My guest this week is Geoffrey Wallis, author of A Voice From Inside: Notes on Religious Trauma in a Captive Organization. Geoffrey is Physically In but Mentally Out (PIMO) of the Jehovah’s Witnesses. After recognizing the religious trauma and the cognitive dissonance he was experiencing he found help through therapy. He remains within the Watchtower organization because it is a “captive organization” which enforces shunning by family members and friends.
One of the most difficult things about deconstruction, deconversion, etc. is feeling alone. It’s terrifying not only to go through a full blown metaphysical and existential crisis, but to do so knowing that the people who are supposed to love you the most can’t or won’t accept you as they once did.
My guest this week is Vanessa. She describes herself as “born into a large family of fire and brimstone preaching, bible beating, in-tongues-speaking Christians in the Pentecostal Church of God faith tradition.” Her father, her grandfather, and her great grandfather all were pastors of her home church.
My full break from faith came in the form of rage when it hit me that I’d never had parents – I’d only had pastors.
She began to doubt at a fairly young age and discovered she no longer believed in god in her college years.
As a non-believer she married her believing husband. Recently being unequally yoked has become a discussion point as they negotiate how to raise their daughter. Vanessa is grateful she can be present for her daughter in a way she did not receive when she was young.
We discuss unequally yoked marriage, secular parenting and post-traumatic church syndrome.
My guest this week is Brette. Brette was so serious about her Christianity in junior high her goal was martyrdom. In her young adulthood, she followed her pastor’s advice and attended Master’s Commission, similar to a discipleship training program. Her experience there was nothing short of psychological torture.
Of course, everything was always very spiritualized there and this was no exception. Everything was either god or demons. One part of the program was that we all we went through deliverance (exorcism) while we were there that we spent weeks preparing for.
Her faith began breaking down as did her physical and psychological health at Master’s Commission. It included deliverance sessions and enumerating her demons. It wasn’t until she saw her younger brother being treated poorly that she began to question. She and her brother left: “leaving was the BEST feeling!”
But I had finally given myself permission to question things and it all unraveled pretty quickly from there.
After a brief stint in “spiritual but not religious” land, she finally admitted she no longer believed in god. She let go of “trying to make it be true.”
Since then it’s been really interesting to me to look back on my past experiences and understand them from a purely naturalistic and psychological perspective. It was really helpful to learn, too, about Religious Trauma Syndrome.
Brette has since discovered naturalistic and psychological explanations of her experiences that have given her more closure and comfort.
My guest this week is Rachael Parsons Svendsen. Rachael is a Licensed Marriage and Family Counselor at RCPS Therapy. Rachael became a Christian at three years old. She went to Biola University and studied philosophy. Later in life she experience the effects of Religious Trauma: just setting foot in a Church she would break down in tears.
Honesty is an important value for Rachael and part of what led her to deconversion. She talks about the difficulty of relationships with believers in her life while attempting to maintain honesty.
Rachael and I investigate the experience of cognitive dissonance and religious trauma. We discuss the importance of the Easter story to Western thought, what is like to parent post-deconversion and the loss of the (false) sense of control after deconversion when difficult life events occur.
Rachael points out that she does not have it all together post-deconversion. We agree we are all winging it.
My guest this week is Anna Hummel. Anna became a Christian at 16 after growing up in a nominal culturally German Christian home. She was attracted to the community, the love of the people and the sense of belonging. Before long she found herself at a Youth With A Mission Discipleship Training School where things were a bit more intense.
At DTS Anna began to have Adverse Religious Experiences. The cumulative stress and lack of privacy began to wear on her. She had trauma around the fear of Hell both for her loved ones and for herself. It was not until she got home and experienced the Secular Grace of her non-Christian friends, that she recognized the harm she was experiencing and the loss of her normally care-free attitude.
If someone is on a deconversion journey, I really hope that you can let go of that shame. Because it is really hard in the beginning to forgive yourself. We are always so hard on ourselves and just accepting that you made a mistake can be hard but it really is very important.
Today Anna has compassion, understanding and Secular Grace for those who succumb to the peer pressure of conformity to the group. She wants people to experience the freedom from religious trauma that she now thrives in.
CG grew up in strict religious home in Nigeria, where everything was banned except Christian media. His family was heavily influenced by the Pentecostal Word-Of-Faith/Prosperity movement. CG attended a tyrannical, authoritarian, and punitive college in Nigeria.
CG, later on, moved to London, UK. In London, he saw that the world was bigger than the Christian bubble that he had been raised in his whole life. He attended a popular charismatic church where he met people from different cultures, beliefs, and denominations. However, some of his friends challenged his Word-Of-Faith/Prosperity beliefs. He started theological beliefs started changing as a result.
CG, subsequently, moved to the USA to get a graduate degree at a Christian college. He lived in the American south where, as an immigrant, he felt isolated and disconnected from the Christian culture around him. This drove him to a personal intellectual journey, where he spent hours reading books, listening to podcasts, and watching videos.
After graduating with his master’s degree, CG came to the point where he could not ignore the damage that Christianity was inflicting on his mental health and personal development. He realised that he had to choose between completely losing his sanity & freedom by remaining a slave to religion or abandoning his beliefs and accepting his freedom/autonomy. A few days later, he became an Agnostic, and, subsequently, an Atheist.
CG has been on the path of freedom, healing, and recovery ever since. He is deconstructing sexual shame, self-hatred, misogyny, white supremacy, colonization, and western imperialism (and other forms of injustice). He also seeks to heal the havoc that religion has inflicted in Nigeria (and other African countries) through evangelism, cultural imperialism, and colonization. Religion, significantly, contributes to the apathy and passivity of Nigerians, which prevents them from fighting for their freedom and justice.
CG is very passionate about humanism. He believes humanism is what our generation needs to help make the world (especially Africa) a better place. He is an existential humanist, a cosmopolitan humanist, and a planetary humanist. He believes that humanists need to have freedom (autonomy), humility, compassion, hope, love for learning, curiosity, and open-mindedness.
My guest this week is Troy Moore-Heart. Troy grew up in an Evangelical family in Texas and described his childhood self as a “true-believing born-again Christian” who was baptized by his father at 6 in his grandmother’s church. Troy experienced religious trauma, the natural childhood fears given the purported reality of a spiritual realm all around him. Later in life, when he acknowledged his sexuality he “fervently believed [he] was going to hell.” When he eventually came out to his family he needed to put up healthy boundaries.
It’s hard to be in relationships with people who think you’re going to Hell.
Troy started to call himself an agnostic and not an atheist for fear of losing his relationship with his family. After marrying as an adult, he came to terms with his religious trauma and anti-queer shame. He discovered secular humanism as “an ideological and moral home.”
We don’t need to believe in any supernatural deity or god or interventionist all powerful being to believe that we must be kind and moral.
Today, troy calls himself a progressive humanist, and he is focused on transformative justice. He is becoming a humanist celebrant. He supports projects like the Southern Poverty Law Center’s Y’all Means All and the Trevor Project. Troy also supports the thriving secular therapy community that is growing around trauma-informed therapy, including the Religious Trauma Institute and the Reclamation Collective.
My personal motto is: Do no harm but take no shit and work for peace and justice. For me that is humanism.
Troy requests that you consider signing the Southern Poverty Law Center’s “Y’all Means All” pledge. “It’s become a galvanizing slogan to promote LGBTQ inclusion and advocacy in rural Southern communities.”
My returning guest this week is Alice Greczyn. Alice has written a new memoir called Wayward: Spiritual Warfare & Sexual Purity. In it, Alice tells the harrowing story of growing up in an Evangelical family that attempted to live by faith. They moved from place to place believing the “Lord would provide.” Alice describes it as being “homeless.”
Alice came of age under the oppressive sexual and purity mores of the “Kiss Dating Goodbye” era. She tells the story of being shamed while on a YWAM mission trip to India for being “flirty.”
And that’s I think the greatest mind f*** of Christianity as a whole: these awful feelings are called love. They’re done in the name of love. My wires of love and shame and fear and guilt and self hatred were so crossed and it took me years to even see that wiring.
As an adult in her 20s, in a desperate but final act of faith, Alice tests God. God fails. And Alice begins the difficult process of letting go of faith. This is a dark time of panic attacks, depression and self-harm.
When we’re told God is love, and love feels like this horrible, self-hating guilt complex, what is love, how can we recognize good love?
With the help of secular therapy and the discovery of the term, Religious Trauma Syndrome, Alice began her recovery process. She studied the science of faith, neurotheology, and began to understand herself and those around her who still believed. In this new freedom, she rebuilt her life reclaiming her autonomy and discovering what real love feels like.
And again it [understanding neurotheology] alleviated the pressure. God wasn’t ignoring me. There was nothing wrong with me. I wasn’t broken. I wasn’t this chronic sinner who was just born defective and unable to feel the love of God because I didn’t have enough faith. It’s simply to be a matter of science and that’s how most things are to me.
On top of being an author, Alice is an advocate for those questioning their faith. Her organization, Dare to Doubt, is a resource for those who are no longer satisfied with their faith tradition’s explanations and demands.
Yet this demographic [millennial “Nones”] is also resilient. We are as brave as the martyrs we were raised to be. We are battling the spiritual war we were trained to fight. We’re just not on the side of religion, and believe us—no one is more surprised by this than ourselves. We are condemned, prayed for, and loathed as much as we are feared. But persecution was once our fuel. Our skin is thick with the courage to fight for truth as we see it, and where we once saw through dogma-colored glasses, we now see through the lenses of relativity, reason, and the validity of our own experiences. It is easy to dismiss us as bitter. It is understandable to write off our deconversions as desperate attempts at individuation and rebellion. It is compassionate to ask us why we left, instead of praying for us to rejoin.
My guest this week is Suandria Hall. Suandria is a trauma informed counselor specializing in faith transitions. Her practice, My Choice My Power, is online and she offers mental health counseling to residents in Colorado and life coaching sessions online, by phone, and email for anyone.
What is more important to me than anything is being honest and being authentic about who I am and who I choose to be in this world. While pretending for a moment seemed easy. I really had no concept about how much I was about to unravel. Once I make this choice to say this out loud that I don’t believe this any more. What does that even mean? But I took a leap and I started to say out loud that I don’t believe this any more.
Suandria tells her story of being groomed for ministry in a very Charismatic community with rigorous honesty. In her early adulthood she began to question and eventually deconverted. She had a positive experience with a therapist who “held space” for her shifting faith positions. She then went on to become a secular counselor to help others through the same process.
What they are looking for is someone who doesn’t force any type of spirituality in the practice. They just want to show up and say let me just talk through some stuff.
We talk about the power of parents to influence children. And the damage that can occur when parents pass that responsibility on to an invisible god.
The child learns that the love the adoration the loyalty the devotion that a mother and a child would share with each other is now shifted. So now god becomes the number one.
Her approach to counseling is trauma informed and acknowledges Adverse Religious Experiences and religious trauma. She helps people going through the process of deconstruction and deconversion while being open to all faith positions.
Trauma is when our bodies our systems becomes overwhelmed, flooded with emotions, flooded with bodily sensations. It gets stuck.