What does it mean technical term, as a technical term and evangelical theology, it means to get off the hook with God. So God is opening the invisible realm, blah, blah, blah, and nobody knows what happens. But magically, you're off the hook. So it's a real term, it doesn't it basically doesn't mean anymore. It's anything anymore. It simply refers to a to a non material fantasy, in order to avoid material responsibilities.

Arline  23:50  
That makes a lot of sense of I've heard it said that. I can't remember the name of the book, but it was it talked about the difference between how white American Christians and black American Christians and again, you know, there's nuance of course there's nuance, interpret the Bible, and there's this with white evangelicalism, especially, and maybe other other types of white Christianity, I'm not sure but it's very individualistic. Like anytime Paul's talking, it's not talking to y'all to use my like Southern Georgia. It's not y'all, it's just you individually. So then as long as you have done your vertical thing to deal with God, it doesn't matter the people that you've harmed. And then whereas with black Christianity, there's a much more a deeper understanding of the like, systemic things that are harming entire groups of people and because they've been part of being harmed by the system set in place. I used to wonder like, how do we help Christian when I was still a Christian like how do we help white Christians see this, but it was a chasing after the wind to use like a Bible phrase because I saw very little desire For to understand anything differently than what they did understand.

Josh de Keijzer  25:03  
There is there is no desire on the part of white evangelical Christians in America, by and large, because there are some there are some

Arline  25:12  
hashtag, not all I know.

Josh de Keijzer  25:15  
But it is very disappointing. It is deeply disheartening. And I have close friends at that particular seminary who are still close friends of mine. But when Philando Castile was shot by that police officer that happened in my street, by the way, I used to walk every day. It's a very long street, and I love to love that St. Larpenteur Avenue in Minneapolis, St. Paul, actually, anyway, so my friends for white hot, because the people were assuming things about the police officer, and things were not fully investigated. So they were white hot about the police officer being on what do you call that in English? Like leave, like afraid of leave, I think. But they could not muster enough indignation for you know, the shooting of a, of a of a black person

Arline  26:17  
who had done everything he was supposed to in that situation.

Josh de Keijzer  26:21  
I heard I heard audio. That's It's sickening.

Arline  26:26  
I had family who their perspective went straight to well, why was the woman recording? And it was like, because otherwise we would have never known what actually happened, like this poor lady has to has to like, extra traumatize herself to record this. And it was just, I couldn't understand. Sorry, I have a hard time articulating this, I couldn't understand how someone being just pointed, like murdered by the police officer was not the like, clearly this is a terrible thing that we need to figure out what's going on. I don't understand why it's not understandable.

Josh de Keijzer  27:07  
But for me, it highlighted my evangelical friends inability to, to understand or to even. And it's not like they hated blacks, those people? Well, they love black people. They had a very good friendship with our neighbor in seminary, he was black, you know, in time, they can't see it, and they're not willing to see it. And it's mind boggling, mind boggling.

Arline  27:29  
Have you noticed, I noticed this in the church. And I know that the worship of whiteness goes way outside the church like this is not just a church thing at all. But white church people that I knew, could have black friends, and even use that as an excuse to never deal with any kind of thing that they may have done that was racist, or see racist policies. But they could use that as an excuse. But it was like this bizarre I can separate you guys from the way that I vote or the way that I, you know, believe about police brutality, or I don't know, capitalism, I mean, anything, there's so many different things that, did you see the disconnect that people

Josh de Keijzer  28:11  
totally, I cannot figure it out, except that maybe as you when you're an evangelical you Your world is, in a sense, very simple. Because everything is your personal relationship with Jesus. And everything is seen from that perspective.

Arline  28:30  
And that little individualistic, individualistic approach, so

Josh de Keijzer  28:34  
you're not able to even understand the systemic nature of politics and the socio economic realities that surround you. All you can think of, we need to, you know, one issue here, to make sure that the Christians come back in power so we can do, can make sure that the Lord's will is done in this country that was founded as a Christian nation. But it's like, even there, the thinking is extremely simple minded. And systemic thinking does not come easy for evangelicals. And I know because I struggled to develop it, you know, at a later

Arline  29:11  
I was part of the group for a long time

thinking about Christian nationalism, what do you see happening over here with the Christian nationalism and trying to take back America and and all that stuff?

Josh de Keijzer  29:34  
Yeah. So I was I, I left the US in 2017. So I've had one year or good eight months of Trump. And I didn't know how quickly to leave the place. Yeah, because it was it was becoming a very scary place. And I think America is a scary, very scary place. And there's something deeply ironic and I I tend to revert back to the evangelical movement because I'm, I've been part of it for so long. So, in a weird way, I still identify with them, like I talked about us, you know, which is because I'm an evangelical but so what they're the weird thing is this. They are they are warning against an apocalypse and impending destruction of the world. And, and by their actions and voting in an absolute moral and moral monster, they are actually bringing about the demise of their own nation. Oh, wow. That's, that's how I see that I could completely exaggerate things here. But if I read some of the American media, not all the time, but there are people who say similar things like we're really sliding to chaos, anarchy, if we're not careful, and look at how polarized the American society currently is, there's even like Sean Hannity, and what's his name? Oh, cut of what did he call it? Breaking up the nation, they have a term for it. Civil War is that whatever euphemism of nation of states breaking away from from the off, you know, I

Arline  31:24  
know seceding, but I don't know. I don't know if that's the right

Josh de Keijzer  31:28  
thing. But that's not the term they're using. Yeah. This, my goodness, where you guys go on with this.

Arline  31:34  
It's sad, because there's this strange inability to see the idea of patriotism and love of nation, also bringing about what feels like the destruction of the nation that you say that you love them. But, you know, the nation that they love, I think is this mythical white supremacist world that I don't know that it's ever existed, at least

Josh de Keijzer  32:00  
for those are fantasy, people are always fighting, nostalgic fantasy.

Arline  32:05  
And if you live your individualistic little Christian world, then if your daily life is fine, it doesn't register that you're perfect. When you go and you vote, and you believe they do these different things, you're participating in what can make things way worse. But it depends on also your thoughts of what's worse, because for us, that sounds worse. But the idea of, you know, women having power over their own bodies, black and brown people having access to resources to like upward mobility, and more wealth, and all these different things that sounds bad to them. And it's, I don't understand it, I have a hard time.

Josh de Keijzer  32:42  
What I find very interesting is that evangelicals who always warned against post modernism, who Be careful post modernism, because that's like devaluation of absolute truth. They are the most postmodern idiots I've ever seen. But then postmodern thought is a great, then they are postmodern idiots. latently lie to you, when you confront them. It's something about Trump or they will ignore it. Now we keep talking about Trump, Trump is a little bit out of the picture, perhaps I don't know. But like the public debates that are going on, like there's been, there's often an obvious proof for for something, they will just deny it or they will, they will flock behind Fox News and and espouse those the lies that are going on there. So I find that very, very weird and ironic.

Arline  33:36  
That's fascinating. I hadn't thought about that. But that makes sense the idea of relative truth, because I remember learning that, that that was bad. You just don't believe that. Of course, there's objective truth. And yet here we are with those Saint very, very many of those same Christian people perfectly fine with ignoring objective truth, or believing whatever, what is it confirmation bias, whatever they are, whatever will already agree with what they've heard, which I know we're all guilty of. I know that's true.

So like, where are you now? What are like, metaphorically like, where are you now? What what are you doing as far as? Are you on a spiritual journey? Are you out you're done, or we were?

Josh de Keijzer  34:26  
What happened? Because of my family situation, I could not simply return to the Netherlands in 2012. And so in 2011, I applied for a Ph. D. Program at the same city. And I got in, amazingly, and it was a mainline Lutheran seminary. Oh, wow. And I have to say that was a breath of fresh air. And though I'm no longer I don't see myself as a Christian anymore. but I still like Lutheran theology, and of course Lutheran theology. There's two conservative kinds and that are not so interesting. But liberal Lutheran theology or if you will, radical Lutheran theology or where it intersects with liberation theology or feminist theology. I have to say it's it's fantastic, fantastic theology. And I did my research on Dietrich Bonhoeffer, who is famous in the in the US a claim by different different factions of Christianity. But in order to understand Bahnhof rebel, I had to study Luther. So I had been back to the 16th century. And I discovered a minority report and Luthers theology, even though he said about, or initiated the Reformation, which became super big, of course, it's probably fair to say that his discovery or his invention, if you will, imagination of justification by faith, and the theology that came to be known as the theology of the cross is actually kind of a minority report in, in Christianity and as pumped up here and there. And it is always the story not of power. So the main story, the main narrative of Christianity is always about power. And how you secure power, either by apostolic succession, because then the first pope got the keys from Peter, who got the keys from G. JC, right? That's right, yeah. So that works. And then the other ways to say, the word of the Lord, we have the word of the Lord, and it gives you knowledge of how things work. So those have been two main strategies in Western Christianity to hold sway over the masses, and power and gain political power. But the Minority Report says something very different than it's as if Jesus is God's self revelation, which we all are suggesting is, then we can be safe, we're safe, it's safe to say that whatever God is, is always going to be contrary to our expectation, because there you have a baby in the manger, making dirty diapers, you know, he could die anytime he's in a manger. So he has poor parents, and he becomes a man of, of with, with a lot of grief and suffering in his life, and he dies on it. That's God. So the god, you thought was sitting on the throne, the true nature of that God reveals itself or himself or herself as brokenness, weakness, as death. And so and so that kind of theology can never come to a consensus about this is the right doctrine or the right dogma, it is ongoing searching, that tries to subvert every constructed makes, because every construct you make is already like trying to domesticate the idea of God. That's very interesting theology. And I still like a lot of it, even though I'm no longer a Christian. And some of the best thinkers in Europe have come from that tradition. Think of Kant and Hegel and Heidegger, not that the role morally clean people, but very interesting people, and they have set the course on Nietzsche. He has a Lutheran background Kierkegaard. So I really liked a traditional LOD I still do. And then toward the end of my studies, I came in touch, I was introduced to radical theology. And unlike the name suggests, radical theology is not theology. It is not, it's not a discourse that helps us connect with God. But it is the discourse that takes every god concept, and it says, Oops, look at that wrong, something is wrong here. It started with the death of God theologians in the 60s if you've heard of them. That was an entire movement at that time of a theologians that said that God had died. And what they meant is God died culturally, or the way we do theology, we cannot do that anymore, or Christianity is over and things have to go radically different. And so that movement has continued. And it is, again, a minority report, because in the holes of official theory, theology dumb, that's it's not recognized. It's not talked about. It doesn't have it doesn't get a place. But that theology is very radical. It's very subversive, antithetical, and it is, and that's the beautiful thing of it. It's a perfect tool to actually analyze society as such, and to analyze ideologies and it has The routings in continental philosophy, like strong links, but the thought of Jacques Derrida, the French philosopher who came up with the notion of deconstruction, which even extra angelical took over and turn to something else. And strong connections with the Slovenian philosopher, Slavoj Shishak, who started is also fit, very influential in Europe. But it has a lot of connections with practical theology. And so it's exciting stuff. And I traveled down that path. And so I call myself a radical theologian, I guess. But I'm not a Christian.

Arline  40:42  
I am familiar with some of those names. Mostly just the names. I don't know much more than that. But that's fascinating. I love it.

Is there anything I should have asked, but I did not ask that you want to talk about?

Josh de Keijzer  41:04  
Well, let me just say that, even though I'm not a Christian, I'm not against I'm not against religions or anything. But religions are complex. ancient ways are usually ancient ways, complex ways of understanding reality, and bringing in morals and finding answer for questions. But because we as human beings, when we become self aware, and self conscious, and we become aware of the nature of our life, lives as meaningless. And as has eventually ending, we get this anxiety that drives all human beings, we devise strategies to avoid our end and to avoid facing the darkness in the eyes. And so that religions conform to, to the anxious human being, and then becomes a tool that is unhealthy. And so basically 99.999 of all God concepts, are neurotic constructs to, to drive us away from ourselves. And so therefore, I'm not too excited about religions. But okay, if religions go, what do you get, you get something else, which is ideology. And ideology is just as bad. It's just got under a singular name. And it is the same drive to or away from ourselves and away from our fate. And as we anxiously avoid our fate fee, we try to trample on our people and lord it over other people seek wealth and seek diversion, and run away from the truth.

Arline  42:41  
Yeah, it seems like if we're harming others, and we're, I don't know what the word is that I'm looking for, like so attached, maybe that's attached to the ideology, or the religion, anything that gives us meaning or just answers questions that we that we have. And we can't detach ourselves from it long enough to ask any probing questions. All the while harming other people and harming ourselves. Like, that's not good. No, like, no matter what, what version of that, whether it's an ism, you know, a secular ism, or a, or a religious thing? Yeah, it's, it's true, it's

Josh de Keijzer  43:20  
that but the problem is that both with religions and ideologies, we are not able to, to understand reality, apart from it, there's just no way for us to do it. So during, during the years that I wasn't even Jellicle Christian, like actualizing, that God would not exist was not an option. It's not that I could not say, Okay, let me just play the atheist here, and there is no battle. I can conceptually do it. But from deep from within, I was not able to conceive the world as possible. Out of God. That's fascinating. Yeah. And so ideologically, if you look at capitalism, for instance, people who are are not haven't thought about this long enough and haven't done the hard work. They cannot envision a world where the free market does not reign supreme. It just, it's not conceivable, then how should we do it? You mean, it should become ease, you know? It's not conceivable, even though they can conceptually talk about it. And so that is the problem with ideology and religion. They are not some they're not just glasses through which we look at the world. But there are basically our eyes there are our our main instrument for understanding our reality. And, and they're often very unhealthy. They're, they're anxiously driven, and we can see it. So we think we're normal people, or we think we're decent churchgoers, or we think we're, you know, we're pursuing a career in society, but All the while they're just driven by it is deep in this thing deep down in us.

Arline  45:05  
Do you know and this, this is me thinking of the fly? What are your thoughts on like, how do we help people not think in such a? Well, if it's not this absolute thing, then it will only be this other absolute this binary thinking, like helping people have nuanced. Do you have any idea how we do that? Or is it like? Well, it's not really our responsibility to do that to other people.

Josh de Keijzer  45:25  
Yeah, it's possible by forging friendships with people who think different from you. Because knowledge is social. And so perspective, perspectives are transmitted socially. And that is a very good thing. And also, I think we should be brutally honest about reality. And so I tend to say like, there's a lot of people who would say life is meaningful. Life is not meaningful, there is no meaning in life. And you need to accept that before you can create meaning.

Arline  46:02  
Oh, that's fascinating. Yeah. I think humanist I think it's what I would, I guess, put myself under. And so yeah, I believe, you know, humans, we make meaning out of things. Even when I was a Christian, I was, like, theoretically fine with when I died, I died. Like I didn't, I wasn't, you know, didn't feel any kind of way about that. In theory, and you know, I never got so sick that I might possibly die. And it was, it came, you know, face to face with it. But yeah, that's an interesting idea that we have to realize that life does not have meaning before we can begin to make meaning.

Josh de Keijzer  46:37  
Yeah. And so what drives that? Is this, the moment we become self aware, so we become to realize, so Mommy, are you going to die? The child asking that question. And, yeah, one day, I will put this a long way off. And then will I also die? Yeah, but that's a long way off, it's not going to happen anytime soon. Still, that moment is the moment where the conscious human being becomes, you know, her true self. So you need to you need to face that you need to not run away from it. And it makes sense, once we can accept the main Oh, yeah. So this is what I was gonna say. So what makes meaning for us is, we try to turn the world, or COVID into ourselves. So we become the center of the universe, and make everything evolve around us. And that's how we think we create meaning. I'm sure it works to some extent. And I'm not saying we're super selfish beings. I'm not saying that. But it's just it's an orientation, like the self has to be the center, the self has to achieve longevity or eternity. Immortality, if not, for real, that may be in the books I write, you know that that kind of thing. The memories, the things I leave behind are the ones I love.

But once you can let go of self, and kind of can accept that you're finite. So like, throw yourself in that abyss of darkness, and accept that, that even though it's maybe 30, or 40 years old, except it is now. And once you can do that, then you can return to life. And then say I have a surplus on my back, that's my life that I just lost. And I don't need to center it anymore. And so then you can start centering other people. And when you center other people, I guess to the common word for that is love. And when you when you use your life, your surplus for developing of others, and you don't care whether you're remembered, or you don't care, whether you're rich or poor, you just don't care. Because you've already lost your life. And then when you invest in others, then you find the meaning of life. Because the meaning of life is to live difficult word, EXO centrically or outside of yourself. But that's something that because of our evolutionary upbringing, your evolutionary origins, we can do, our self consciousness forces us to center ourselves in anxiety. And once we can overcome that we be find the meaning of life to help others to be there for others to give love.

Arline  49:26  
Part of me, you know, having been a woman in the Christian world for a long time, it's like, but that's what we did for all that. That's what I did. You know, it's like, and that's what you did.

Josh de Keijzer  49:37  
That's totally unhealthy.

Arline  49:39  
Yeah, that yes, the not being able, like Brene Brown, I don't know if you're familiar with her work, she talks about the most compassionate people are people with boundaries, people who can like give and give and give and then say no, I cannot give any more I need to be able to take care of my own self are really

Josh de Keijzer  49:56  
saying this, because that is the absolute necessary addition to what I'm saying? Because yes, you're right. Healthcare comes first. But I'm talking about is not like, you know, just be the least just serve you. I'm not saying that.

Arline  50:15  
Oh, yes, I know. I know. It's, it brings up that same feeling. But I know what you're saying. And you're not the first use of Internet who are like, loving other people taking care of other people like, because there really is a lot of truth behind that. Well, I was gonna say pour yourself out for people, oh, Christian Christianese comes out all the time.

Josh de Keijzer  50:35  
But yeah, that's not what I mean. It's just like, if you live decentered, then it's basically the Buddhist tradition, once you can see yourself. So it's like Jesus tradition and the Buddhist tradition coming together. Because Jesus said, If you want to gain your life, you have to lose it. Because like, what does it mean? What does it mean? What does it mean? And then quickly, Christians turn it into you needs to be born again and saved. You actually, you don't need salvation, you need loss. But the Buddhist tradition is like, once you can understand that you are an illusion, here, you're an illusion, and you can let go of the desires. And then everything is sold. There's no problem anymore. But healthy boundaries, so but this weird error is that there is a component there of self care. And you can only truly love others when you are able to take care of yourself. I agree. I agree to that.

Arline  51:33  
Yeah. Do you have any recommendations, podcasts, books, anything that you read, as you were deconstructing or that you're reading now that you're like, This is so influential in my life?

Josh de Keijzer  51:48  
So I'd like to bring up one book, no three books. One is then sort of the academic version. That's the Palgrave Handbook of radical theology. Okay. And it's not a cheap one. But it brings together so thinkers over a period of what 50 years in the area of radical theology, and what I like about radical theology so much is like, Okay, once you leave the Christian faith, you don't have to become an atheist. Atheism is often another version of a committed point of view, about which we cannot say anything for certain so why? And so it's like, radical theology charts, of course, beyond the division between theology faith on one end, and atheism on the other. Although it can be quite atheistic, in its in its own way. Then two other books. So one is a book that recently came out and I haven't read it yet, but the the author asked me to review her book for her. And the author has had her Hamilton. And she's, and the book is returning to Eden a field guide for the spiritual journey. So I thought it was so nice to mention that.

Arline  53:04  
Okay, yes, it has popped up a few different places in my Instagram. So I have been hearing about this book, and it makes me curious. Yeah.

Josh de Keijzer  53:13  
And so I think it is a way for Christians who can no longer be Evangelical, to still do something meaningful with a biblical text and find a new way of making meaning out of it through a mythological interpretation, I think that's what I'm, that's my take on it. And then the third book is interesting. It's called safer than the known way, a post Christian journey, by Maria, Francesca French. And she is, uh, she actually was in my seminary. So we're friends. And I'm also I just did a review on her book. And so her story or her, her narrative in that book is very much like my own. It's post Christian. It is radical theology. And it charts of course, beyond the division, or the end and antithesis between atheism, and Christianity. And so I think that's a very interesting book for, for people who are done who are really done with religion. And that might be a good book to

Arline  54:17  
pick up. And I have found there lots of people who they're done with religion, but they might still love Jesus, they might still, you know, have an end for so many people being a Christian was such a huge part of their lives for so long. That it is you know, it's not always something you can just throw away like, the language is still there. The some of the feelings are still there. Now, sometimes it needs to be like, and we're done, like completely. But yeah, that's not always the thing. So I've heard of the second author or the Maria author, and then yeah, returning to Eden has popped up a few different places recently. So it makes me curious. Okay, how can people find you online? That's how I found you. How can others find you?

Josh de Keijzer  54:57  
Yeah, so I have an Instagram work out after God's end, where I usually post things that would make any Christian angry. Which are expressions of my anger towards Christianity.

Arline  55:13  
Yeah, I very much get it. I recently just posted to my like personal Facebook, I need a women's like Facebook thread where we can just be angry sometimes together, and I've had three people be like, I'm here for it. And so we have our little group that just, sometimes you just need to be angry with some other people. And then you feel a little bit better. Yep, I understand. You're right, you're

Josh de Keijzer  55:36  
right. And other than that, as a theologian i, okay, I call myself a radical theologian. But on the other hand, I don't call myself a theologian anymore. I've, I've an interesting career now as a freelance copywriter. Maybe I'll call myself a philosopher. I do that sometimes. That I tell people I studied philosophy of religion, which is actually very true, as far as my PhD is concerned. But I'm a copywriter. So I could give you my account, or mentioned my accounts, but they are. I'm on LinkedIn there. But I write a lot of Dutch these days, because I've written 1000s of pages in English. But no matter how much I try, it's never going to be as good as my touch. That makes sense.

Arline  56:24  
Yeah. I'm enjoying honing

Josh de Keijzer  56:27  
my skills as a Dutch copywriter. And who knows, I will, you know, pick up a book idea and work on it at some point.

Arline  56:36  
That's awesome. Well, Josh, thank you so much for doing this. I had a delightful time getting to know you better. I appreciate it.

Josh de Keijzer  56:43  
Thank you, Arline. That was a great conversation.

Arline  56:52  
My final thoughts on the episode, I really enjoyed that discussion. I love that Josh is using his platform today to just be a space to get his anger out. But also to let other people know that they aren't alone, that you can deconstruct the fundamentalist or conservative Christianity that you grew up with, or that you've believed as an adult. And there are places for you to go. There is radical theology, feminist theology, womanist, theology, queer affirming theology, like there's so many other ways to look at the Bible, or Christianity or Jesus and still love those things, and appreciate them in a new way. I personally have thrown it all out in in fine without there being gods or goddesses or any kind of thing like that. But everyone needs somewhere that they can, that they can land if they want to land somewhere. And so this is good that this exists out on Instagram, and the online community that you're able to build on Instagram really is amazing. And so I'm glad Josh is doing that. And I've learned a lot from his page. And I know other people have learned a lot and will continue to learn. And so Josh, thanks again for being on the podcast.

David Ames  58:19  
For the secular Grace Thought of the Week, I really can't help myself but talk about the post modernism and secular Grace aspects of Josh's story. I've found it just amazing, having been a part of the church when the idea of being postmodern to have truth be relative, the will to power to be a negative thing, something that was decried from the pulpit constantly to find ourselves in a moment where the church seems to have embraced this entirely. Unwittingly, they would never obviously call themselves postmodern they use post modernism as an epitaph. The other interesting thing about that is that the way that post modernism is used colloquially by the church is incorrect. Interestingly enough, post modernism is really important for those of us who have gone through deconstruction and deconversion. And it's more than Derrida and the original idea of deconstruction, that had nothing to do with religion. But more so the idea of modernism, modernism was about having answers, answers to life's questions, authorities that could be trusted. And post modernism was a departure from that the recognition that those authorities could be mistaken, were in fact mistaken, that the answers that we were satisfied with weren't good enough. In Dana Freibach-Heifetz's book titled Secular Grace, she draws a direct line from the enlightenment to post modernism to see secular grace, and that in her mind that progression is a healthy and natural one. Obviously, that's something that that I agree with. But I appreciate when I hear someone else articulate secular Grace without using those words. I think Josh was describing that a focus on loving people even serving people to use that churchy word is a part of this proactive love that I call secular grace. Next week is Holly Laurent from the mega podcast. Holly is amazing to talk to. She is a fantastic comedian, and I think you're gonna love that. And also check out the rise and fall of twin hills, a satirical look at powerful pastors within the pretend world of the twin Hills Church on the Mega podcast. Check that out as well. 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 for blog posts, quotes, recommendations and full episode transcripts head over to graceful This graceful atheist podcast part of the atheist United studios Podcast Network

Transcribed by

You’re Worth the Work.

Atheism, Deconversion, Secular Grace, Secular Therapy, Uncategorized

May is Mental Health Awareness Month in the US and one thing that suffers greatly under religion is our mental health.

I spent years believing that my mind was filled with demons. As soon as I stopped praying, the demons left. Almost like they were never real.

One doesn’t have to believe in demons to be manipulated and harmed by religion. Here are some online resources that have helped me and others. They’re resources for anyone who’s left religion, whether you’re “spiritual but not religious” or an atheist.

Take care of yourself. You’re worth the work. 

Online Resources

Graceful Atheist Podcast Episodes


Personal Experiences

Whether you’re still a believer or you’ve moved far from your fundamentalist roots, mental health is important. When you need help, seek out help. 

Having a community also makes a difference. If you’re in need of community, consider joining the Deconversion Anonymous private Facebook group. It isn’t professional therapy, but knowing you aren’t alone can go a long way.


Jump in where you are!

Blog Posts

Think of yourself as dead. You have lived your life. Now take what’s left and live it properly.

Meditations of Marcus Aurelius, 7.56.

‘I wish it need not have happened in my time,’ said Frodo.
‘So do I,’ said Gandalf, ‘and so do all who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.’

Fellowship of the Ring, p43

You Are Not Behind! Jump in where you are!


Last week I talked about the fact that you have it within yourself to grow your character the way you want. Once you have accepted this, what comes next?

One of the things that overwhelmed me at the beginning of my deconstruction was the fact that so many years had gone by. Wasted. I felt like I was starting from scratch, having misspent my adolescence and adult life so far.

As I was deconstructing, I was exposed early to the philosophy of Stoicism. The Marcus Aurelius quotation above was one of the most helpful things that came up during my initial exposure.

The sunk cost fallacy is the idea that time or other resources already spent should not matter when it comes to decision-making. The fact that time has gone and you cannot get it back means there’s nothing you can do about it. In turn, those facts should not be used when making decisions.

A classic example is standing in line: say you’ve been in line for an hour. Sunk cost fallacy says you should keep staying in line.. you don’t want to “waste” the hour you’ve spent. But whether you stay in line or not, that hour is gone. The sunk cost fallacy leads to bad decision making.

If you can get out of line and achieve what you want even faster, that’s what you should do. It’s better to think, “Starting from here and now, what do I have to spend to achieve what I want?” as if you hadn’t spent anything at all yet.

This is a powerful idea to understand. Let’s apply it to our lives.

Marcus is doing what cognitive behavioral therapists call reframing: he’s choosing a helpful new way to view his current situation. All his life so far is sunk, and he can’t get it back. The decisions have been made and are set in stone.

The TV show “Alone” involves people being dropped into a survival situation with limited tools. It doesn’t do them much good to complain about all the tools they don’t have. Instead, what’s important is to figure out what to do with what they have right now.

Frodo wishes he wasn’t in the situation he was in. Gandalf wisely points out that he doesn’t get that choice, but he does get to decide what to do next.

When I look at my life as if it’s a series of successive moments, one event happening after another, I’m free to look at the past as history. It becomes something I can learn from instead of something that has to keep affecting my present life. The past becomes a kind of property, a thing I have–maybe even a thing I was given–rather than a thing I am. I can’t change the past, but I can make decisions that affect my future.

So as you go forward into the rest of your life, working on character, friendships, and all the things that go into a well-lived life, start with this: Begin again.

Joanna Johnson: Silenced In Eden

Agnosticism, Authors, Autonomy, Book Review, Deconstruction, Podcast, Purity Culture
Listen on Apple Podcasts

This week’s guest is author Jo Lloyd Johnson. Jo grew up in a “non-denominational charismatic commune”. She spent her adolescence in various churches, but they weren’t as “Spirit-filled” as she was taught they could be.  

She married young and the first years of marriage were difficult–alcohol abuse, church-shopping, and the difficulties that come with having young children. 

She and her husband needed the church to be a place of deep and meaningful relationships. 

“When we started seeing church as a social club [with no depth], we were like, ‘No. This is not what we thought it was…’”

By 2018, Jo realized the Church was steeped in Patriarchy. She was fine with “a woman’s place” until she wasn’t. 

Jo has used writing as a way to process the trauma and emotions she’s experienced and her book, Silenced in Eden, is helping others on their own journeys.



Silenced In Eden

Louder Than Silence




Girl at the End of the World by Elizabeth Esther

Undertow by Charlene Edge

Unfollow by Megan Phelps-Roper

#Churchtoo by Emily Joy Allison

Sex and God by Darrel Ray 

Know My Name by Chanel Miller


Dirty Rotten Church Kids podcast

I was a Teenage Fundamentalist podcast



“Those who came before can help those who are in it now.” 

“I literally tried to be perfect.”

“We’re either Virgin Mary or a whore. That’s the Bible’s idea of women.”

“I [was] a people pleaser. I [was] a female in a Christian church; that’s what I’m trained to be. From birth.”

“I am not quiet, so that was the problem.”

“I didn’t fit the mold of what the Church told me I was supposed to be.”

“I’m super blessed that when my thread pulled, a different thread for [my husband] pulled.” 

“All Churches are people playing happy, people playing [at]…a facade…”

“When we started seeing church as a social club [with no depth], we were like, ‘No. This is not what we thought it was…’”

“I love the idea of ‘Human helping Human.’” 

“Writing, for me, is processing my feelings.”

“Memoirs were my lifeline at the beginning of leaving [Christianity].”

“Through trauma and through being female and a child, I wasn’t given a voice…I was silenced.”


Join the Deconversion Anonymous Facebook group!


Secular Grace

Support the podcast

Podchaser - Graceful Atheist Podcast


“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 are trying to be the graceful atheist. Thank you to all my patrons who support the podcast. You too can have an ad free experience of the podcast by becoming a patron at atheist. If you are doubting deconstructing, or de converting, you do not have to do it alone. Our private Facebook group deconversion Anonymous is trying to be a safe place to land. Join us at Special thanks to Mike T for editing today's show. onto today's show. My guest today is Joanna Johnson. Joanna has written the book Silenced in Eden. That is a memoir of her experience growing up as a dedicated Christian. experiencing sexual trauma is a young child growing up within a family and extended family of Christians trying to fulfill the expectations of being a Christian trying to go into ministry. The purity culture she experienced the sexism and repression were common throughout her life. Jo is an obvious leader and that showed throughout her Christian journey as she was a leader in various places but always was held back. You can find her book Silenced and Eaden on Amazon. Of course, there'll be links in the show notes. But before we begin, I want to read a statement from Jo Silenced and Eaden is meant to be a voice for all who have been silenced and encourage others to speak their painful truth. Because of this $1 from each book sale will go to the nonprofit Louder Than Silence. Louder Than Silence exists to provide survivors of sexual violence with the community and resources needed to gain hope and healing. They focus on paying for EMDR trauma therapy, hosting workshops and retreats providing self care kits and much more. Their biggest dream is that survivors know that they are not alone and have a foundation of support among other survivors as they navigate their journeys together. If you are a survivor of sexual trauma, I would very highly recommend that you reach out to Louder than Silence. And thank you to Jo for making that a part of her book sales. Here is Joanna Johnson telling her story.

Jo Johnson, welcome to the graceful atheist podcast.

Joanna Johnson  2:44  
Thank you. Thanks for having me.

David Ames  2:46  
Jo, you have written a really powerful book called Silenced in Eden, it is a memoir. It's really raw and honest. And we're gonna get to hear a bit of that story as you tell us here today. Thank you for reaching out, first of all for wanting to be on the podcast and I'm excited. You're here.

Joanna Johnson  3:04  
Thank you. Yeah, I love what you do. I love the the thing I love most about this podcast is it's people who have D converted or deconstructing reaching out and like helping other people who are in it. And like that was the whole motivation of writing for me was this idea that like we those who came before can help those who are in it now.

David Ames  3:29  
Yes, yeah, exactly. Jo, since your memoir is your story, we're basically going to go over the book in telling your story. But as we always talk about what was your faith tradition, when you were growing up?

Joanna Johnson  3:41  
Yes. So I did prepare for that one. So I was I am a grand pastor's grandkid. Okay, so my grandpa was a pastor. He started a non denominational charismatic commune. So it was a church but then people also started living together. And just like with both charismatic we had spent praying in tongues, we had my grandma would often see angels worship time would never have like a end to it. It would just go as long as it went. But my grandpa passed away. I was only four. So the church ended when, when his shortly after him. And then we were in the world of Calvary Chapel. And first Baptists and my parents it was kind of like the desert to them, because here they are these very Spirit moving, and then they're in dry.

David Ames  4:52  
Yeah. That's quite a change. Yeah, yes.

Joanna Johnson  4:56  
Very, very big change for them. So when I was 16, I actually stumbled on to a nondenominational charismatic church. Okay. And so I, of course, when I went there, I was like, hey, this feels really familiar, right? This seems like what my parents have been telling me, You're just supposed to be like, because you have very little memory before five. So I didn't really know, I just saw their Christianity and then the Christianity that was in front of me, and it didn't, like, line up the same. So I knew that there was a spiritual NISS or a charismatic pneus to their faith, but I didn't see it in in the church practice that I was growing up in. Right. Got it. Okay. Okay. So when I see that at 16, I like, this is what they've been telling me about and call it like, clamored onto it. And that became my entire life. Yeah. So at 16 and, you know, 16 years trying to find yourself, you're in high school. I had my like, six months of rebellion. And then I was like, Okay, I'm going to be perfect. Yeah, I literally tried to be perfect. And so, charismatic church became my life. I actually did two years of an unpaid internship, where I actually paid to go, like to work for them right or free. paying them also. And that was where I met my husband. Okay. Yeah, so, Christian, Christian. Everything was church. We were doing leadership together. He ends up on staff at church. Okay, we're we're courting or dating. Purity culture, right? Well, we're also Hardy kind of human in love for the first time ever. So we fumble the ball, right? We don't make it to the altar before we make it under the sheets, if you want to say

David Ames  7:17  
yes, yeah.

Joanna Johnson  7:27  
It's funny now, just the last like two years, somebody told me to read the great sex rescue. I don't know if you've read it. So it's a Christian book about like, from a Christian author, but it's talking about how purity culture, Christian idea of sex actually leads at it statistically showed leads to bad sex. Yeah. And like, I think, especially for women, because we're not allowed to have a sex drive in Christian, whatever. And I do try to talk about that a little bit in the book, like, we're either Virgin Mary or a whore. Like, that's the Bible's idea of women. So, now, so my husband and I, you know, we have sex before marriage. And now looking back, I'm like, I'm really happy we did. Yeah. Yes. Because I am a victim of childhood sexual assault, which disconnects you from your body? Christianity, which tells you your feelings are bad and your you are bad. disconnects you from your body. And so as we as me and my husband, at the time fiance, are trying to ignore our body but not doing it well. Right. Right. I it was the first time in my life, I realized now where I was able to connect with my body. Okay, and I realized, like, if I would have done the Christian way of being perfect, ignoring your body's urges, then you say a little promise. You end up half it like you're supposed to then that night, right? It's like, okay, yeah, on, turn everything on. All of a sudden it goes from zero to 100. And so knowing my own personal like trauma, that probably would have destroyed me, it would have destroyed our marriage. I don't know if if having sex and knowing my bodies, whatever, like I'm not ready yet. I don't know how I would have been able to heal. Like I know that would have been more damaging is what I'm saying. Right, right. So now I can look back at our first time with happiness. But sadly, I didn't have that this realization while we were in it, right? Yeah, yes. So while we're in it, we would have you know, it was pleasurable and then it was shameful. Immediately after, right, right. So, so it was. So Anyways, long story short. He, the church has this pre marriage counseling, counseling.

David Ames  10:43  
Yeah. Yeah,

Joanna Johnson  10:45  
exactly. Counseling by people who are not trained to be counselors. Well, the last one is on our last meeting was on our purity. And my husband spills the beans. Right? We are no longer pure.

So two weeks before our wedding, he gets fired. Oh, wow.

David Ames  11:17  
Yeah, you're Yeah, you're so you're already engaged. The church knows that you're getting married? We both are honest. Yeah. And in in marriage counseling, or in premarital counseling, you admit that or your husband admits that you've had sacks? And they fire? Unbelievable?

Joanna Johnson  11:33  
Yes, absolutely. Which, yeah, again, just like, Let's load the shame on us. And, yeah, so we ended up having to, like, move in with his parents, because that was his income. And so it started out our marriage really rough. And at that time, the pastor meets with us and she's like, okay, you can do X, Y, and Z for nine months. And then we'll talk about coming back on staff. And I'm like, Okay, let's do that. I'm like, Okay, I know how to try to be perfect. I will go back to trying to be perfect. Where, where my husband's like, no, like he's mad. He feels like a failure. Also, they took away like, we were in ministry, we were he was on staff, we already had multiple outreach things going on. And they just dropped all of them or took them away and handed them to someone else. So he's really hurt by that. And does it at the time is just like, forget everything, right? So we're on two very different ends of the like, reactionary spectrum. He starts drinking heavily. And I'm begging him to go to church. Right. That's how we start our marriage. Yeah. I feel like I end up pregnant pretty quickly mothering my daughter, well, my husband's still in this angry but not really dealing with it. That's the problem with alcohol. Right, is that you're not feeling the feelings. You're not. He's not deconstructing, he's not deciding what stays and goes. He's just mad. And numbing the mad, right. Sure. All the pain, the pain under it? Yeah, yes. Right. Because anger, I've learned is a second emotion. Right. So there's the hurt that he's hiding from. Um, so we're in that for a while. We start we actually find a it's funny, we call it the church, the church to point out because it was a church, that was birthed out of leaders that left the first church I found at 16. So in the end, it ends up being the same problems, right. But at the time, it's a lot easier to blame the one pastor, right. And even we hear this a lot with deconstructing and de converting. It's like, Oh, you got hurt by one person. But then you're for those of us who have left like, I guarantee it wasn't one person, right? Yeah, it was. It was multiple people it was you start to realize it's a system that is harmful. So at the time, we didn't know that it was the one pastor.

David Ames  14:55  
Sure. Yeah. It's easy to identify that way and I think you've expressed it really well. So far, just to say that purity culture, which is a major theme throughout your whole book separates us from our our bodies and our desires in very natural, normal things, and we're suppressing that. And as I've just been coming to learn that many, many people are affected by that. And even what you were describing that having to go from zero to 100, right off on the wedding night, so to speak. It does not work for many people. No, it

Joanna Johnson  15:28  
doesn't. Yeah, and the heartbreaking is I've heard stories of people who ignore that, like, I've heard both right. I've heard men who are gentle enough to be like, Oh, you're not ready. Okay, well, tonight we won't, and we're going to enjoy whatever level of intimacy we can have. Right. I've also heard the horror stories, where it is traumatizing. And the man is promised I get to have sex on this night. So I will with or without your

David Ames  16:03  
participation. Yeah. It tends to be better with the participation.

Joanna Johnson  16:11  
Yeah, on all blends, right. Yeah, for all people involved. And that's where, like, I know, with my background, that that would have destroyed. And it's funny because my husband is the most overly aware of my arousal and feelings. And I would joke with him that he was more connected to me than I was.

Speaker 3  16:35  
Oh, interesting. Okay, yeah. And not just physically like,

Joanna Johnson  16:39  
he will tell me when something's about when something emotionally is bothering me. Because I'll start to get I am so disconnected from my feelings that it usually takes a week, something will happen and I'll like ignore it or not realize, like that, that bothered me. But I'll start to get short with people. I'll start to get irritable, I'll start whatever. And he'll be like, Jo, something's something's going on. Take a moment figure out what's under neath here. Something hurt your feelings or something's wrong. But so yeah, I would just joke that he is more connected to my feelings than I am working on that though. Yeah.

David Ames  17:24  
Day to day by day, okay.

Joanna Johnson  17:34  
So anyways, we ended up back at a church. And he spent five years stone sober, starts preaching at church, okay. We're at a Calvary Chapel at the time. starts, he'll, he'd preached like, you know, pastor wants a day off or whatever. And then there was a church close by, that had a pastor situation where they needed a pastor. So we go there a couple of times to oh, I'll share this Sunday. Well, they ended up offering him a pastor ship. Okay. As well, yeah, I mean, fairly, it was like, you know, we interviewed for it type of thing. went to dinner with the elders, blah, blah, blah. But it's the Calvary Chapel. And we I grew up nondenominational, right? Where women are, at least pretending to be equals. Right. Okay. Are not head pastors, but they can be pastors, right. They can share at the pulpit, they can help lead a ministry. So like, at 16, I was leading a small group, and I'm trying to think if I ever I mean, I pray on the mic. I don't know if I ever liked it a sermon on the mic. I actually, that's I did I did do a sermon on the mic to a smaller group anyways.

David Ames  19:17  
But you were you were a leader in the church, though. You were a leader.

Joanna Johnson  19:21  
And, and a leader in the church and and acknowledged, I guess, yes. And so he's offered this pastor ship at a Calvary Chapel. And I remember this conversation with him. I'm like, Would I be able to like, even share my testimony? Like, from the pulpit? And he's like, I don't, I don't know. Maybe not. And so the book is Silenced and Eaden, right. So the whole theme is that I had a hard time voicing my feelings voicing for myself. So he's literally saying If I take this job, you will have no voice. Right? And he so he says, I don't think so. Can you? Like are you okay with that? And I'm a people pleaser, right? I'm a female in a Christian church. So that's what I trade.

David Ames  20:18  
Yes. People from Chinese. Yes. Yes.

Joanna Johnson  20:21  
From birth I come out. Yeah. So I couldn't answer him. Because I knew the answer. I'm supposed to say right. The people pleasing answer of Yes, of course, babe. I'm totally fine with that. But in me, I was like, screaming No, no, I'm not okay with that. No, you can't lead and lead without me. You can't tell me to stay silent. And it, it took me a moment to be like, okay. Okay, what do I say here? And for me, that was the little string that just unraveled everything. Okay. Yeah. That was the moment where I was I No, no, you can't I cannot okay with that. No, I'm not okay, that this is normal in any church. No, I'm not okay, that women are expected to watch the children and help you right sermons because I had written most like, helped him work on most of them. And then, okay, I have no voice like, yeah, I was like, No. And so yeah, it was interesting. It was like, an eye opening of the patriarchy of my whole life. Okay. I had been at until that point, I was fine with a woman's place, right? I was, I mean, for me, I am really nurturing. So the idea of like, oh, you get to be a mom, like, okay, that's fine. I love people. I love taking care of people, I can gladly be a mom. I am not quiet. So that was the problem, right? In the what the church I went to when we were like 16 women were a lot of, I would say they were arm candy. Like they would be able to pray and lead and whatever. But they were was it was Southern California. They were gorgeous. They wore high heels. Then there was me where I was like a punk rocker, I had a studded belt. And I would jump in the I would jump in a mosh pit. Like, I didn't fit the mold of what the church told me I was supposed to be. But I could definitely be a nurturing mom, like, I could do that. And so I do feel like for me, when I got married, it was like this. I got mold. I was like, okay, I can try to fit in this right? I can be a mom, I can be supportive. I can be a people pleaser, like I can fit in this mold. And that was the moment where like, the mold broke. I can't do this anymore. Yeah, we're done. And I'm super blessed that we, when my thread pulled a different thread for him pulled.

David Ames  23:28  
Oh, okay. I want to pause just for a second, because one of the things I want to mention is how common this message is that strong personality women who have natural born leadership qualities, and they find themselves trapped in you know, you can do church, you can do children's ministry, or you can, you know, do director of education, but you can't preach in front of the congregation. And it amazes me, especially outside of the bubble, right on this side of deconversion that so many denominations are losing half of their talent pool. Right off the bat, like I just think tactically, it's stupid. And then obviously the devastating consequences. If you are in fact a woman and you have these leadership qualities and you feel just completely contained and unable to use those gifts to use the Christianese. Right. It's absurd. It's a complete absurdity. So

Joanna Johnson  24:28  
it is and it's also crazy, because you said half but statistically, women are there's more women in church than there are men. Right. Good point. Yeah. So it's funny. It's like you have more women, but those are the ones you want to say they have no place so they have no you know, yeah. So that's a funny reality.

David Ames  24:58  
I digress there so you both are Pulling on different strings, but the sweaters are unraveling.

Joanna Johnson  25:04  
We're unraveling. So for him, he did a sermon on I'm not sure exactly what it was. Maybe it was the Holy Spirit. I just remember he got really into the word spirit, and, and hell. And he had an I do put this in the book, he had an experience where he goes in, and he was at work. He was doing insurance claims to get to go into someone's house who had a flood. And the person was clearly a drug addict. The house was in decay. Like, there was trash all over the house. It was. And the guy was looked nearly skeletal like he's just wasting away. And my husband was like, This guy is in hell. Yeah, like that. That's hell, I don't know how else to explain it. But that's hell. And so he did a deep dive into the word hell. And literally everything that love wins from Rob Bell, like II without reading the book came to all of the same like, this is how the Bible explains how the hell isn't even really in the Bible.

David Ames  26:26  
It really isn't a thing. Yeah.

Joanna Johnson  26:30  
So that was one of the things for him. That was like, Wait a second. And it was funny, because during that, that time, it was like 2018. We would have like, I would share this, you know, this doesn't fit in my Christianity anymore. It'd be like, Well, what about this? This doesn't make sense. And then I'd be like, Wait, well, you can't question Oh. And then I'd be like, Wait, that actually makes sense. And then the Spirit, okay. There's actually no diff difference of the word holy spirit or spirit, our spirit. And so it was just one of those things where it was interesting, he would have one thing that had bothered him, right, that didn't sit in his gut. And it would come up, and then I would be like, Wait, you can't question that. And then I listen. I'm like, Oh, that makes sense, actually. Right. Vice versa.

David Ames  27:24  
You both were sliding down that slippery slope together.

Joanna Johnson  27:27  
Well, it was funny, because there was definitely times where I'd be like, I'd grab him and be like, catch up. Now, yeah. But yeah, so clearly, he decided not to become a pastor. And for him, at that time for him, the we were at a church. The pastor who was was there had had some inappropriateness with a younger secretary or something. Okay. Something where the powerplay would be unethical as well than just an affair, right. And I don't think it was an actual affair. But the point was that something was icky. And the pastor left. And the congregation was really sad and lost. And my husband went to the elders is like, you know, I don't see why you guys are still having like a Sunday service. Like, why don't we go back to like a house church, try to build this community back where we heal, whatever hurt has been done. And, and then we'll start church, like, once we feel like, that process is over. And they were all like, no, we want to have our Sunday service. We want to print our pamphlets we want to, and for both me and him were like, This is playing church. Yeah, this is a show. There's no real depth. There's no community here. Is this what church really is? And so it was that realization of like, okay, for them churches, this is a band that shows up, and people fill in a room, sing a song, here's something we like, right? Well, we want a younger pastor, because we want you to bring some life. Okay, we want you know, and it's just this. There was just not the depth anymore.

David Ames  29:31  
You passed over very quickly that, you know, he didn't become a pastor. But but in the book, I think you really described that both of you are pretty dedicated to ministry, you that's like your vision for your life is ministry. So my question is, when you made that decision, did you think you would have already started deconstruct enough that it wasn't traumatic, or was it or was that a loss of a sense of like your purpose in life at that point?

Joanna Johnson  29:58  
Yeah. So when we started, do deconstructing it was a? Yeah, I think we had already gotten to the point where this doesn't feel right like this, this, this church is not just that this church is broken, maybe all churches broken. There we go. Okay, got it. So once we had that, yeah, once we had that piece of like, wait, I think that this church is showing us what all churches, all churches are people playing happy people playing a hole. And it's actually maybe it's really just a facade, and there's not the depth that we want it to have. Right? Because yeah, the reality was for us. Church was the deeper, like, we both came to church and like, got dedicated when we were in high school. And it was our whole life. And it was where we had friends, it was where we had these emotional experiences. So it was, for us always was relational. Like, we wanted to do ministry, because I mean, all these young people that we care about are dying and going to hell in our minds. So we need to save them all. And there was I'm not sure if it was on your guys's group deconversion anonymous, it probably was, but there was one about it was the social media post about if people, people really thought if Christians really believed in hell, then they would constantly like it would break their hearts. Yeah, something like that. And I remember being like, that was me. Okay, I was, I was the Christian who literally like I remember, staying certain nights, staying up until two in the morning crying over people that I thought were gonna go to hell. I was the person who was like, I can't let these people I care about or anyone go to hell. Because I hate people in pain. Like, I would rather be the one in pain. Let me have the pain, don't let them have the pain.

So I think that for my husband, Josh and I, we, what what we liked about Christianity that we had was the depth, the interconnectedness. So when when church became this plastic shell of a I don't know what you'd call it, like a social club. Right? When we started seeing church as a social club, we're like, No, this isn't what we thought it was. So I don't want to lead something. That's that. Right. Okay. So it was a lot easier to leave the idea of ministry at that point? Oh, yeah, I do think that there's been, for me specifically, that is something that I still feel the loss of. But it's been like, sometimes there's things where you're like, oh, I don't want that. But then you don't realize like, what you're missing now? Sure. I don't know if that makes sense. But it's, I guess I didn't feel the loss while deconstructing, but I feel it now.

David Ames  33:34  
Yeah. Yeah, we talk a lot about that, you know, there are good aspects of church, right. It's the built in community, you know, people that are there who care about you when you're sick. Hopefully, they come and bring you food and you know, ask about your children and maybe babysit for you. And all those things like having that interconnectedness is really important as a human being. And there are not great solutions for that in the secular world. So like, there's definite aspects of that. And then that does just what you're describing, again, your natural talent as a leader to want to be a part of that to foster more community to bring people together. And maybe not having the venue to do that in a secular world is a loss. And we can we can acknowledge that and recognize that that's, it's, it's sad.

Joanna Johnson  34:21  
Yeah, looking at. It's interesting once the cards fall, and you look back, and you can find certain points of your life where you're like, oh, that never sat well with me, or that's why I did that. And so now I look back and I'm like, Oh, well, that's why. When my husband and I went to the church, 2.0 they were doing, we started, we were in a small group. And the small group wanted to go over Sunday's notes. So we'd hear a sermon on Sunday. And then we talk about it on Tuesday, whatever. Sure. And I remember going to the, the leader and I was like No. This strong dominant woman was like, No, we shouldn't do that. And I asked him, I was like, why don't we all take turns and share our testimony? Why don't we all take turns and share part of our life and why we're Christians. Because I want that connectedness I want to learn about these people sitting in a room that I'm trying to have, quote, fellowship with, right? I want to get to know them. I don't want to talk about the pastor's five point message, I want to get to know my person next to me. And, and he let me do that or let us do that. And the people who are in that group have said, like, that was the best small group we ever have been a part of. And so it's interesting. Now I'm like, Oh, I wanted that I saw the surface, and knew that there was surface SNESs already and was trying to find depth. So it was like, I already knew that something was off. Right? I already knew that there was something wrong in the church, I was just trying to tweak it to still make it work for me.

David Ames  36:09  
Right. This also reminds me of what I call church shopping, that you start, there's some nagging thing that's missing, and you start to look around like, Well, maybe it's over here, or this denomination or this tradition. And you're just you're looking to fulfill the thing that, you know, ought to be there but isn't add it that is the beginning of the end, right. It's, it's going to end in tears.

Joanna Johnson  36:32  
It can be it's interesting when my so you know, I said my grandfather's church ended. I was really young. And then we would we went to Calvary Chapel. We went to first Baptist, like, during that entire time, my dad was desperately church shopping. Okay. Okay. He would like we would have the church would go to and then on a random Sunday, he would just show us up at some other church because he was not happy. And, and I don't know if he's been happy in a church since my grandpa's church. Right. But he's still at church.

David Ames  37:10  
I understand. Yeah. But I imagine that nagging feeling is still there. It might be if he were aware of that unable to articulate it.

Joanna Johnson  37:19  
Right. It might be. Yeah, that's an interesting idea. Maybe, maybe you're right. Maybe it's still there. And he's just a little more resilient in his faith than I was some.

David Ames  37:32  
Yeah, yeah. Yeah.

Joanna Johnson  37:41  
So yeah, we left that behind. And I, it's interesting. I'm trying to think when like, it was really done. Like, deconstruction is such an interesting thing. And it wasn't until really recently that I would even say deconversion. Okay. Yeah. Because yeah, it was. It was. And there's also the level of like, coming out of the closet. Right. It's deconstructing is like, Okay, well, you're just asking questions. You're still a Christian. You're still with us. You're still in our tribe, you're still a part. And hopefully, you'll come back to the truth. Right. deconversion is like I, you're out?

David Ames  38:37  
Yes. Exactly.

Joanna Johnson  38:39  
Yeah. Yeah. And I even recently, I had that like, Well, Ted, what are you a person? I'm a first time well said. Yeah. Yeah. So it Yeah. And recently, so there was a time where I was like, Okay, I'm done with the term Christianity. I feel like it's done harm to me. I feel like it's done harm to many cultures. And my husband was kind of like, yeah, I understand that. But wouldn't tell me where he was at. And that was, that was hard. I was like, okay, am I alone in that? Are we are we good? And then, very recently, he was like, yeah, no, I don't think I would call myself a Christian either. And I was like, Oh, cool. Okay, we're on the same page. I thought I had just gone all the way down the hill, and you were still up, right? They're not gonna move. Yeah, so for me, I'm really glad that we rode that ride together. It wasn't super easy. Because there like I said, like there were times where he'd question something and I wouldn't, or he would want to go to church on you know, Easter and Christmas or at one point he was talking about like going once a month just because this is These stories that we grew up with, it's part of our culture, right? It's, my parents are still Christian culture, our culture is Christian, basically. And so he was like, I don't know if I'm okay with like, my kids not knowing Adam and Eve and Noah's Ark and. And I was like, Well, can I tell you why each one of those I don't want my kids to know? I'm okay with my daughter's not hearing that Eve was the reason sin came into the world. Yeah, I'm fine with that one. I'm okay with my kids not hearing that. God flooded the whole earth and only saved this handful of people. Like I'm, I'm actually totally fine. Not having any of that. And, yes, that was a funny time where he was like, and it was, it's so ironic to me to because for those four years of him, self numbing and me, pulling him into church, like I was the one being like, Come on, baby. This is our raft. This is our safety net, like God is everything. And and so it was ironic when the shoe was on the other foot, and he was like, Jo,

David Ames  41:24  
just once in a while. Right.

Joanna Johnson  41:28  
But yeah, as of now we're both I guess we'd call I'd call. I think we'd say agnostic. I I do think that the secular humanist is probably more where I would land. I love the idea again, like with this podcast, I love the idea of human helping human.

David Ames  41:51  
Yes, yeah. Yeah, the labels are not important. Like, you know, it's, it's sometimes helpful as a shorthand to talk to one another, but but really, we're just talking about caring about people. And it really is that simple. And like, we make it too complex. And I think that the side of the podcast that is important is embracing your own humanity. So we've talked about in this conversation, you know, one's own sexuality, your own desires, your connection to your body, all of those things that have been denied you through your life. I think that part's important. And then whatever label you put on, it just isn't so

Joanna Johnson  42:28  
great. I definitely agree. And it's funny, on this side of deconversion, because, like, in my childhood, upbringing, an atheist was like, Oh, yeah. Like, I remember my dad talking. At one point when I was I think I was in like, fourth, fifth grade, they started doing evolution at school. And, surprisingly, at the time, I was at a public school, my parents had shifted gears a little because at first, we were homeschooled. And so because I was at a public school, and they tried to get me out of this, the science of evolution, they asked the teacher even if I could do something else, right, because evolution is evil. So when the school said No, his work, my dad's work around was putting on young earth movies when I got home. Okay. I would literally go to school, right? And then at home, be given school of just young earth school. And so I think it was in that time when I first heard what an atheist was, of course, it's from a Christian idea of an atheist, where's your, they don't believe in anything? They hate to God. And so it is a funny because now I'm like, like, especially with this podcast, like, like, Well, this looks a whole lot more loving and kind, but this is an atheist.

David Ames  44:06  
Yeah. That's what we're playing with. I mean, that's why, you know, I've said many times, you know, I could have called this the graceful humanist, you know, like, but it was kind of intentional to say, you know, to break down that stereotype a bit. And, you know, like I I've said to what, I meet somebody, I don't go Hi, I'm an atheist.

Joanna Johnson  44:28  
Turn around. Yes, it turned around because when you're a Christian, it says, Hi, I'm a Christian.

David Ames  44:33  
Exactly, exactly. Yeah. If someone does ask I will talk about secular humanism and you know, if we get deep then I'll start talking about secular grace and you know, my conception of that that can

Joanna Johnson  44:43  
I love it I love that you did choose atheist I because I think there is like, taking what Christianity for for those who are de converting has like tainted and turned it into something evil, right. And being like Hear this is it not? It's not evil. It's not scary. It's not bad just is yes

David Ames  45:15  
Well, you said very kind things about the podcast what other resources, podcasts or books or people? Have you found really helpful throughout this process?

Joanna Johnson  45:24  
So when I first started looking into my specific upbringing, I started obsessing about like, books on people leaving and cults more specifically. So I read girl at the edge of the world and sorry, girl at the end of the world under tow, unfollow, so once that come to mind, some some books on people who left, which was why I was like I should I writing for me is processing my feelings I am so I'm so disconnected from my feelings that it's easier to type it or write it and, like see it on paper homos? Because I have a hard time seeing it in myself. But so when I started writing for my own therapy, if you want to call it, I was like, I should put this out because memoirs were what literally, like, were my lifeline at the beginning of leaving. Yeah. So those with some books. And then for podcasts. I'm like, I guess I'm picky. Yeah. I really like dirty rotten church kids. They're like my age group. Sadly, this is their last season, so I'm going to have to find something else. Yeah, this this is a podcast. I do listen to. I'm trying to think of as any other Oh, the fundamental. I grew up of Christian fundamentalists. Yeah, yeah. Oh, sorry. I was a teenage fundamentalist. Yeah, so some, but a lot of times, I'll just do books. Hashtag church to was when I read recently. Yeah, that one was really good. Gets into purity culture gets into how women are treated. And then if for specifically, like my book talks about the sexual abuse side, so Chanel, Miller's No, my name was it is an amazing book that I would strongly recommend for anybody who either wants to understand what sexual trauma does to the brain and a person or who have lived that. That book was amazing. But yeah, a lot of times I'll do books, like Audible books on audible or my like, go to Yeah, and I am on deconversion anonymous. Excellent. Recently, I read God and sex by the same guy who did the god virus. Okay. That book was like, blow my mind. Okay, okay. In the book, I, at the very end, I talked about how like, I felt like I hit a point where I stopped deconstructing everything. Like before, it was like I had a sledge hammer, and I was just pulling down everything, right? And I was like, hmm, maybe I'm at a point where I can like, get a broom. Start cleaning this up. Yeah. Okay. All right. And then and then I read that book, and I was like, okay, maybe I need another sledgehammer.

David Ames  49:04  
There's a bit more.

Joanna Johnson  49:07  
A little more cultural, you know, stuff that there's stuff that was like, clearly church, right? And then you can deconstruct that and then it's like, oh, okay, maybe there is some validated this gender stuff or this. Yeah, just the culture. And then I'm like, Oh, maybe I want to maybe I want to pull down some of this stuff, too. Exactly. That's where I'm at.

David Ames  49:32  
Okay, yeah, yeah, it is definitely a process and it can go on for a while.

I definitely want to give you a minute to talk about anything about the book how people will find the book. Let's just Let's just promote it.

Joanna Johnson  49:51  
Okay. Yeah, so the book is silenced and eaten. The books somebody people have asked me like why silence didn't even know So I was born in a Christian commune where they separate themselves. They tried to build their perfect Eden, perfect idea of God again, right? And through trauma, and through being female and a child, I wasn't given a voice. So as that's why it's silenced in Eden, I was silenced. And they thought it was perfect. They thought it was a garden. I explain Christianity or Christianity as like a perfectly kept garden, where everything has its specific place. And then realizing at one point, like, I'm not a garden, I'm kind of wild. Maybe I'm the forest.

David Ames  50:48  
I love that analogy.

Joanna Johnson  50:52  
So yeah, so yeah, the book talks about purity culture, it talks about patriarchy. For me, I spent my first 35 years being told what to do being preached at. So the book is not that, right? I'm not, I'm not saying this is what you should believe I'm saying, This is my, like, what I went through, this is my path of life. These are the things that when I was in Christianity didn't fit didn't seem to work didn't feel right. And then these are the things that I'm starting to be like, hey, this feels better. Hit this sits better. And so I try very much to be like, this is where I'm at. And hopefully, the reader can find things that resonates with them. But I'm not going to tell you what to think I can tell you, if there's a heaven or hell, that's that's you, like that's on you. But I'll tell you my experience with deconstructing hell, right? Yes, the book is on Amazon. So I partnered with louder than silence. Louder Than silence is an organization that fund raises to help women who have been sexually abused, get get EMDR therapy, so they pay for therapy. And they also do workshops. So I'm a I'm a part of one that starts actually just started. And the whole idea of the workshop is for victims to help other victims. So it's all ran by victims. And they have, you know, we talked about feeling your feelings, okay. Today, we're going to work on what emotions are coming up and how you know, so it's all but it's all human helping human? Yes. Yeah. And so for me, like when I that was when I was like, Okay, this is the organization I knew when I put the book out, like, I'm talking about a crazy subject, I want this to help that subject, I want to do something good with my messed up story, right? More than just promote myself or whatever, I want it to do something good. So $1 for every book goes to that organization. If you are a woman out there who has been victimized and you want to heal louder than silence has workshops, we meet for 12 weeks, you will meet other victims completely anonymous. And then they also will help with the cost of EMDR therapy.

David Ames  53:47  
That's awesome. Jo Johnson, you are the author of silenced in Eden, I can tell the listeners that you know the story is is very raw and, and real. And I appreciate that. I think just like what we're doing here on the podcast telling your story is so powerful people are going to read that and especially those who've been through sexual trauma will recognize themselves and hopefully gain some healing from that. So thank you, Jo, for being on the podcast.

Joanna Johnson  54:14  
No problem. Thank you so much for having me.

David Ames  54:22  
Final thoughts on the episode. As you could hear, Jo is an obvious leader and an outspoken voice to help people. I'm always amazed at that women who are held back who have a real sense of ministry in their lives and because of the sexism and patriarchy within the church are limited to the roles that they can take. Even her describing writing her husband's sermons is just amazing to me, and then not being allowed to speak in the pulpit. One of the core values of the pod Cast is rigorous self honesty. And my belief is that when we are deeply honest about ourselves and vulnerable, that that helps others. Jo exemplifies that in telling her story of the sexual trauma she experienced as a child, and the impact that that had throughout her life, as well as the impact of purity culture on her and the people that she has talked to that have been affected by purity culture, as well. I know many of the listeners might be in that category, if not in the sexual trauma category, as well. So I want to thank Jo for being vulnerable and telling her story, I think it's going to help many, many people. Again, I want to point out that Jo says that $1 From every book sale goes to louder than silence that helps survivors of sexual trauma and gives them a community to build from, there will be links in the show notes that you can find that if you yourself, have experienced sexual trauma, please reach out. The book is Silenced and Eaden. It is fantastic. I couldn't put it down. I read a lot of stories. I don't say this about every guests book. This was great. It was compelling. Jo really has a way of letting you feel the experience that she had. I want to thank Jo for being on the podcast and for being so vulnerable and telling her story. Thank you, Jo, so much. The secular Grace Thought of the Week is about that rigorous self honesty. If you've ever been in a 12 step program, you're going to recognize that phrasing. This is a core value for me. And I want to differentiate it from the way that truth is often used as a cudgel within Christianity, or even in the atheist community. There's a way of using the truth to beat people over the head as opposed to helping them to thrive. And so juxtapose that with what I'm trying to describe here about a rigorous self honesty, truthfulness with oneself. I often quote Alice Greczyn, who said that she stopped being good at fooling herself. And I love that I want us all to stop being good at fooling ourselves. And it begins with rigorous self honesty. And this applies very deeply for those people who are in the middle of their doubts, the middle of deconstruction, who are counting the cost of what deconversion might cost and terrified. All I can say is that within the sanctity of your own mind, be honest with yourself. The truth, in that sense, will set you free. Next week's guest is Josh, who goes by after God's end on Instagram, or lien interviews, Josh, definitely check that out next week. 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 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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You Can Help Yourself

Blog Posts, Post Theism

It’s easy to see that we all have things we wish were different about ourselves. The hard part is figuring out what to do about it. One option is to do what we were raised to do: pray and read the Bible. But most of us no longer believe those things work since they are fake effort.

So what do we do? Let’s start with a simple idea:

You can help yourself.

You have it within you to do the work required to improve your character. It was there all along. After all, whenever you found yourself doing better as a Christian, you were doing the work.

You have the resources you need. You have the intelligence and wisdom to embark on whatever program will work for you, whether it involves reading, therapy, philosophy, or whatever.

The work may be challenging, and it will take time, but you have what you need to get started; you always did.

Over the next several posts, I would like to share some of what I’ve learned about growing in character after Christianity. But the most important thing to remember is: You don’t need me. You need yourself. I don’t know you in all the ways you can know yourself, and you are the best person for this job.