Josh de Keijzer: After God’s End

Agnosticism, Atheism, Bloggers, Deconstruction, Philosophy, Podcast, Post Theism, Scholarship, Secular Grace
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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…”


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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 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

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

Transcribed by

Doing Better: The Problem of Words

Agnosticism, Atheism, Blog Posts

Should I have called last week’s blog post No More Fundamentalism, picked a different term, or unpacked it a bit?

I want to draw out one (of many) difficulties with words: The tensions between…

  • correctness and convenience,
  • writing something technically correct and writing something people will read,
  • having a genuine and thorough conversation and having a conversation people will actually participate in till the end.

Imagine the following two blog titles:

  • No More Attitudes Toward Knowledge That Allow for Areas of Belief That Are Untouchable and Therefore Leave Certain Areas of Knowledge Permanently Unfixable: A Manifesto for Myself
  • No More Fundamentalism: A Manifesto for Myself

I’m overstating the difference, but the tension should be obvious. On one end of the spectrum, there’s a simple, concise title that may make the wrong impression. On the other end, there’s possibly getting things so technically correct that nobody reads the whole thing.

The tension is real.

A reader rightly commented on my recent blog post that using terms like Fundamentalism can be problematic. There’s a real risk that if we label something “fundamentalist,” we take the emotion we feel for our former religion and transfer it onto that thing. And when that happens, we give ourselves permission to dismiss it. We halt rational thought we could have had. This is both dishonest and stops growth.

At the same time, I’m not sure what else to call it–especially in a post I’d like people to read. See the trouble?

This tension shows up in another place: Do you call yourself an atheist? Agnostic? Or do you avoid labels altogether?

So what to do? Here’s a list of ideas:

  • Embrace the work. Religion allows us to get away with sloppy thinking about complex issues. This can lead to harm and we have an opportunity to do better.
  • When in a conversation with someone, consider working with them to define terms. What is a “fundamentalist” to your interlocutor? If you’re writing, consider the word itself: Is “fundamentalism” too problematic to use?
  • Consider skipping the words or labels altogether. Maybe it’s better to not even use the word “fundamentalist” but instead use the words describing what you mean by it.

If anybody asked, I used the term “fundamentalist” in the previous post mainly because I didn’t think through the implications (oops!). On review, I’m still OK with the word, though I see the potential for misuse. I’m leaving it up to you, the reader, to learn with me as I’m on this journey out of Christian Fundamentalism–a way of thinking that has core tenets, assumed 100% correct and therefore, untouchable.


Top-right image: “Yellow Tree – Daily Tree day 2” by fireytika is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 3.

Matt: Deconversion Anonymous

Agnosticism, Atheism, Deconstruction, Deconversion, High Demand Religious Group, Podcast, Purity Culture, Unequally yoked
Listen on Apple Podcasts

This week’s guest bares his whole heart. “My story—at the moment—doesn’t end really well, but there’s hope for the future.”

This week’s guest is Matt. Matt grew up in a Methodist family and after partying through high school, Matt chose to attend a Christian college, serious about his faith.

As an adult, Matt did everything he could to be all things to all people—a good husband, a good leader, a father, a friend, a mentor… He tried for years, but superhuman expectations are put on Christian men. He couldn’t do it all. No one can. 

Matt tells his story with vulnerability and a whole lot of grace for himself and others. He bore heavy burdens: Cognitive dissonance, covert narcissism (in himself and others), codependency and spiritual abuse. Yet his story reveals his great optimism for the future.  


The Thinking Atheist

Divorcing Religion

Leatherbound Terrorism by Chris Kratzer



“I remember laying in bed as a kid [saying] ‘Satan, get away from me,’ and rebuking demons and evil spirits, kinda scared to death at that point.” 

“My story—at the moment—doesn’t end really well, but there’s hope for the future.”

“The more I began to prepare for bible study lessons and Sunday school lessons with the kids…the more questions I began to have, but I just ignored the questions because I was keeping everyone happy.”

“A megachurch…their position is, ‘Ten percent of gross [income] is just the start.’”

“Love-bombing is a pretty powerful tool.” 

“I think in many church settings, there are covert narcissists walking around all over the place.”

“The beginning of my unraveling was when I had the unfortunate opportunity to kick my friends out of the church…”

“‘Let’s get coffee,’ from people I don’t know very well means, ‘We want to get you back in line.’”

“When they don’t know what to say to you, they say nothing. They ignore you.”

“As much rejection as I felt from my Christian friends, twice the amount of acceptance from my Jewish or Agnostic or Atheist or Muslim [friends].”



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 consider rating and reviewing the podcast on the Apple podcast store, rate the podcast on Spotify, and subscribe to the podcast wherever you are listening. If you're in the middle of doubt and deconstruction, you do not have to do this alone. Please join our private Facebook group deconversion anonymous, you can find that at Special thanks to Mike T for editing today's show. onto today's show. My guest today is Matt. Matt was a all in Christian he was a part of a very high control church, where Matt began to see how the church was hurting people and including him being involved in hurting some of his own friends. The deconstruction began. Matt has a lot to say here. I love his term covert narcissists, he'll explain what that means in a second. You're talking about forced intimacy, fake authenticity, covert narcissism, people as projects or objects and purity culture. Here is Matt to tell his story.

Matt, welcome to the graceful atheist podcast.

Matt  1:41  
Thanks, David. Glad to be here. I've really enjoyed the podcast. It's been therapeutic and healing for me over the past year.

David Ames  1:48  
I'm very glad to hear that man. It sounds like you have just a wild story to tell. fairly high control church. But as we always do, I want to begin with what was your faith tradition? Like when you were growing up?

Matt  2:01  
Yeah, thanks for thanks for asking. You know, like many of you, like many of your unlike many of your guests, you interview, I didn't have a fundamentalist or Pentecostal type, upbringing, I grew up in an in Georgia. In a Methodist family. There's four siblings, I'm the youngest by many years. And I would say my parents really didn't force their faith down our throat. And I say their faith, they were in a Methodist tradition and more casserole driven and social outlet for them. But they were faithful, and they were loyal to be there.

David Ames  2:42  
Yeah, for sure. Like, you know, there are some healthier versions of Christianity that are community based and people helping each other. And that sounds like maybe that was your experience growing up.

Matt  2:52  
Yeah, it was, it was it was a fun outlet for me. I was great. I know, I'll say that. Oh, my favorite. My, my, my parents really did not push their faith on me. My older brother, when he was in college, was pulled into a ministry called Maranatha ministries that I've no idea of is still around. And I think that's a would be labeled as a cult cult under today's terms. And I think it's a seventh grade, he's looking to a revival and that point with, I guess, speaking in tongues and all that was going on there and the emotional piece to it, I broke down in tears. And at that point, I accepted Christ as my Savior. You know, I think more of an emotional appeal and also wanting to please my older brother.

David Ames  3:38  
Sure. How old were you then?

Matt  3:41  
I was in seventh grade. So you know, he had me read my Bible and and

that was about the extent of it, but he took his faith really seriously almost too seriously actually approached my dad and questioned his salvation, because again, being Methodist, and my dad would have our dinner prayer. And that was about all that we, we saw in terms of the church at home. But then, you know, he pulled me aside one time I came back from Mexico on a family vacation, and I bought a Mayan Calendar. You know, one of the street art type pieces, and he had me smash it in the basement because it was full of demonic spirits. Wow. Yeah. And even had a candle making kit my bedroom had to throw away because that also could be seen as a seance I guess. And so I kind of have this dualistic component that our parents and their approach to their faith and my older brother, and I remember laying in bed as a kid. You know, Satan, you know, get away from me, you know, and yeah, just that we're looking demon evil spirits kind of scared to death really, at that point.

David Ames  4:53  
I can't imagine. Yeah, yeah. That didn't last long. I'd

Matt  4:57  
say by the time I reached high school now kind of back being me and enjoy life and girls and partying a little too much here and there but kind of moved away from my faith. And then I went to college, I went off to a smaller Christian school by the elliptical I could get into, quite frankly, okay. In Birmingham and kind of enter that space. And it was I'd say it's a Christian light school, couldn't dance or drink on campus, but we had a lot of fun. Hi. Most are fun was held off campus.

David Ames  5:31  
Yes, yeah, I understand

Matt  5:33  
in Christian colleges. And you know, from there, I kind of moved in past my childhood faith aspect I met who would become my wife in college and in was just totally captivated with her beautiful girl leader in school. And we both were in fraternities and sororities and just had really hit it off well. And it's funny, I think back now even going to her Southern Baptist Church. And comparing that to my Methodist Church, that Southern Baptist Church was so progressive compared to a Methodist Church only from a teaching perspective, but also from the music, which is almost laughable today, right?

David Ames  6:18  
Yeah, back back in the day, just having contemporary music was a big deal. Right, having a guitar and drums and things was

Matt  6:24  
absolutely, I mean, singing his eyes on the sparrow, and that was like, wow, that was so progressive to me back then. Yeah. Versus the Methodist liturgy, etc. But um, but we fell in love and started doing it all through college. And now Now we're starting to get in and didn't realize it didn't realize then what I've realized now just my Methodist, more liberal upbringing, Faith kind of light to being part of her almost fundamentalist type family in Alabama. And so I kind of shapeshifted myself to satisfy her to satisfy her family. Just a just to keep the girl happy. Right? Yeah. Which that really kind of takes me as we move through this into what my topics are today. And just to be transparent, as we go through this, that my story is at the moment doesn't end really well. But there's there's hope for the future. But I'd say four topics today as we go through this is that I was just characterized through a term often used today called cognitive dissonance, right. Covert narcissism, both as a covert narcissist, and receiving the other side of covert narcissism, codependency and then spiritual abuse, as what you're hearing my story as both a giver and a receiver. So kind of just moving through our story, I'll fast forward here in a minute to the to the more engaging part, that we were married and moving all over the South for my job and work. And but every time we moved to a new city, we had to find a new Baptist Church to join, it was just week one, that's what we would do, right. But it's funny just that the the unequally yoked type aspect of things that term is often used in Christian teaching. We were back from our honeymoon after the first week, we were attending a small Baptist Church in North Carolina, that I had no intention of joining, because it just wasn't a fit for us. And the, when the offering plate came around, you know, it went from me, and I passed it on to my wife, and she had written a check for $250 that she put in the offering plate, which was 10% of our gross income. Yeah. And has that plate left her hand, I reached across her and took the check out of the place, we had not discussed getting at all right. And I definitely did not have to enter the dollars of gross income to give away. Yeah. And so that kind of started our struggle, so to speak. Just with with various views on our faith and Christianity and stewardship.

David Ames  9:13  
It's fascinating to me, Matt, to hear you say that you were unequally yoked in that you were still a Christian, you were very much a Christian having gone to a Christian college and what have you. So what you're describing is an imbalance in fundamentalism or theological conservative, you know, on that scale, right. And so I think that's fascinating that even that you recognize was unequally yoked?

Matt  9:39  
Exactly but based on the standards today, right, and that's going to play itself itself out here in our conversation today in more detail. So we're we moved to Texas both had jobs and attending a large Baptist mega church in where we live and state of Texas. And I was just going through the motions at that point I really didn't enjoy the the Bible studies enjoyed the people a lot there at that church Yeah.

But after a couple years living where we live, I discovered that my wife had been having a work affair. And meanwhile, we're going to Sunday school and she's leading Bible Studies. And we discovered this had happened, and it was obviously devastating. And this is going to kind of begin my phase of codependency, where I was able to forgive her and move on past this primarily because I've just held the ideal of marriage up so high and just didn't want to lose that. And and a lot of that would come back to she would say, yes, she took ownership for it. But it also came back that I wasn't I wasn't leading the family. Well, her well, we didn't have kids at this point. Because she had had the spiritual, almost dogmatic stepfather who raised her that helped Bible studies every day and witnessed to people in malls, and that just wasn't me. Right at all. And she would tie that back to disappointment in my leadership in the, from a Christian perspective to her stepping out, well, so got passed through that neck. That point I began to really performed the Christian dance to keep my wife happy. And we begin leading Sunday School at this church and leading a kid's Sunday school, fifth grade, which was great, I could use my gift to communication and my creative talents and really take these kids from why we consider a boring Sunday school setting to more fun, more games. And it really brought us together as a couple. She was pleased, right that I was leading it this way. But I would say at this point, too, that this is where my cognitive dissonance. Although I didn't have that language back then. 20 plus years ago, were the more I began to prepare for Bible study lessons in Sunday school lessons with the kids reading the Old Testament and working in the New Testament, just the more questions that I began to have. Sure. But again, I just ignored the questions because I was keeping everyone happy.

David Ames  12:27  
And that's kind of the definition of cognitive dissonance. Yeah. So you're trying to hold one belief that maybe the your experience or your reality doesn't, doesn't hold up?

Matt  12:41  
Exactly. It's a term now that we hear weekly, right, where 20 plus years ago, it was just, you're crazy. Yeah. And so. So we had two of our kids there at that church and did all the dedication and Christian School etc, as they were younger, but then we decided that it was time for us to move on. She had a word from God that we needed to leave this church and find a new church, and I really still today don't know why. Okay, but we started attending a kind of a startup church. That was a non denominational Baptist Church. Back then, it was about 300 members. And I'll tell you, when I first attended, comparing this this nondenominational church to the Baptist Church, you know, I look around and everybody's wearing shorts and flip flops and drinking coffee. And you know, the typical hand raising in the worship in the music was incredible in the senior pastor was just dynamic man that could talk about leadership and parenting and being a better man better husband heavily focused on the husband's role, right. But it was a place that I've never heard these kind of messages before. I was like, wow, this is where I need to be. They really prided themselves on authenticity, transparency, I remember men going on stage and talking about their previous life as a homosexual. And now they were showing pictures of his wife and kids. And wow, people want to talk about porn addiction, and it was just refreshing. In a very shocking thing, compared compared to the way I was raised, but also our Baptist church home we have for the past 10 plus years. So I decided, our we need to be at this church here. This is my speed. And really, really dove in. Alright, and as we say this looking back now after 16 years, and I could say this place is a call. And you've mentioned the high control group at the start of the conversation. We'll talk about that more But absolutely. And when we say high control group or cold and we're speaking to people And nationally and all over the world, but sometimes we hear the word cult will think of, you know, David Koresh type, demeaning camp type event or it's a small sect of people. This is a mega church. Yeah, when I left this church, it had 16,000 members. And people are walking around in their cult clothing, I mean in their cult roles and talking about very influential people in this large city where I live of private equity. And I met Chuck Norris, when I first attended, he was a member there, kept Chuck Norris here. And so I was just very pulled into that of people that talk like me and act like me and stuff to some degree. And I just really, really wanted to be part of this,

David Ames  15:54  
can I jump in really quick and just respond to just two things. One, I very consciously use the term high control group, it's fine for you to say calls. But I feel like that brings so much baggage that people have some image in their head of what that is. And I think you've just eloquently described that right? People in robes, what have you. The Hari Krishna is in airports, that kind of thing. But that, that the point is that any group of any kind can be a high control group, and can be very damaging to people. And I thought it was fascinating that you started by describing a fairly positive picture of, of the churches. And I understand you're, you're describing hindsight, where we know where you were at the time. But that is how high control groups work. Right? They, they say they're authentic, they say that they're there for you. And as we know, there's more to the story, and they pull you in, and and then the demands begin to build up.

Matt  16:50  
And that stories come in apps. And as I say, the suit, and I know some of this is negative and critical. But I also want to point out that with any with any church, remember, there's some amazing people there. Yeah, and with my leadership roles at the church that we'll talk about here in a minute, I mean, they, they taught me a lot about about leading, and speaking in. And engaging people it was there's a lot of good that came from that. And, and one thing about the church too, is just the the amount of programs that they had to help people in their situation of life in their Christian walk. I mean, the marriage courses, the parenting courses, in addiction recovery type programs. I mean, it was a very well financed, you can imagine church that had lots of programs out there to help people and they've done a lot of good for people. Yeah. What I would also say is, we're gonna go into this, the closer you get to the center core, the more the high control unveils itself, in the complete control.

So it's a biblical church, we had to be to be a member, you had to sign a membership form every year, basically saying that the Bible is true from start to finish, right? inerrancy, you had to be part of a small group, which is also called a community group. You had to serve, you had to serve somewhere, whether it's handing out bulletins, or parking ministry or getting more involved as I did, and marriage and parenting ministries and recovery ministries, but you had to have a job somewhere with that. Right. And, you know, for a while, that was great. Now, the interesting part here, we came off this Baptist Church and I was, you know, trying to grow in my faith the best that I could, and that they pulled us in quickly and made my wife and I community group leaders. So we were assigned a group of four couples. And our job was it's kind of an arranged marriage, we didn't know them, they were brought to us and said Here Here, a group you're going to live the next year with, right? Wow. And I've got some great friendships that came out of that. We've led multiple groups over the years. And as I'll share in a minute to also use that platform to really spiritual abuse people. And I'll describe that here in a minute. It's a term I didn't know that even existed up until two years ago. But we really do community are and and living life with these people is different as we were, I was expecting the group to be I don't know executives and private equity people and guys to kind of run in the business were like I do and instead I had two musicians and a guy that was unemployed. A couple, okay, yeah, very different, but also love the fact that I was able to learn more about people that you know, I just have a different, different pace of life than I do. And, again, some really good friendships came out of that. That with community group, we let that for a while. And that was interesting. We had, we had some curriculum we had to go through, almost like authenticity was forced. And so the guys get together once a week, the girls would get together once a week, and then we'd meet as a couple, maybe twice a month, and just the pressure to disclose. You know, I masturbated this week, right? Or I watch pornography or, man, I got angry with my wife and I need help with this. And there's lots of value in that being known and have other people in your life, but it was an area of forced confessions, that is

David Ames  20:46  
the difference between being really open with a best friend who you trust implicitly versus the artificial forcing or pushing you to reveal things about yourself that you would rather have private to people who are not yet your friends, is that dangerous part?

Matt  21:03  
Yeah, there definitely was groupthink going on there. I mean, I felt it, I had pressured to, if I didn't really have anything I wanted to share. But if I wasn't sharing or mind sharing wasn't as juicy as the guy next to me that shared I just the pressure of Want to share something, yeah, to be accepted by the group.

David Ames  21:22  
So again, you know, it begins with good intentions and can go off the rails really quickly.

Matt  21:28  
And we took it a step further. My wife and I were pretty strong personalities, and I mean sales for a living. So I can use that skill set to kind of hate to coerce people. But one area that we would drive home is we would the church heavily influenced us to as leaders of the group to share finances? Twice a year?

David Ames  21:55  
Wow. Really.

Matt  21:58  
Every doubt down to the, to the penny of how much money we made, where our money went from an expense perspective. Do we have any debt? But also lots of pressure on did you give to the church, right. And even though this place here, again, a mega church, their position is 10% of gross, it's just the start.

David Ames  22:25  
That's the opening ante. Yeah.

Matt  22:27  
And I really struggle with that. Going back to the tithing story that I said, we were first married, right, that was tough, but at the same time to was leading the group and enjoyed that that authority position. Yeah, that moves us into pre married ministry, right. And then we moved in, we did that for years kind of counseling couples, in a group setting, to marriage recovery for those marriages that were in trouble. And that led to us being on stage frequently, videos being made about our story and using my wife's, you know, his previous affair as the platform for recovery. Right. And that was an interview. In one point, I just, I was so uncomfortable getting on stage in front of probably, I don't know, 1000 people at a time and sharing our story. But I'll tell you one thing I've learned love bombing is a pretty powerful tool. Yeah. And when you have done a good job presenting or serving in a ministry, and the church comes around you and pulls you on stage and tells me how great you are. And they tell you all the time we love you guys are incredible. You could get me to jump through a ring of fire, right? My personality if you just love me enough

but what I discovered and all that but myself and a new term that I now had language for that I didn't back then is a term called covert narcissism. And, you know, we often hear the term narcissist and that goes with grandiose so to speak, right. But now I'm looking back, I would say without a doubt I was or had I had become a covert narcissist. And what I mean by that is that I was able to control people in getting what's called narcissistic supply, because as I'm controlling them and helping them in their marriage and calling out men directly about their issues, what have you and couples, you know, correcting them? They're thanking me while I'm doing that. Right, right. Yeah. And then leadership, the multi hierarchical levels of leadership, they would praise you for that and I just found man, I would come home from leading these groups is so full of energy. And we'd say the term pride right back in the church days. Yeah. But I loved it. And my wife loved it, because I was white. And just looking back on that now, it was like, Oh, goodness. And now just evaluating other other aspects. I think in many church settings, there's covert narcissist walking around all over the place. Oh, yes.

David Ames  25:35  
Or not covered? Yes.

Matt  25:39  
Over, it's easy to find, right. It's the one that's loving Yeah. Meanwhile, getting their supplies by controlling you.

David Ames  25:48  
Absolutely. I think that that is extremely common. And to be somewhat fair to Christianity that's maybe common among human beings, right? It's just that it can be a breeding ground for that, especially in the very intimate settings of a small group, where the small group leaders is granted power. And people like power, they like to be the center of attention. And then that begins to feed into maybe latent covert narcissism that can grow into something that can be dangerous.

Matt  26:20  
Yep, absolutely. And so, you know, I think one observation with that, in hindsight, and again, I will say that part of our service and leadership, we did watch people turn their marriage around, right? We did watch them, find better ways to parent their kids. And I'll talk about that here in just a minute. It was takes on both sides that were made on that area. Yeah. But I will say, though, that here's what I found in my heart is that in these groups that were leading, I made people project and an object. Yeah, right. And so our job was to go in and help people recognize their fault, what they're bringing to the marriage, the problems that they're bringing to the parenting, the problems, etc. And as long as they agreed and made changes, then we were great, we'd be BFFs, right, at least until the group ended. But if you wouldn't change, or couldn't change, regardless of your family of origin, regardless of what you went through, and trauma in your past, whatever things you're whatever baggage you're bringing into your relationship that just made you an object and dismissed you. Okay, move on. Next one next in line, please write in to some degrees of total talk today to that happened to me. And so a lot of what I what I were talking through what I dished out, I had put right back on me, as we'll go through this message to the story today.

David Ames  27:59  
Also very common just to you've been the giver, so to speak, even though you're getting things back and return. And the minute that you need something that we're you're in a position of vulnerability, you experienced the other side of that and can have abuse take place.

Matt  28:17  
Absolutely. And, you know, I look at this now. And this goes back to the covert narcissism aspect is that we sacrificed 1000s of hours of time with our kids, when they really needed us to be leading in these ministries. Of course, we weren't paid, right? We're volunteer leaders, but I literally would land from a business trip, and would go straight from the airport, straight to my leadership meetings, marriage ministries, etc. And I'll come rolling in at 10 o'clock at night after that. We had couples over all the time that needed help. So we pushed the kids aside in years where they really, really needed us and we'll get into that, okay, in order to serve in this ministry in this church. So with that, you know, we adopted a curriculum called Growing kids God's way. Okay. With older curriculum, very fundamentalist, well known and older circles. And we use that in our parenting for our kids, as well as you know, coached up other couples, whether part of the church or not, you know, we love helping people all the time. Yeah. And lots of regrets around that. I'm not sure if you're familiar with that, that curriculum at all,

David Ames  29:45  
not directly, but I can imagine.

Matt  29:48  
It's, again, high control, right? Yeah. Lots of corporal punishment. First time obedience was the goal. And there's some good that came out of that also, but but If your child will not obey on first command, and they get spanked, okay, and I remember looking at my wife going and we're beating the crap out of our kids. Yeah, how awful. He has all been in love, right? Control that not out of anger. So are you disobeyed? Now you need to get a spanking. I'll be in your room and two minutes, you know, the spanking, and I love you. And, and there's a part that maybe there's a time for correction like that. But the frequency of what you're delivering does really have me turned up inside the other reality too. I was I was too afraid to challenge my spouse. Because it was working to some degree. They were, you know, Chip shaped little kids that stood in line and Yes, sir. And yes, ma'am. And they followed orders after a while, I would have to

David Ames  30:51  
seriously? Yeah, wow. Okay.

Matt  30:56  
And so kind of moving through this kind of where what was happening here is that I'm in small group, I'm leading a small group, okay, we're doing these various ministries, and taking it all this, this content driven towards men as leaders of the household, right, in that role, and I soak it all up, right. I've got to read every book that I could read, it's funny, I was cleaning out my inbox or cleaning up some old files on my computer of the weekend. And I found a an e book, written by Mark Driscoll called pastor dad. Interesting. I consumed all the Driskel I could get in the podcast and in everything else, and and he just read through it just skimming through, it just drove home that your family's spiritual development. And your kids future is all on you, as the biblical Christian leader of the household, right. And I took that seriously. And I would surround myself with older dads that were part of the church, other leaders and we just kind of soak in from them what they would do, I would go to Dad's class, not only as a leader, but also as a recipient of participant. And they put these older dads on stage. And we talked about how they discipled their kids and how they went on prayer walks and take off for weekends and fast and pray with their kids. And I'm just going oh, my gosh, I suck.

And I often look at it, there's I mean, there's there's two sides of the coin. I mean, I would I would judge other dads that weren't doing things as well as me. Right? To try to get them in line. And meanwhile, I'm looking at these other guys going, I don't measure up. And it was exhausting. The cycle there. And, and then, you know, trying to do devotions with the kids. When they're younger, it was great. They they get in line and do it, do it please us, of course doing devotional and you got a 16 year old then 14 year old 12 year old. The audience is not quite as receptive as they were eight, six and four. Yes. But that's what Christian dads did.

And that, that played itself out anything from just how we control the kids, as teenagers. With social media, things like Snapchat as they enter the scene and Instagram, a new back then newer type of scary pieces to it. But that was outside of our biblical mission statement. As a family, we'd written up a mission statement about what our faith was going to look like. And we would proudly share it with other people in our church and small groups, and they'd be overwhelmed. Again, they're looking at us go when you guys got it all figured out. And we're so prideful that we've got it all figured out at this point. Yeah. All right. And I'll talk about that here in more just a minute. But, you know, I mentioned the term spiritual abuse earlier. And thanks to a therapist that we've been seeing the past year that focuses on that I now didn't know that there was even such a thing. But part of my unraveling begin unraveling was when I had the unfortunate opportunity to kick my friends out of the church through a process called Matthew 18. Okay, wow. Right, which is basically you go to a believer, you confront them. If he or she doesn't change and you bring other people to confront them on their son. If they don't change them. Then you basically say you're out of here. Tonight, he said one of my very best friends, a couple that we were in small group with an amazing man. But he lost his wife in a horrific sledding accident. While in Colorado right in front of our kids, and the church did a beautiful thing of coming around that family. And it's really helping him with two twin daughters and an older son and just doing what the church does well, right loving people in time of need. But then once the initial shock goes over, you know, maybe a year passes, nothing will ever you can never get over that, right. But what's the initial shock of my wife's no longer here? People went back to their lives as normal. And my friend, being a 45 year old man, maybe 18 months after his wife passed and began to reenter the dating world. Right. And in one small group together, we're sharing everything meeting weekly. And then he started to date his high school sweetheart. Beautiful girl, and but she was not a believer, going back to the unequally yoked. And he had plans to move to her state after they dated for a year and move in together then pursue marriage. Right? Well, of course, that's a no no. Right? Not only does a believer not marry an unbeliever, but cohabitation with kids. I mean, what else can you go wrong, right? So we went to the process of confronting him. And he's a strong man, much stronger, much stronger than I ever could have been at that point in time, right? emotionally strong. And he basically said, I hear you guys. But no, a lover, man, we're gonna make a family out of this, right. And so the church came to me as the small group leader and said, We need to form Matthew 18 on him, and D member him. Which basically required a letter being written by a staff member, and then three people have to sign it. And I was one of those. And I kind of pushed back saying, Gosh, I can't do this. This is my best run. Yeah, no, no, you have to map like, I'm not going to do it. You have to.

And I did, at a fresher. And I remember that phone call that I received from him.

Where he was just like, you know, man, I love you. I've always felt accepted by you. Until now. And I've never felt judged in my life, as I'm feeling right now. Yeah. And I'll keep the story short, I did it to another guy that was having marriage problems. And the other letter signed by me and the same kind of reaction. And since then, kind of fast forwarding a little bit, I did go back to both those guys and seek their forgiveness. They were gracious and we're friends today. They're no longer part of the church.

David Ames  38:11  
Right, right. Right.

Matt  38:13  
In this church was on record for doing the same thing to people that were in the homicide, homosexual lifestyle that couldn't, that wouldn't repent from that. Lots of publicity around that. But it was just a very common practice at that point in time. Okay. Matter of fact, the senior pastor, the guy that was so dynamic that really drew me in. I was in a leadership meeting with him and he was talking about performing Matthew 18 on teenagers. Right, that would not up hold it up. I kind of said, under my breath. That's the craziest thing I've ever heard in my life. Yeah. Right. So I begin to really start to look at things differently. But I was stuck. Right. I was stuck. Not only afraid of my wife you know, hating me, right? Yeah. I was afraid of, of losing my status. I mean, I lead in five ministries, right or sometimes three at a time. And me speaking up and starting to say I'm having struggles with what I'm reading in the Bible having struggles with this, but I've seen this control. I spoke up about that then I would be maybe go through the same process of

David Ames  39:34  
it exactly.

Matt  39:43  
Well, we're our story really begins to turn this is not this is kind of moves us outside of that church we've been talking about. That my my spouse now of then of 24 years I've always had a dream of being a biblical counselor. And I really never knew what that meant. But basically it is you use Scripture to counsel people. And anything that secular in terms of psychology or therapy is not from God, this can't be trusted. Okay, back to the inerrancy piece to it. So she came to me and asked if I would support her if she enrolled in a program called masters University led by guy named John MacArthur at a California. Wow. I'm not sure if you're familiar with him. Yes. Okay. And I, being the codependent loving spouse that I was, absolutely, you know, I'll be glad to help fill the roles with kids and do things. And of course, we had money to do it. So I had no idea what I was agreeing to not that she needed for me to bless this, right. But we also were coming from a patriarchal complementarianism type, belief system. Kind of a side note on that, that drove me crazy as a husband. Yeah, because she's, she's a smart, competent woman. I mean, I mean, she can accomplish 10 times as much as I can. And again, in day, right? In the fact that she was coming to me asking me if she could do this, or if you know, one of our kids is going to have a friend come over after school and it kept going on. I'm like, you know, you, you don't need to ask

Unknown Speaker  41:37  
me to stuff. Right?

Matt  41:38  
I'm totally good with whatever's going on. I'm happy.

David Ames  41:41  
Now, I think that's important, too, right? It's not just the women who suffer and complementarianism but But men as well, like, not only there are maybe more introverted people than yourself, who wouldn't want to be thrust into a leadership position and the decision maker on all things, but also people who like yourself, you know, recognize your wife's ability to, to make her own decisions and our resistance to being the gatekeeper for her. So complementarianism just hurts. Everyone involved. The two spouses, the children, everyone who's involved with it. Yep.

Matt  42:17  
Absolutely. So she enrolled in a program and she was excited, and I was happy for while we continuously was you can you can do this all day long. Just don't make me your first patient, or first. Yeah, counsel Lee. And she laughed about that, and that lasted for about six months. Right. And what this program through this church, the Margaret MacArthur's program, set as a biblical standard for families in manhood in what is to be a wife and a husband is one of only supernatural superheroes can ever accomplish this. Yeah. And suddenly, I'm doing everything I can within managing my work and loving on the kids and being a good husband. I couldn't, nothing would add up. Now, I will say that as we were talking through this, I was also living a dualistic lifestyle, meaning that I was this church leader. But then from my work life, I had lots of great friends there. Right and have worked with for dozens of years. And they weren't all Christians, right? Jewish and atheist, and all types of religions are non religious, right? And we'd go on work trips together as a team and have a blast together and party and take clients out for entertainment. Again, not I say entertainment restaurants and

David Ames  43:56  
thank you for the clarification, though.

Matt  44:00  
But then I would come home and I would have I'd be would be this, the, the, the, the super conservative Christian dad, having a feat in both worlds, so to speak, right. And all of a sudden, everything we were doing, I couldn't measure up and part of it was I was living my life, even at home at times. But also in leadership and the standards that are set the leadership, this kind of where things begin to unravel. Okay. I mean, we'd set up this perfect family image, right? We have at this point, 16 year old 14 year old 12 year old kids and moving into the teen years. What's going to be what's going to come from that more of that story. But then as I began to push back against the control that was being put upon me from my spouse, just in terms of just the criticism Me Now she started to use the church as I began to push back against that control to get me back in line, okay to the indirect with me but but then use the church on the backside to come around and confront me whether I was having a few drinks at home, or we watched the show that had the F word on it, or was already my Bible enough until I was pulled into leadership conversations, more so than I could care to remember. challenging me and holding my leadership standard as the gold bar and how I was not fulfilling my obligation there.

David Ames  45:43  
Understood? Yeah, like, again, I think I want to be careful here that, you know, the people who are most often the experiences of abuse are not in leadership. But people who are in leadership also experienced that, because of what you've just described, the standard is inhuman, it is not possible. And then, while you're simultaneously asked to be open and authentic, you're also asked to live up to a standard that's not attainable. And that dichotomy can't live together at the same time. And it can only end in tears. Lots of

Matt  46:19  
tears coming, right? Yeah. So all of a sudden, my game had changed from the standard perspective, I began to push back against it, as I said, and meanwhile, she's growing more and more becoming more Christ, like, hurting from this, this one area of teaching through MacArthur's University. Right. That trickle this way down to our kids. Okay. And at this point, our oldest daughter is 16 years old. Trying to find her way, you know, wanting acceptance, friendship, right. Boyfriends, things that

David Ames  46:54  
every normal things. Yeah, yeah.

Matt  46:58  
But our standard was so high, really, kind of pulling back in purity culture, right from the 90s. And into what we were doing with our kids and requiring the the start line shot you're showing too many boobs? Yeah, yeah. Give us your phone and make sure not only inappropriate apps, marriages for their dating for marriage. Right. And you're really driving that standard home?

David Ames  47:31  
Yeah. Wow. And 16 that, yeah, it's intense. Yeah.

Matt  47:35  
And, you know, our kids are compliant little sheep anymore. They're independent thinking. Hormone raging. Acceptance, needing teenagers, right? Yeah. So we're always had two choices, you can either get in line and just put our head in the sand and suck it up or go around our authority. Right and find her way. And that's what she did. She had it she was living a dualistic lifestyle. You're walking out wearing the clothing appropriate. And then the trunk of her car was the leather miniskirt and the halter top

David Ames  48:17  
story is all this type of math Yeah.

Matt  48:25  
But obviously, with with controlling parents, she got caught frequently and church members reporting to us Hey, I saw your daughter out at the seven so ice cream shop and she got on a skirt that was too short in the top that was too revealing, right and confronting her and then the grounding right? And then give us your phone as part of the grounding. Look at your phone and their Snapchat on your phone. We can't have snap texts that Snapchats from Satan. And now you're grounded even further. Right and, and really, really putting the hammer on this kid. And she's an amazing girl. She lives in Hawaii today as a 20 year old but she's an amazing girl, but just trying to live her life. And that with that though this dualistic lifestyle she wound up becoming being raped while we were out of the country and grandma, we came in the house and that didn't reveal itself to two years later, when she was really in trouble for attending a party while we were out of town. Again, I did the same thing when I was 1617 years old

but once we she knew she was in big trouble for the party. She just decided to come forward and share with the two of us all that she had been doing this this other person that she was in shared with us about relationships with other boys Sex and the partying and hanging out with them. In college kids, right. I mean, we were going back to the Christmas vacation. You know, I woke up with my head stapled to the carpet. I couldn't be any more surprised, right? Yeah, same thing. I just sat back on Who is this kid? I was shocked. Yeah. And that really threw us into a spiral as a couple. And as a family. She needed help. And we wouldn't let her get help. Because back to the biblical counseling, or therapy, the secular right, and all we need some God's word. And I, I was passive. David, at this point, I was too scared to confront my wife. And say bullcrap, and he's not. And, again, then we throw into this incredible level of grounding and punishment and restrictions, and our friends are slipping away, because you can't contact them. My wife is under business left and right, and just controlling and critical. And that resulted in a suicide attempt. Now, okay. She's fine. With your 70. So at that point, the church being the church came around us, and now with great intentions to help. But we really got some bad advice. Yeah, it was very consistent on the therapy is not needed to, she needs to go to a Christian woman's home, away from where we love, right, and be with a mentor to live there for a couple months. And that's when I finally had enough. And I just said, this is no no more. Yeah, she needs to leave where we are, she needs help. Real therapy, their therapeutic help. You need to get away from her family, not as a rejection she needs to She needs time from us to heal. And she's going to go to a secular therapy program that specializes in adolescents. Right. And at that point, the tables began to turn. And she went and spent 10 months there and came out a different person. Because she was away from us. And the interesting, interesting thing when we would go do visitations and partisan is a great program because we were re parented right? On how to give our kids more freedom and let them fail and how to love them through the process. Right? And which completely opposite of what we had been teaching into the talk, which was complete control, obedience to Christ. Right, right. But the interesting observation over many, many months or weekends of going there, to visit her in for the RE parenting training. One observation I had is that every family that I met, was either evangelical or some version of high control, religious organization, every one of their kids were there to get for rebellion and things that were harmful to them as teenagers. I hate to say as a result of their parents, I can't say that but the one consistent theme was they all came from a very similar type of high control background. Yeah. So as we progress through this now, kind of moving into some hard part's, it's a tough time, right? At this point, I'm fed up. And now I'm really beginning to speak out scared to death, right to lose my position to lose my marriage to be rejected and community and I. And at one point, I this was wrong, I read some of my wife's writings that she had written in a journal that was completely the wrong thing to do. But as I read through it, it was a book that was about me journaling my sins and how I'm not adding up things that just that were very hurtful to me. And it's just coming out of a really tough four years and I looked at my wife at that time and I said, I'm sorry I read this for many reasons. I'm sorry what I saw in this and I'm sorry for how you feel about me but after I'm done being married to you at this point, okay. And we had left that day to go to a wedding in Tennessee and didn't say a word to each other in free to say I was done being married to her was just completely out of left field. But then that night, she flipped not in a good way, but she became easier to engage with. And we would sit in the pool and we got back and have some kiddos and watch shows that said the F word on it and, you know, be very playful in our sex life, nothing out of balance everything within your marriage, right? You're having fun. And I look back at that time and said, I've found the woman I've always wanted, where I can be accepted. And I could share where I struggled and share real things without fear of everybody else finding out about it. And I was so happy for about seven months, okay. And she apparently was really unhappy, because I was going against everything she was taught and she was doing that to please me, which is not right. But about seven months after that, she flipped back into her biblical counseling program, I asked her to leave that after her childhood attempted suicide. She moved back into some more aggressive programs in the church. And that pendulum swing really hard to the right. Okay, so it was a little bit too far to the left for what she was comfortable with. And I can respect that. It's weighing equally if not further, hard to the right, in terms of full blown indoctrination. Control, the inerrancy and being more Christ like

David Ames  56:27  
doubling down tripling down yelling,

Matt  56:30  
right. Endorse recognizing and conversations about as we pull in things like purity culture. When we're College. We were a great couple. Right? And we did like many college teenager college kids, did we actually have sex? Pre marriage? Yeah. Mutual right. He was both of us. And we share repeatedly It was a fun part of our relationship. And you know, then after she, you know, many years still blaming me for taking your virginity. Right. Don't take that into her recovery ministries and and just now recognize, I didn't know what purity culture was until a year ago, two years ago. Yeah. And just seeing that looking back over our marriage, just the shame, the guilt fear that that she had had, we could have, we could go to the beach and have a great time and you know, act like married adults that were in love and have sex in the pool chairs at nighttime when nobody's out there right? are fun and playful. Right? Then the next day followed with guilt, right? In shame and it's moved back in and it just really had us on a cycle for many years of just what's appropriate and you know, masturbation in the church was a complete nono and I've always been very appropriate for your podcast you're but free sexually as far as who I am in my body. And sir, if I travel and have a desire, I'll would masturbate. Meanwhile, thinking of my wife during this process, right, but that was a complete nono, I was actually called in front of church leadership for that. Yeah. And the verses they use to back up that position were pretty pathetic. I remember they tell you, you can't you can't masturbate like, well, I'm having gone for five days. I can't. I can't What what? Were you just gonna lead to sin? And like, what if I think about my wife while I'm doing that? We don't have an answer for I just need to be done. I got us off track. Sorry.

David Ames  58:42  
Well, I just say like, in general, the purity culture that you're describing is damaging because, again, it takes away our humanity. Our healthy sexuality is a part of being human being everything from masturbation to having fun sex with your spouse, your partner, and if there should be some external source of guilt for any of that. That is, it's just, it's ridiculous. It's damaging, it's hurtful. It hurts with the kids when they're growing up during a time of puberty and discovering who they are as a sexual being. It hurts that it but it's amazing to me still that full grown adults, married adults still feel the impacts of purity culture, and you know, it's just so utterly damaging.

Matt  59:28  
The hard part for me is I never I was not there was no purity culture being taught in my home growing up. Matter of fact, my dad was proud of me for having a condom in my wallet. That succeed although I had no plans to use it or knowledge to come into my wallet. Right. Right. Right. So but that piece of that those in marrying a person that that was raised in that just now looking back going wow, I feel terrible for it's stropped, a lot of joy and pleasure. And again, the cognitive cognitive dissonance on her and it just it was it was hard

so then, as she's back in this again, and things really started to turn south, but I getting really become fed up with not only the church control me doing the dance constantly, constantly beating myself up for not being good enough, then COVID hit. Okay. You know, everybody, there's plenty stories out there, we're COVID changed everything and I was thrilled meaning I don't have to go to church anymore. Yeah, you know, go for an hour and a half service and there's no more going to leadership. That was great for me, but I, it's my marriage is falling apart. I went to a therapist for help. And I went to the narrative therapist saying there's either one or two outcomes and I need help with. I'm either a narcissist or I'm codependent. And I don't know which one I am. Right. And I use the term covert narcissist before and I think that was really true in terms of my leadership with other people. And what I was getting from that. The bottom line when it came to a marriage, I was flat out codependent. Always working to keep my spouse happy, right and walking on eggshells constantly in the standard and ever been good enough. And so I worked really hard in books and therapy, and outside teachings and really gained grant gained ground on like codependency which is really hard when you're in a codependent relationship for 29 years, and you break free of it. And the game rules change, right? It's hard on the other spouse to Sure, he's used to the control aspect of things. But I really became fed up with the church because they again, in small groups kept really getting into wire marriage was falling apart, it had to be my fault. I remember going into a meeting with about 12 people where I was the center of the meeting. And I just arrived from the business trip, and I'm stopped by the house to get ready for this meeting. And I took my blood pressure.

Unknown Speaker  1:02:29  
And it was to 20 over 190 Oh, wow. Wow. And I'm a

Matt  1:02:35  
relatively fit guy. But I began now I know the Body Keeps the Score. Right? Yeah, didn't have any language around this. I was a tough it out. I'm going to get it done kind of guy. But that's the level of anxiety what I was headed into, again for another meeting, this time about my marriage and family. Yeah. Right. But at that meeting, I just basically let them have it. And saw my therapist who was very familiar with his church. He's a former pastor. That's no longer. I think he's deconstructed. I don't know that for sure. But he helped me say, here's how you leave this church. You go into a meeting, you tell him you guys have been awesome. You've helped me grow a lot in my life. Thank you for all you've done, but I'm no longer going to be a member of the church. He's like, that's all you say. Yeah. And that was great advice. So I go into a meeting. That's exactly what I say. And then that's not what I did. A question What's why and what do you believe? And, you know, I again, I didn't have a language back then. And I've learned so much, two years later, but one thing that I had language for was a couple things. I said, we treat human beings like objects and projects. That's a real people. And then secondly, you're telling me that every single person walking to the synagogue, this coming Saturday, a mile from our house is going to hell? I can't support that anymore. Yeah. Right. And so the question then came in well, so you don't believe in the inerrancy of Scripture like I don't, I'm sorry. Adam and Eve is an allegory. Job's a story. Noah's Ark never happened, right. Mark was written before Matthew and all these kinds of things are going through and I just can't see it. And then the question that came from my wife was, well, how are you going to make moral decisions going forward? And I looked at him and said, I'm pretty sure I'm not gonna go rate kill and destroy and stealing. I think I can make these choices on my own. So at that point, I was out, and I received a letter from the church you know, denouncing My membership wasn't the Matthew 18 letter we'd given other people, but it was you're no longer a member. You're an obligor expecting us to come alongside you and help you, right to guide you to shepherd you so to speak. Right, okay. But things were a mess in my home, right. And I've finally started to do some podcasting. And I heard this term called spiritual abuse. And I began to research it diligently on YouTube and various podcasts. And this was two years ago, the term was really, I think, starting to gain traction, then I found this therapist is PhD relative, that she specializes in spiritual abuse.

David Ames  1:05:42  
Oh, great. Okay.

Matt  1:05:45  
So I've sought her out. And turns out, I'm not the only person from my previous church that is a client of hers. Yeah. But really helped me understand what I went through what my body was experiencing the panic attacks and services, the blood pressure, so to speak, that I was not the broken one, okay. When your spouse tells you, you're going to help, it's pretty hard to hear when your spouse tells the family that if you love God and His people, you want to be in church every Sunday, no excuses, get your butt up, go to church. In so many things of that area is way beyond just that, right? It just developing language around that, like, what was I part of, and what happened. And I came home with that day, that day, and I looked at my spouse and said, whatever's happened in the past, whatever has been done to me in the past, I hate to like the victim, but it's never gonna happen again. I'm not going to let it happen. I'm not going to let you share. I'm not going to share anything with you. Because anything I share with you could share with 55 other people, right? There's no secrecy. There's no privacy, and you will never talk to me like that, again.

David Ames  1:07:02  
It's a breach of trust, right? If you're speaking privately to your partner, your life partner, and they tell 55 other people that that's definitely a breach of trust.

Matt  1:07:14  
Absolutely. And, you know, we she was big into boundaries. And I said, I understand I respect the heck out of boundaries, right? Boundaries are for you, not for me, right. But I'm like, I can't set boundaries with you, other than not share anything with you. Because it's my only boundary I can set. I don't want my life being shared with everyone else to get me back in line. Yeah. And the sad part of the story from that is that two months later, we decided to separate. It was we were, I was angry. She was devastated. I don't want to defame her or talk down about her too much. But we decided to proceed divorce. And that's been going on for about 18 months in, you know, kind of fast forwarding that it's been a it's been a freeing cycle, but a very, very difficult cycle. Of course, when you lead marriage ministry doing everything right, then you decide that my marriage is so toxic. As soon as I decided to not be in line with everybody else that we can handle it. And to leave a megachurch, we are so well known. Number one, that rejection in itself is is torture. to deconstruct your faith, if not lose your faith to lose that level of quote, unquote friendships. It's hard and you still on top of that, a marriage falling apart. You really kind of find out who you are as a person at that level of depression and isolation.

David Ames  1:08:57  
You also find out who your real friends are. The real friends will be there for you anyway and and everyone else wasn't

Matt  1:09:05  
you know, it's it's so true. A few guys have hung in there with me they love me regardless. And they're also going through their own version of deconstruction. They're not quite there yet where I am but they are going through that process. They if they've stayed with me the whole time. The vast majority of people turn their back on me i It's really hard now where I live in my city. I'm separated, we're you know, close to divorce, but I'm in an apartment and I'm not too far from where my church was because I'm close to the kids location wise and I'd go to restaurants and look around everywhere I go. I see people and people that I knew from the church, right and you know, your typical pat on the backs kind of piece to it, but I was bumped into a staff member probably about six weeks ago. And we served together for 15 years in marriage ministry. And he was one of my love bombers came up to me and gave me a hug and said, Man, I love you. And I'm serve what your family is going through. And I said,

David Ames  1:10:08  
sorry to laugh. I've had exactly that happen. I know exactly what you're experiencing. Yeah,

Matt  1:10:14  
I was like you really love me. I said, I've heard a word from you and 17 months, right? As I knew, and I spoke, I said, we need help, I need help. And I have your word back from you. Since I didn't remember. I was gone. So we had coffee, two weeks later. And I shared with him exactly that you say you love me. And you've told me 1000 times over the past 15 years, how much you love me and respect me that as soon as I'm not agreeing with your position on things. You turn her back on me like that. And not just you. I said it was everybody else. So beef, not just with us to the whole organization. And we kind of left it at that it was fine meeting and but I finally had a chance there. And you know, for the most part, I would occasionally get the phone call. Let's get coffee, which is triggering, by the way.

David Ames  1:11:08  

Matt  1:11:11  
Let's get coffee from people that I don't know very well, so we can get you back in line. Yeah. Even family members from my wife's side would call once they realized that I was not going to agree with them on their position around scripture, they never hear from them again. And they don't know what to say to you. They say nothing. They ignore Yeah.

But fast forward. I've been gentle with my kids who are now 2018 and 16. My oldest two had that tragedy in her life, she decided to skip college and move to Hawaii. And she's doing fantastic. News. Yeah, live in her life. Right? Not sure where she stands on her faith, other two kids are, are really doing well. But what's happened in the past 18 months now as I've shared my journey with my kids, I've had more real conversations with my teenagers about culture, drinking sex, things, they're struggling with the some of my friends, both female and male are just shocked to hear what my kids share with me about where they're struggling in life, and they can't share that at home with their mom had a fear.

And so, today, I'm

on the fence. agnostic. Atheist don't know where I'm straddling, I'd say there's probably more weight on the atheist foot than agnostic foot. But still becoming comfortable with that. That terminology.

David Ames  1:12:54  
And there's no time pressure, Matt, you get to you get to figure it out. There's nobody watching you asking you what do you believe? What do you believe? What do you believe? Right? Wherever you land is up to you. And you get to take as much time as you need to figure that out.

Matt  1:13:08  
Being in Texas, I would say that this is no shock here. I thought this the word atheist is also aligned with Satanist. Sure,

David Ames  1:13:17  
yeah. Yeah.

Matt  1:13:21  
People really don't know what to do with that. It's I'm real careful with my I went to the cycle right of, of being the bitter guy that the pushback and my friends that would come to me and talk about scripture, I would just I can, quite frankly, I can level them on I can, I can cut them in half with my words. We did that a few times. It didn't go well. Now I just engage in smile. And so you know, I don't know where I am right now. Right? I don't know where I'm gonna land. But things are different. You know? Where you're going to church anywhere? No, I'm not. I'm not. Well, I'm gonna come visit this church was really good. Like, I'm good. I'm really good.

David Ames  1:14:06  
Honestly, that I think that is a a beautiful way to handle it. I think one of the experiences of coming out of a very fundamentalist or very high control group is the feeling or the pressure to have all the answers and to correct everyone around you, right, like there's a bounce back effect of correcting the believers. And it is much healthier, and much, much better for you personally, to be able to just, you know, let that slide. There they are, where they're at you are where you're at. And again, as we've said, your real friends, the people you actually trust, you can be open with them, and they're going to carry you through it. Well, I'm

Matt  1:14:48  
thankful that I had this dual world though of work friends, and church friends, because I'll tell you that as much rejection as I felt from my Christian friends twice as much as acceptance from my friends that were Jewish, or agnostic or atheist or Muslim, quite frankly. Yeah, I mean, actually follow up how you doing, man just got love on on your checking on you. And so thankful for those people I can't imagine. And I've been completely tied up and I feel for people that are on staff at churches that that are going to this journey that can't. I mean, they're there, their livelihoods tied to everything's tied to it, they're stuck. And so I'm thankful for for that part of my life as well.

David Ames  1:15:33  
Real quick, we are running out of time, but we you know, any any positive things on this side, we've talked about therapy, obviously, that, you know, any particular books, podcasts other than this one, any YouTube channels, and anything that you found really inspiring through this process for you?

Matt  1:15:48  
Yeah, absolutely. Of course, your your, your podcast was again, so therapeutic for me to hear other people's stories to realize I'm not crazy. Yeah. Because for awhile, I thought I'm absolutely the asshole here. Right. You know, the Thinking Atheist course, the big podcast that was good. divorcing religion. And those those pieces, they're just not a big reader. A book that really helped me was leather bound terrorism, which is by former evangelical pastor that kind of tapes. Here's his story of using Scripture as a weapon. And what he did to people in the exact story that I shared at the humanizing. There's so much out there. And I've moved from the trying to find work scripture and Jesus into my life. And as it worked out to really saying, none of this just makes sense to me. I can't sit back and say, I can take the Jesus from the Bible, and pluck out those stories and those verses that I want to hear and then ignore everything else. Yeah. And then to hear again, I don't worry about the Old Testament, because the New Testament is, is the word of God now. And then let's quote Psalms and Proverbs. And let's really dive into Deuteronomy and Leviticus and see what things look like there. Right. So there's a lot of great resources or resources out there, and you're one of those.

David Ames  1:17:13  
Oh, well, I really appreciate that. Matt, I talked about wanting to be having honesty contests in these kinds of interviews. And I think you've, you've lived up to that it's clear you're doing the work. I know, it's a painful place to be, both from a relationship point of view and from a deconstruction point of view. But I really appreciate you telling your story. I know there are going to be a lot of people who relate to your story. So thank you so much for being on the podcast. My pleasure, thank you.

Final thoughts on the episode, I really appreciated Matt's honesty and vulnerability here. He talks about a lot of relatively intimate things in such a way that you can hear the work that he's been doing in therapy and otherwise learning about the spiritual abuse that he experienced, as well as the abuse that he gave out. Matt's terminology about a covert narcissist is really interesting. All of us can think of overt narcissists, various pastors and things of that nature. But many of the people in Bible studies or in leadership positions like Matt was that need that constant attention need that constant feedback, I can think of those kinds of people as well. So it's a really interesting concept that Matt brings up here. hearing that story, what I am the most struck by is how the system of the church is spiritual abuse that no one survives it from the least powerful person in the church to the senior pastor, that everyone is ground down by the things that Matt described, this false intimacy, this fake authenticity, a invasion of privacy, breaking down a boundaries, impossible standards of morality and expectations. What I appreciate most about Matt's story is that he recognized how he was also the abuser, that he definitely experienced spiritual abuse, but that and his words hurt people hurt people. And that takes a lot of guts to say out loud, all of the spiritual abuse can be summarized in Matt's wording of seeing people as projects or objects. I think that was so succinct, an explanation of both what it's like as the person in power and as the person who is the object and how abusive that is. I can think of many times in my experience as a church leader, and as experienced as a church member of either making people projects and objects or being the object itself. I want to thank Matt for being on the podcast for telling his story with such honesty and vulnerability. Thank you, Matt. The secular Grace Thought of the Week is obviously inspired by Matt. And that is to give ourselves grace for what we did what we said, who we hurt, who we treated as objects and projects. When we were believers, when we were in the system of the church, when we were being spiritually abused, and we were spiritually abusing others. Hindsight is absolutely 2020. And I'm not saying we shouldn't make amends and feel true regret and sorrow for that. But I am saying we have to also recognize we were trapped in that bubble, that the system was grinding us down, and it takes amazing self awareness to break out of that. Probably if you're listening to this show, you have that amazing self awareness. The evangelicalism that Matt experience that I've experienced that many of you listening, is systemically abusive. And I've said this before, this isn't very popular, but I don't think it is redeemable. I do think that any system with people in it is going to have the potential for abuse. But the roots of this manipulation and abusiveness are so deep that I don't think it can be fixed. And here I don't mean that our job is to tear down the church or tear down even evangelicalism. Here. What I mean is for you to escape, to get out, to be free, to not allow yourself to be a part of that system anymore, to not allow yourself to fool yourself to not allow yourself to be abused and manipulated in the way that 2020 hindsight can show we have in the past. We have some amazing interviews coming up. We have a number of community members in line. I already did my interview with Holly Laurent from the mega podcast. That'll be out sometime in April. I'll be talking with Dr. Darrel Ray from the recovering from Religion Foundation. Arline's has a number of interviews including some popular personalities on Instagram. 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 graceful atheist podcast part of the atheists United studios Podcast Network

Transcribed by

Arline Interviews Ben and Ang

Agnosticism, Autonomy, Deconstruction, ExVangelical, LGBTQ+, Podcast, Purity Culture
Listen on Apple Podcasts

Ben and Ang have been married for seventeen years. They met as tender home-schooled church-kids. They married young, and the church’s “formula” worked well for a while.

They were mostly happy and went on to have kids of their own. But little things from childhood would pop up now and then—purity culture shame, fear of emotions, fear of the end of the world…

In June of 2016, the shooting at Pulse nightclub “broke” Ang, and she knew she had to find a different way forward. By 2017, they both were out of church—Ben trying to save their marriage; Ang trying to save herself.

Now, Ben and Ang are navigating a new and more intimate life together. They’re both agnostic, defining agnosticism a little differently from one another, but they both agree—this life is most important, and it must be lived to the fullest!





Deconversion Therapy podcast




“If I have any religion, my religion is Empathy.”


“I went from thinking that religion was a kind and helpful tool that could get you through life to very terrified.”


“If it wasn’t for [Ang] going through [her own journey], I would probably still be at the same church doing the exact same thing I’ve been doing my whole life because that’s all I know.”


“That’s part of the design of a lot of modern-day religion. They don’t want you to ask questions because then you might not want to go anymore.”


“…it wasn’t that I wanted to stop believing. It was that I wanted to save myself.”


“I made a choice—even if it meant my salvation, and it did—I said, ‘I choose to live right now.’ I had to save my own life.”


“We love our Sundays!”


“We love Sundays. I feel more at peace now on a hike in the woods than I ever felt in a church.”


“There’s this ‘church formula’ where if you do this, this, this and this, your life’s going to be great and everything’s going to be wonderful. We were doing all those things, but we were struggling…”


“To step back and look at it from the outside, you can really see that things aren’t how [the Church portrays] it to be.”


“They either sell you on the promise of a great life and a great eternity in heaven or they try to scare you with an eternity in hell.”


“In my little mind, I thought, If they can’t see me; they can’t hurt me.”


“…gray is my favorite color because life is in the gray. It’s not all black and it’s not all white.”



Join the Deconversion Anonymous Facebook group!


Secular Grace

Support the podcast

Podchaser - Graceful Atheist Podcast


“Waves” track written and produced by Makaih Beats

Julia: Deconstruction of a Doctor

Adverse Religious Experiences, Agnosticism, Autonomy, Deconstruction, Deconversion Anonymous, ExVangelical, Hell Anxiety, Podcast, Purity Culture, Religious Abuse, Religious Trauma
Click to play episode on Apple Podcasts

Content Warning: miscarriage; traumatic birth; mental health problems; hell anxiety 

Listen on Apple Podcasts

This week’s guest is Julia. Julia is the clever mind behind the Instagram account, @painfulpostchristianprayers

Julia grew up in a German mostly-atheist home. The hostility, however, she saw for religion made it all the more appealing. As she came of age, she found herself confirmed in the German Lutheran church but attending and loving a very American Baptist church. Julia was all-in but soon found some doctrines were a bit much, especially the teachings about Hell.

For years, Julia threw herself into American Church World. She read the entire Bible, went to university to become a missionary doctor, met her spouse at church, even read Joshua Harris’s books. But life has a way of forcing some to wonder–Is the God I believe in really is as kind as I’ve been told

After one trying event after another, Julia could no longer see God’s “goodness, and she started to see through the “incredibly ridiculous explanations” people gave when God did not come through.

Julia is in a different place now. Her online presence provides an outlet for the anger that had been pent-up for so long, and it has also brought her community. She is far from alone; thousands are waking up to the empty promises of Christianity. 

And that is what is what humans truly need—not a distant, pretend deity but real human connection and relationship.


“I’d prayed The Prayer…like, twenty times or so because I was never sure if it worked.”

“This Christian role that I was trying to press myself into was really causing me to be in a really bad place…”

“I think this is happening because I wasn’t faithful to god.”

“I felt like I couldn’t trust God anymore to do what he, supposedly, was suppose to do—namely protect his kids!”

“That’s what I am looking for, I am trying to find a god I can love, and I cannot love this one because he is abusive.”

“I came in touch with my longing for that god. I wanted it to be true … and I didn’t. “

“Everything works in that theological framework until it doesn’t.”

“It’s not just a belief system. It’s an abusive relationship with an abusive deity.” 

“I tried to salvage my faith … but the slippery slope is really as slippery as they say.”

“It just all came apart in my hands until nothing was left”


Painful Post-Christian Prayers


Online deconversion communities


The Phil Drysdale Show podcast


Wayward by Alice Greczyn

Leaving the Fold by Marlene Winell 



Alice Greczyn

Join the Deconversion Anonymous Facebook group!


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“Waves” track written and produced by Makaih Beats

Thom Krystofiak: Tempted to Believe

Agnosticism, Atheism, Authors, Book Review, Deconstruction, Deconversion, Naturalism, Philosophy, Podcast, skepticism, Spirituality
Listen on Apple Podcasts

Stay skeptical? This week’s guest is Thom Krystofiak, the author of Tempted to Believe: The Seductive Power of Claims About “The Truth.”

Thom grew up Catholic but as an adult began practicing Transcendental Meditation. He followed gurus and groups for decades but was never quite convinced of the more spectacular claims of TM. 

Thom shares about his experiences in the TM movement and what pushed him out. He also discusses important questions people, regardless of their belief or skepticism, could ask themselves: What do I mean by truth? How do I find the truth? And how much does truth really matter? 


I am, by nature, a skeptical man. My skepticism shows no signs of
mellowing, but grows sharper and deeper with time. And yet I have spent my life surrounded by believers.

[Is it] better to be fooled many times than to be a skeptical man[?]

Am I missing something?

“Why is that I’m not susceptible to any of the beliefs the people around me hold…”

“[Flying] wasn’t happening yet for us as individuals, but maybe if we put three thousand people together in one place…maybe that’ll be something!” 

“…the rise of fake news and alternative facts and the more bizarre conspiracy theories…all of these things are based on beliefs and they’re based on beliefs that do not have evidence…’”

“Some of our greatest societal challenges…resonate with these same principles: How much does the truth matter, what do you mean by the truth and how do you find the truth?”

“It’s not just a matter of, ‘Do you accept evidence at all as a valid way of finding out what’s true?’…it becomes a much more difficult task of sifting through competing versions of evidence.”

“Some people have given—either themselves or others—the license to make things up…”


Thom’s personal site



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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. Welcome, welcome. Welcome to the graceful atheist podcast. My name is David. And I'm trying to be the case with our community manager Arlene continues to run the Tuesday evening after the podcast drops hangout. If you want to be a part of that, please join the deconversion anonymous Facebook group at Special thanks to Mike T for editing today's show. On today's show, my guest today is Thom Krystofiak. Thom has written an amazing book called tempted to believe the seductive power of claims about the truth, quote, unquote. What Thom has done here is really describe what skepticism is, why it's necessary and how to be skeptical without being cynical, and without being a jerk about it. What I think you're going to find interesting is that Thom's religious experience, although he grew up a Catholic is really about his time in the transcendental meditation movement, and more from a new age point of view. So what's interesting is, he's bringing skepticism from that perspective. And he begins the book by asking the question, Am I missing something? And the book is really the answer to that. I loved this book, I this is the book that I wish that I had had when I was going through my own deconversion. I hope you enjoyed the conversation with Thom, and I hope you and to help you go out and get the book. tempted to believe. Here is Thom Krystofiak to tell his story.

Thom Krystofiak, welcome to the graceful atheist podcast.

Thom Krystofiak  2:06  
Thank you, David. It's a pleasure.

David Ames  2:08  
Thom, you've written a book called tempted to believe the seductive power of claims about the truth. And as I just mentioned to you offline, this could not be more timely. I said in previous promotion of this particular interview that if I were going to give it a subtitle, I would say it is skepticism without being an asshole. I might have been a little bit more catchy. Yeah. And that is kind of right in the lane of what we're trying to do here on the gristmill atheist podcasts. So you are incredibly welcome. So glad that you're here.

Thom Krystofiak  2:47  
Thank you, thank you so much.

David Ames  2:49  
What I'd like to do is begin with, you know, your personal journey and for lack of a better term, your spiritual journey and what that was like, and then we'll jump into the book after that. Okay.

Thom Krystofiak  2:58  
Yeah, let me try to boil it down. as briefly as I can, you know, I did not go through a difficult deconversion process in my, in my life, I was raised as a standard Catholic, I went to Catholic schools all the way through high school, including Jesuit High School. But, and I of course, absorbed all that as you do as a child. And you're more or less, I'm more or less assume that was just the way things were. But, you know, my my leaving the church or leaving belief of that kind took place quite naturally. For me, it was just the way my mind started asking questions, even when I was, I suppose around 16. And then, strangely enough, one of the Jesuit priests sort of there were some liberal priests in our, in our school, he thought it was a wise thing and what was called theology class, to assign Sigmund Freud's the future of an illusion, which is, which is all about Freud's idea that religious beliefs were illusory. And here's the psychological reasons why. And that really spoke to me. But in addition to that, my own thinking just about how is it that we can possibly know all this really definite stuff about the nature of the universe, so that'll happen. And so it was, it was, it was graceful. For me. It was graceful both for me, and it was, it was treated gracefully by those in my life. You know, luckily for me, I didn't have a problem with my parents, you know, freaking out that, that I had left the fold that they had invested in, you know, in so many different ways, right? There weren't that kind of they were those kinds of people, so I didn't have that issue. Even my teachers at school they knew by the time of my senior year of high school, they knew where I was but they didn't cause trouble either. So I had a graceful exit, it was easy. Okay. Then what happened to me is when I was in college, I started for whatever reason, beginning to have a sense that perhaps there's something more to this reality than what the day to day that we're all in meshed in. Now, whether recreational drugs had anything to do with that, or whether it was just some sort of natural curiosity, I don't know. But I was interested in the possibility. And so when I heard various people in groups talking about ways to open to greater realities, I was intrigued. And I explored a few of them. But the one that got me was Transcendental Meditation. And the reason it got me ultimately, in the beginning, was because they had embraced scientific approach to verifying the benefits. Right. So I mean, the kinds of benefits let's put it this way, a scientific approach to to verifying some changes that happened into people and people who practiced TM. You know, they certainly couldn't verify the broader claims that they may have been interested in. But they, but they had that scientific attitude, they had done some pioneering research that was published in Science Magazine and Scientific American. And, and I will say that, that hooked me I said, okay, if I'm going to try something, this is the one. So that's what I did. I liked it, I liked the way it work, the effects it had on me. And so I, as, as the years of few years unfolded, I got seriously interested and became a trained teacher of Transcendental Meditation, which, you know, this is, as people may know, this is a, a program or a practice that was brought out to the world by Maharishi Mahesh Yogi. In the old days, I mean, some decades ago, a lot of people would recognize that name. These days, not so much, probably. But, you know, he was the guru of the Beatles, etc. That's the way he was always talked about in the press way back then, you know, millions of people learned all around the world, 10s of 1000s of people were teachers, it was a big deal. And as you can imagine, we we'd go, we were in the training was done in Europe, I was in Europe anyway, I was pursuing my own studies, but the trainings were generally in Europe, and they would last, you know, over the course of the entire training might be six months or more. And so you're completely enmeshed in this world of people who are absolutely enthused not just about the practical fruits of meditation, but about these ancillary claims that are more and more extraordinary about, about what the universe was about, and what human life was capable of, and so forth. And being in meshed in math for six months. And having, you know, you naturally have a desire to do well and be part of, you know, to be a good teacher and be part of this whole thing. I naturally was drawn to at least partial acceptance of some really extraordinary things. Now, I don't I don't think I ever became a full on believer in the sense that many people are believers and things about some of these claims. But they certainly enticed me and made me think they were possible. And so I'll just briefly mention a couple of them. So the the biggest thing that happened during the time I was doing that training was an advanced program was cut was brought out, in addition to the regular 20 minutes, twice a day of meditation, which was the whole thing in the beginning, an advanced program was brought out which was basically human levitation, the ability for the human being, to fly, not just some sort of internal thing that felt like you are floating but actually, the claim was, yes, we're talking, floating, flying through the air. And, and I was, you know, some people did it before I decided to try it, because, hey, why not? This is, this would be fantastic. If

David Ames  9:32  
it was. Yeah.

Thom Krystofiak  9:36  
You know, it's a little weird to say that I would even be willing to try it because it's so outrageous. No, that's such an outrageous claim. It flies in the face of just everything we know about physics and science. And that doesn't mean I don't rule things out is completely impossible if they fly in the face of current scientific knowledge. You know, there are things we can learn that we haven't learned yet, but this is pretty cool. pretty far out there. So, but nevertheless, I was far enough into it to say this is worth a shot. And some people had done it that I knew before I did a little bit before I did. And it came back with some, you know, reports that sounded like they were verifying the thing in some way. Anyway, so I jumped in and did it. And it was extraordinary. It was absolutely one of the most extraordinary things I've ever done in my life. And I think a lot of people might say the same, just the way the body reacted to this, essentially just a mental process. That was that was engaged. And it's, it's something that I think would be a great subject of scientific research exactly what is going on there where the body does some things it's never done before, in response to a mental stimulus. And so it was wild. It was incredible. It was energetic, but it wasn't flying by. It wasn't levitation by any match.

A couple of years later, after I had done this, and then come back, and I was teaching meditation, and here in the US, I, marshy put out the word that he wanted to gather 3000 people, this was in Amherst, Massachusetts, to do this technique of skill of yogic flying together for the first time in human history, you know, and I said, okay, at that point, I was willing to entertain the possibility that, okay, it wasn't happening yet for us as individuals, but if we put 3000 people together in one place, and we're all doing it simultaneously, maybe that will be something and something extraordinary. And, as I said, in the book, when I when when I did that, for the first time in that large group, I was expecting something to happen. You know, exactly what, who knows, but something really different from what had happened ever before. Right? And it did. So, you know, that's not to say there were it's not, it's a rich internal experience. It's something that people get value out of, and a number of ways by doing it. Maybe even some integration of brainwaves, and mind and body and all these things have been explored. But certainly it wasn't what the claim was, it didn't happen. Of course, it hasn't happened since. So that's one thing. And then my wife and I moved to a little town in Iowa called Fairfield, Iowa, which had about 9000 people at the time. And again, Maurice, she made up made the call in 1983, to say, let's get 7000 people into this little town of 9000. And all do this together. And that will really crack the world open. It wasn't so much, oh, we're gonna fly. Isn't that really cool? It was more. His focus was always what can we do as individuals that will affect the collective consciousness is the word he would tend to use the collective consciousness of the whole human race? Is there somewhat, and he certainly believed, apparently that, that, that that should be possible. And originally, the idea was, well, let's just get enough people to practice TM just to meditate, and that will change the world. And then as that wasn't happening fast enough, he said, Well, let's get this advanced group. And let's get them together. And then we'll see what can really happen. And so we said, Great, we quit our jobs, we moved down here along with 7000 people, it was an, again, a really amazing experience. And then, many of those people were encouraged later to stay, to form a permanent community to keep doing this together. And they built two large dome structures where the people would come every day and twice a day and do this. So the idea was, well, we'll keep doing this and then we will finally crack it all up. So this group here in Fairfield, that up maybe about 3000, stayed over time, not the first day, but they managed to arrange their lives so that, you know, they could somehow support themselves. Some entrepreneurs came started some businesses brought businesses, people managed to support themselves and got rolling here, and states, so maybe two to 3000. At the peak, we're here. And there's still probably 2000 here. And this group of people that I was now fully enmeshed in because I never lived in a community of two or 3000 people who believed a lot of very extraordinary things I'll just mention a few in a moment. And so all the people around me that I associated with believed a raft of things and these would be The one I already mentioned, you know, possibility of human levitation. Another one would be the fact that certain practices, they're called the Yagi O's, and in Sanskrit or an Indian lore, but these are basically just practices, performances can influence by performing some ritualized event, chanting some stuff in Sanskrit pouring some materials on some objects, you know, whatever the ritual was, that can eliminate problems change the course of, of a person's life accompany even as a society. And of course, the idea that a large group doing something together like this would like, like these practices would utterly transform human human life on a collective level. And belief in astrology, it's called Jyotish. Again, the Indian version is called Jyotish. But it's essentially just astrology, that it's a perfect predictive science. And on and on, so I'm surrounded by a belief in karma, you know, the fact that everything that's happening to us was because of things in past lives, or parent lives, and it's all highly orchestrated. And reincarnation, you go on and on. And this was the assumed coin of the realm among the people I was living with, including my wife. And I was curious about some of these things, but really not not a believer in any of any of them. Yeah. Especially, you know, as the flying, it became clear that wasn't really happening that one drifted, drifted away, even from my consideration that it's any kind of likely event at all.

So this was the origin of the book for me over the book that I wrote, because in my own internal exploration process, which was, why is it that I am not susceptible to these beliefs that everybody around me is holding to one extent or another in the early days, especially? And it was just a fascinating question. It wasn't just a intellectual academic thing, like, Oh, I wonder why it was also it wasn't like I had tension about it, or felt that I was horribly missing something. But I did wonder if I was missing something. Because a lot of a lot of these people were quite admirable, quite intelligent, etc, accomplished. And they managed to believe these things and found some sort of benefit in their lives from believing these things, apparently. And I wasn't. And so I'm going, what, what am I missing here? And so I just tried to dive into that, and exploration on many, many different fronts and different levels to see. Was I missing something? Or were they just applying criteria about reality that I could not subscribe to, due to lacks a lack of evidence, basically. And that, you know, that's essentially what I what I came to, and feel comfortable with. And that, to me, let me say one more thing that a major demarcation or separation that I make in the book is between something that someone chooses to have in their life because they like the way it feels, they just like, like having in their life, and making a definite claim about something about the universe or the world, or how human life works, a claim. So to me, a claim is something about, about an event that will appear in the material world, I claim that astrology will predict this in my life. Well, I want to see that prediction come true. It's a claim or the claim that you can levitate we want to see we need to see the levitation otherwise, let's not talk about it in that in that term. You know, if doing a certain spiritual practice or ritual is supposed to alleviate a problem, let's see does does that actually play out? And so yeah, my focus was on on claims. I'm happy to have people have whatever they want in their life that makes them feel satisfied as long as they're not bending the reality and making claims factual claims about the nature of human life, that really cannot be not only cannot be established, but all the evidence that we do have, seems to contradict it. And as as the years went on here, I mean, we've been here for 39 years. Yeah, so. So it's a long, it's a lifetime, you know. And during that time, many of the people, at least the people that are my closer friends, have had us not the same degree, necessarily, as I am in this journey, but a movement in that direction. And I'm pleased and happy to report that to some small extent, at least, some of the people who've have read my book have had some of that perspective solidified. And it kind of brought together some of the maybe thoughts they started having, but brought together in a more coherent way. That is, how do we want to look at this world? How do we want to evaluate claims about this world to make sure that they're, they're valid, and that they have substance,

David Ames  21:08  
that so many things, I want to respond to their couple things, just just to say that one of the things I've really appreciated about the book is the humility and the kindness with which you describe some of these, in your words, off grid claims. And there's an empathy for the human condition and are and you know, the title of the book, tempted to believe that we are all tempted to believe in things that may or may not have enough evidence for it. Again, very much in line with what we're trying to do here with the podcast that just, you know, we're all human beings, we're all susceptible to these things. And, and yet, we are all after the truth, we're trying to find the truth. So I really appreciated that. One of the things I think, for my listeners is going to be interesting, my listeners tend to be former evangelical Christians, on some part of the spectrum from D convert from deconstruction, you're just doubting to full blown D converted atheists is that this comes at it from an orthogonal an angle, many of those evangelicals, when they were believers would have seen transcendental meditation as evil. And so it's, it kind of sneaks in past some of those defenses. And yet, I was amazed at the parallels, right? This is, again, the human condition. And last thing I'll say is, I also very much appreciated that you acknowledge the difference between the potential positive benefits of the experience and community versus a claim about the way the the universe actually works, and making a really hard bright line between those two. So for example, if you find, you know, performing the ritual of, you know, beneficial to you for your mental health, if you find meditation, or any of these, these kinds of practices, beneficial, more power to that person, not, that's fine. It's when the person begins to claim that this is affecting the world in some way that is beyond the realm of physics, that that's when we start to care about the truth.

Thom Krystofiak  23:09  
Right? Well, that's great. And, you know, I appreciate your noticing what you're calling the humility in the book. And that has been an advantage. I just ran into someone at the grocery store yesterday, he goes, Thom, I love your book. And I didn't know she was reading it. And not not a close friend, but someone I an acquaintance. And she mentioned the same thing that compared to what what you often expect in books that are trying to deconstruct for former beliefs. You often have people like Richard Dawkins would be the extreme example of someone who is often described as caustic, and dismissive and so forth. And yeah, I mean, I didn't want to do that. And I don't feel that so. So that's cool. The one thing I didn't say yet that I want to say, and I think it's germane to what you were just speaking about is that, well, let's let's get into it this way, that the whole idea, the difference that you just summarized between doing something that feels beneficial, or that you'd like to have in your life, versus making a claim about how the universe actually works in observable ways. That's a that's a bright line. You know, that's a clear distinction. Some people many people don't care about the second thing. They don't care if it can be proven if there's evidence for it. They just clearly don't. And, and you go, Okay, well, is that all right? Is that is that just another way of being? And to some extent, I want to sort of go in that direction and be again generous to say, well, that's the way that's the way their life is going. And those are their values, but This is the other area that was not the impetus of my book, but sort of got sprinkled in as the time went on, with the rise of the incredible the rise of fake news and alternative facts and, and really bizarre, more bizarre conspiracy theories and so forth, and the divisive pneus. In our political sphere. All of these things are based on beliefs, and they're based on beliefs that do not have evidence. And these things are not a matter of, oh, well, this is someone's internal life, it's their spiritual life, or whatever it is. And, you know, we shouldn't be too concerned about what they're doing inside their own head.

But when it starts to manifest, as it really seriously has, not just in America, but really around the world, when these kinds of alternate realities, not based on facts start being treated as if they were facts, and building entire, you know, political movements on them. We've got problems. And so this is what started to become more apparent to me even though it wasn't part of my original impetus, that the same kinds of questions that we're talking about here about how you evaluate what's true or not, or whether it's important that you evaluate things in a certain way as to being true or false. Whether you apply the rigors of evidence and rational thinking or not. It it's it's become a matter of really deep societal importance outside the realm of religion or New Age beliefs or, or the kinds of things I was talking about in my background, well, outside of that sphere, as important as all those fears are, we have another big thing on our hands. And it's completely related, just as you said, even though my book is not talking about the typical journey that that a lot of your other guests and people have gone on, you found that it was resonant with some of those same same processes. Well, now we're having, to me, some of our greatest societal challenges outside of those realms, also resonate with the same principles, which is, how much does the truth matter? And what do you mean by the truth? And how do you find the truth? And, to me, the greatest challenge that we face, perhaps, is that people totally disagree about that. What's interesting, though, is there are people who go, especially in the spiritual realm go, I don't, I'm totally not interested in objective means of proving any of this. I have my own internal truth that I am totally solid and clear about, you know, that's one thing where you just sort of deny the applicability of any kind of objective truth you go. That's that's not that's not relevant here to me. And that's, that's a, that's a tough issue. But that's, that's mostly on the subjective or spiritual realm. When you get into these other societal realms, where people are arguing about what's true, or what isn't true. A lot of times the people who are saying really outlandish things,

Unknown Speaker  28:43  
claim to have proof. They're

Thom Krystofiak  28:46  
not saying, oh, proof doesn't matter. This is just the way I feel I have an intimate experience with Jesus Christ or with whatever. Don't talk to me about proving it's irrelevant. They're saying, No, we can prove this. Yeah. So if you, for example, I don't want to offend any particular groups that you have your listeners, but it's an obvious, obvious example, in our society. If, if Donald Trump or some or his fall, so many of his followers are going to say, the election was stolen, they don't say, I have a feeling the election was stolen, or, you know, my, my spiritual guide told me the election was stolen, they say it was stolen, and we have evidence, right, you know, and then they bring it to court. And of course, all the courts so far, have failed to agree that there was any kind of evidence, but nevertheless, the claim is made or a lot of conspiracy theorists will claim that they have evidence certainly the big one is the nine 911 truthers who, you know the idea that it was an inside job and it was totally put up fake thing. They'll put out reams of really impressive looking video discussions with some experts and so forth, proving that there's no way these towers came down in this way from from airplanes. And so this is what gets doubly difficult. Because it's not just a matter of do you accept evidence at all as a valid way of finding out what's true? They'll go, yes, of course we do. And we've got evidence. And then it becomes a much more difficult task of sifting through competing versions, right of evidence, and say, which one of his really holds up. And the problem is that none of us most of us are incapable of doing all of that background, evidential research or checking ourselves. And so we naturally have to ferret out which of the experts or authorities out there in the world are the ones that we have reason to think are reliable. And then we follow those. So this gets really thorny. And that's why the only the only hope I see is in a greater depth of education emphasis, I don't know if this will ever be happening in our educational systems, to the process of doing exactly that. How do you weigh how do you ferret out the the reliability of a piece of evidence of an authority of suppose it expert? You know, how do you weigh these things? You can't just take the one that feels?

David Ames  31:44  
Exactly. And I you do talk about that a lot of just, and within the world of disinformation that basically, we just pick the paradigm that makes us feel the best. And that's no way to do this. I want to jump on this just for a second and say, This is why the book is timely for a number of reasons. You know, I think, you know, even beyond the political and the religious, you know, we're under an onslaught of advertising being thrown at us and with social media, and what have you that we are constantly evaluating claims, whether we know it or not, and being conscious of that, and having a standard is just deeply important. And in particular, and in time of disinformation. And in a time where technology is going to only get make the problem worse for the foreseeable future, that we will have more and more claims that we have to evaluate, having a sense of what the standard is for good or sufficient evidence is just absolutely critical.

Thom Krystofiak  32:44  
That's right, and it's going as you say, it's going to get more and more intense. Speaking about social media, you know, you get, you get the problem of what are called Deep fakes, which are, there's, the better and better ability is of technology to create a video of you saying something that looks exactly like you're saying it even though you would never say that and never did. And so, it's going to go to a completely different level of difficulty, to tell the difference, and to see how any, any sort of authority is going to try to step in, to prevent some of these clearly wrong attempts to fool people. So it's, it's one thing in the old areas, you had stories, you know, if you go back 1000s of years, you had people telling stories about the origin of life, or some savior or some holy man. We, we basically had stories and that worked incredibly well. You know, you have billions of people subscribing to essentially stories that were created 1000s of years ago, or laid down 1000s of years ago, stories passed on were very potent, and they always will be, although, as we've been seeing, at least in in Western societies, for the for large degree, in more industrialized Western societies, that the grip of some of those religious stories has been greatly weakening, you know, in not true all over the world, but certainly true and like in Europe, and, and so forth. And even in the US among, among young, younger people. So some of these stories are not having the same potency that they had before. But but now we're gonna get a whole as you said, a whole onslaught of things, whether it be in advertising or even more, more dangerously, in those parts and those people who use social media to try to change your, your critical beliefs, about about things that really matter. It's one thing to convince you that this is the best bike to buy, you know, Hi, some advertising, you know, it's another thing to convince someone about the reality of some political claim or some or some factual claim, and to do it in a way that that you're completely incapable of, of yourself telling the difference. That is truly alarming. So, yeah, so it's not just a matter of individuals getting better at being able to tell the difference between some someone who's trying to fool him and someone who's giving them a good solid piece of information. It's, again, as I said, the question is going to be to what extent government or society is going to have to try to put some controls over this rampant growth in MIS misinformation that gets more and more sophisticated.

David Ames  35:50  
And again, this is the I don't want to say argument. But the reason why skepticism is necessary. I think skepticism as a word has negative connotations, people think cynicism. And the thing I really related to you, and I think that my listeners will relate to is finding yourself what feels like alone? Why am I the only one who in your words is not susceptible to these these claims like that is the deconstruction deconversion experience, we find ourselves in this hermetically sealed bubble of people saying the same things, reinforcing the same things. We've heard the answers, we understand the answers, but the answers are not satisfying. And the the temptation is to say, maybe there's something wrong with me. And and yet, again, this entire book, and everything you're talking about here is about why skepticism is necessary. And that if the truth matters, you know, we can't we can't make someone value the truth. But if they do value the truth, there has to be some process some way of understanding, again, have good evidence or sufficient evidence, and can therefore be accepted or that need to be discarded.

Thom Krystofiak  37:02  
Yeah, absolutely. It's an interesting process that you and your guests and others go through in terms of that, that we could say, a light a light bulb turning on or something, something inside being activated, to start to wonder about these things. And that that really is the essence, you know, it's like, do we wonder about what's true? I mean, obviously, all scientists have always wondered about what's true. That's that, that sense of, and they do it in a way that is, that is not constrained by necessarily what came before. It's not like, Oh, we've always been told that rocks fall, because it's the nature of things to go towards, you know, the center of the earth. You know, with no idea of gravity, just that it's the nature of things. And someone starts to wonder about that. You just have to wonder, how does, how does this really work? And what's really going on here, that, that light bulb coming on, which doesn't come on for some people? Yeah, it just, it just doesn't, they're, they're happy with, with the world that they're living in, and the beliefs and practices and community that they have, it's working, it's working for them? And it's only when a question comes up internally, to wonder about it and to ask certain questions. And I don't know how that exactly happens. But why it happens for some and not for others. Exactly. Yeah. It may just be that some people are temperamentally more open or ready to ask certain questions than others than others are.

I was on a podcast called Buddha at the Gas Pump, which is a fabulous thing. It's actually it's a friend of my longtime friend of mine, is behind it. He's interviewed like, I don't know, six or 700 people, and they tend to be people from the spiritual world, about all kinds of things. But he, he also had me on, and he was very forthright and discussing the kinds of things that we are. And anyway, as part of that, there was a group that he has, I don't know, maybe 15 People who email around on these questions. And it's fascinating because that group kind of bifurcates and some of them are strongly in the camp of I have had this experience which was so strong, and so opening or was clearly a direct perception of truth. But that's the end of it. That is just the end of it. and it has, there is it's not like they they're incapable of asking questions about all kinds of things, but they're not interested in asking questions about that.

David Ames  40:11  
Right? Protected.

Thom Krystofiak  40:14  
Yeah. And there's a difference between someone who's protected by, by a religious tradition, or the fact that their parents and their schooling and all of the people around them believe it. And it's, it's a whole community thing. And it's just been deeply bred into them. And someone who was absolutely sure, because they had some sort of awakened awakening experience. And, and they don't, and I keep, from now on then trying to get them to think about the idea that it is absolutely true and wonderful that they had this amazing experience. And it had great benefits in their lives, they feel freer, they feel wider, they feel, you know, less anxious, less concern, they feel more connected. These are all great things that anyone would love to have. So there's no question about it happened. You got these fruits. That's wonderful. Yeah. But there's an the tendency to want to claim things about the universe, about the nature of life in general, beyond the experience, and they it's almost always happens, that somewhat someone, even if they have an experiential basis, for some, some wonderful thing, they ended up wanting to make claims about the universe, like everything that consciousness was primary consciousness existed eternally, and it created a matter matter came out of consciousness, sort of like God, sort of like God, God was there eternally. And all this stuff that we see he just created somehow. Similarly with that, so they tend to go in that direction, even though it's that's a claim about things that goes way beyond anything that could ever be established. Right.

David Ames  42:14  
You have some amazing quotes in the book. That's the other thing that I really appreciated about it is like this is well researched. And some of my favorites were from Fineman. The one that I've heard before, but just really struck me was, the first principle is that you must not fool yourself, and you are the easiest person to fool. I feel like that really expresses this. I think Neil deGrasse Tyson said it this way to relate to religion to what you just mentioned, that experience can trump evidence as we have to actually work fairly hard to overcome that feeling of experience that we've we've gained some insights about truth beyond just the the warm and fuzzies. And you know, the sense of awe. Last thing I'll say on this is just that it's the human experience to experience all and all as a good thing. It's when we start to attribute unverifiable or unfalsifiable claims based on that experience at all. Yeah, that's

Thom Krystofiak  43:12  
right. I mean, the quantified men, you know that you're the easiest person to fool. Towards ties directly into the opening, you know, the opening aphorism in my book, you know, whether it's better to be fooled many times, yes, than to be a skeptical man. It's all about the fooling. And whether William James, I get into this a bit as well, William James, who explored spirituality and religion and psychic phenomena, as well as being the founder of American psychology. And philosophy really, is quite an amazing man. But, you know, when he wrote the book, or the essay called the will to believe he started it off with a preface, where he was saying, the person who, let's say, is going to be skeptical about about all these things, is, is is demonstrating that he's, he's afraid to be duped, he doesn't want to be duped. And he's saying he's putting that above some of the fruits that he could get, if you would just let it go. You know, this fear of being duped which is exactly, you know, kind of what, five minutes talking about to you know, the first principle is you must not fool yourself. Why not? Why not? is sort of the interesting question. That's the, the ultimate question, really, why not? And, you know, William James, I think he kind of went off the rails as far as I was concerned, because he was saying things like, Well, if you're always going to be skeptical, you're never going to get married. You're never going to take this new job that might have a risk in it. If you're always doubting everything. You're never going to do anything. In your life, and you go, Yeah, that's true. But that's all very pragmatic stuff. That's Those are choices that you make in your life. You know, whether you doubt whether this investment is going to be rewarding or not, is not the kind of doubt we're talking about. It's not the kind of skepticism we're talking about. We're talking about skepticism about claims about reality and how it actually works, not whether this woman is going to turn out to be the perfect wife for me. Right. So you know, so he ended up being really pragmatic when he was talking about doubt and faith and the will to believe, saying, We have to believe stuff. And of course we do. I believe that it's a good thing that I am, you know, this investment I just got in recently. I believe that's all right. I don't know. But I have a strong feeling that it will be a good idea. I don't hold back and go Well, I just don't know. I just don't know. So we're not talking to some kind of debilitating, absolute skepticism or doubt about everything.

David Ames  46:03  
Right. I'm talking about solipsism. Yeah, exactly. Yeah,

Thom Krystofiak  46:08  
we're only talking about when people make substantive claims about how things are, then make a difference that make a difference to the rest of her life goes. You know, that's where you might want to have some questions. Yeah.

David Ames  46:27  
I wanted to circle back really quick to how some people who who make off grade claims say that they have evidence in my world, in my listeners world, that tends to be apologists. And there's a whole field of evidential apologetics that suggests that there is all of this evidence. And it's clear that it's basically, you know, circumstantial, hearsay, and embellished legend with kind of an objective point of view, when you're talking to that person, they are 100% convinced that they have evidence for the resurrection of Jesus, let's say, you know, there are historical record and, and so one of the, again, one of the experiences of, of deconstruction, deconversion, is when you begin to recognize, I no longer find that, that evidence such as this convincing, that isn't sufficient to the magnitude of the claim, I just want to like, talk about a bit more about the challenge of coping with people who are claiming they have evidence, but that evidence isn't sufficient for the claim.

Thom Krystofiak  47:34  
Yeah. It's a matter of how much yeah, how much leeway you give this the sources of authority in your life. And how much leeway you give to the stories and, and the types of evidence, you know, generally, people who are believing in these, a lot of religious things and other off off grid claims, will give a great deal of leeway, you know, they will give the kind of spaciousness that they would never give, let's say in a court of law, or in some actual proceeding in their own practical life, where they're trying to nail down what really happened or what really is the truth. You know, I mean, Thomas Paine had that story, you know, that. If, if anybody were to come before a magistrate, with the four gospels accounts, which, about the resurrection, which have completely different details, and to some extent, contradictory details about precisely what happened when and who did what, you know, what is this? I mean, you can't possibly accept it, you go. There's something funny going on here. This isn't this isn't this isn't anything like an objective? evidential account? So? So yeah, it's, it's something some term that I use somewhere in the book was some people have granted either themselves or others the license to make things up. You know, you allow things to be declared and accepted as truth. Because of what they the fruits that they give you. And you give a lot of license to the quality of the evidence. Yeah, I've, I've certainly, I, you know, I always like to look at things like, Oh, someone and apologists trying to present the strongest proofs for God or something or for the resurrection. I always think they're going to come up with something really cool, you know, here that I can sink my teeth into. And I'm always I'm always dissatisfied, but I I have there something in me that wants us to, it's not like I want to believe in that sense. It's not like, Please convince me but, but I would, I love to I would love to be blown away. weigh, but the strength of evidence or the strength of an argument. You know, my wife always jokes with me. I don't happen to believe in UFOs, even though that's not that could be a physical reality. I mean, it could be, but I don't think we've got the evidence. I personally don't think we've got the evidence right now. And, but, but she knows that I would love to have a UFO land on my lawn? I would, I would love it. It's not like, no, no, no, I don't want to believe in that stuff. Right. I'd be happy to believe in it. Yeah, if there was good evidence. And so it's not that some people have a desire for belief or to believe certain things, and others don't. I have. I have I don't know about desire, I kind of have a desire to be to be confronted with a, an alien on a UFO. I mean, why not great, or, or a ghost or something? I mean, I don't believe in any of these things. But how cool would that be? Yeah, if it was really something I could sink my teeth into?

David Ames  51:11  
Yeah, a few things about that. Like, I avoid talking to apologists, but when I do I point out that if you really could prove the point you're trying to make you can win a Nobel Prize, right? Like, you know, you discover alien intelligence, you know, you are a million dollar winner. They're like that, you know, all you have to do is have the evidence to back it up. And so I would love to see that kind of evidence for for something that was an amazing claim like that.

Thom Krystofiak  51:37  
Yeah, I mean, you know, there's this guy, what's his name? Greer, the Disclosure Project? You know, that's an example of someone who has assembled huge amounts of military guys or intelligence guys are this that the other thing and all kinds of other fairly obscure evidence, but mounds of it, that it's totally convincing to large numbers of people? It's like this is it. This is evidence this is this is it? Yeah. But as you say, the truly convincing evidence is never forthcoming. Yeah. It's just not.

David Ames  52:22  
You talk about a number of scientists that have, you know, a sense of wonder about the universe. And the immediate person who comes to mind to me is Carl Sagan. And his candle in the dark book, I think, really touches on this, you know, he tells the story of being a young boy, and just really being fascinated with UFOs and extraterrestrials and but his scientific nature took over and even though he would love to be able to have said, there are in fact, extraterrestrials, you know, he could not find the evidence to do so. And what I appreciated about Carl Sagan and I often say like, I'm a more of a Sega nite, atheist than a Dawkins, I guess, in the sense that I have this wonder at the cosmos, this wonder at the universe, and that, and he expressed that so so well, contrast that a bit with you also have a chapter where you talk about people who become dissatisfied, or with the scientific view of the world, and, and basically make a conscious choice to go from a more scientific view of the world to an off grid view of the world.

Thom Krystofiak  53:34  
Yeah, no, that's great. I mean, the example of Sagan who is so great, someone who, as you said, was entranced with with some of these greater possibilities, like aliens and, and so forth, but couldn't go there unless the evidence allowed him you know, he was one of the strong guys involved with SETI, you know, the search for extraterrestrial intelligence. And, but if the evidence wasn't there, he couldn't do it. And yeah, I mean, people who get, I mean, one example in the book was, this was a long time ago, but the former president of Columbia, who just came out with this remarkable statement that that where science was going meaning mostly Darwinian theory at that time, was undermining some of his beliefs in the divine origin and so forth of everything. And he just came right out and said that I would, I would rather rest in my satisfying even if they'd be deceitful dreams. Science is is not going to do it for me. And that that's an interesting problem. You know, people will, will wonder whether a view that is based on reason and science Ansan looking for evidence, therefore necessarily putting aside a lot of the things that humanity has taken sustenance for, spiritually for, for millennia, what exactly that's going to do like, some people like Sagan are going to be a brilliant and full of awe and wonder and great people, no matter what other people, if you totally remove these sustaining beliefs that they have, or if somehow they they get weakened, or lost in them. We don't really know what what what that's going, what that's going to do. And so some people do question certainly question whether science, a scientific view, has enough stuff to offer the human psyche. Yeah, those who are enamored by the wonder of the universe and of life and, and evolution and, and at every scale, it's just so remarkable from the, from the farthest reaches of the cosmos down to the tiniest bits of matter, you know, it's all uniformly amazing and wonderful, and those who are susceptible to that kind of joy or or interest are well rewarded by that kind of interest. Some people are not character are not temperamentally or characteristically as susceptible or open to those kinds of joys and those kinds of rewards. And so this is, this is an interesting question that I don't have a solid answer to, you know, those who either tired of science or are not susceptible to the charms of science, whether they just need something else. And so the people I talked about in the book, one was the guy who's known as rom das now, who was Richard Alpert. He was a psychologist at Harvard, with Timothy Leary. And they both did LSD experiments at Harvard, and got thrown out for that reason. And Alpert, when he went to his, his, his dismissal meeting, or his review, or whatever, said, I'm not a scientist anymore. I'm giving up my badge. You know, I'd rather I want to, I'd rather go to India, which he did. Where, where there are these miracles being talked about? And I'd rather believe these miracles, then be a scientist and study, you know, bring out the data anymore. And, you know, there are people with that kind of orientation, that, that they they'd rather have, sort of an extreme example of, of what Barnard Columbia said, where he'd be happy in his deceitful dreams, if they were, if they could sustain him. You know, deceit is as far as being full deceit was not necessarily a problem for some people, if they get the fruits and this is, this is a whole other area of challenge. I mean, I think, I think there's probably, I don't know, what percentage of the people on this planet are, are enthused could be enthused by, and nourished by and by the joys of, of scientific knowledge or true revelation based on evidence about the way this amazing world actually works in our lives and our bodies in the universe. versus those who are, are a little bit cool on that, or cold on that. And once something else, once once some other they want the miracles they want. They want some stories, they want some, some rich, you know, mythology, that's, you know, another person I talked about in the book was Elizabeth Gilbert, who wrote, Eat, Pray, Love, that great best seller. And at one point in her life, she says, I'm tired of science, I'm tired of skepticism. I want to feel God in my playing in my bloodstream. And that's exactly what we're talking about here. That especially if she was depressed, your marriage broke, fell apart, whatever she was in a state of pain, and she's going I want the pain to go away. Yeah, I want something that will help get this make the pain go away and replace it with something else. And, you know, science won't necessarily always be able to step in when you have certain kinds of emotional and psychological pain. I mean, forget about pharmaceuticals or whatever. But I mean, in terms of scientific knowledge isn't going to unnecessarily come in and infuse you with all this joy, if you are truly in a needy, needy state emotionally, psychologically, so these are some of the other challenges to this whole.

David Ames  1:00:13  
Yeah, for sure. And I agree with you that I think their new atheist perspective of the end of religion is ridiculous, that's never going to happen. I also found it interesting reading philosophical history that this question has been asked over and over again, what happens if we take the gods away? What, you know, what happens to society, you know, and the attempt to create civil religions and that kind of thing, the way that I, we try to approach it here is to say, you know, that, I think my conjecture is that our relationships with other human beings, is the point is the meaning in life, as it were, not that that the universe has meaning, but that, that we create that between us and that trying to provide some level of community for people to have had a soft place to land as they let go of some of these off grid claims. That's kind of what we're trying to accomplish here.

Thom Krystofiak  1:01:03  
Absolutely. You know, and something I mentioned that people are probably aware of that. There's an interesting example of Scandinavia, which is the least religious least conventionally religious part of Europe, perhaps the world. They have really stepped away from there. They were, of course, Christian, primarily Christian, Jewish, whatever, but primarily Christian in the earlier times. And that has dropped away in Scandinavia to a degree that hasn't been seen in virtually any other society. And if you look at, there are studies that are done of the happiest cultures on Earth, the happiest countries, the the healthiest countries, meaning not just you know, their physical health, but their overall well being. Scandinavian countries are almost always at the top of those of those of those studies. And so, that to me, is now granted, people will say, Yeah, but you know, they're building on this history of Judeo Christian stuff of values. And, and sure they are, but so are all of us. I mean, we're all in Western societies, we're all in mashed in a society that has a lot of roots that way, and we're familiar with all that. And various stories that still resonate with us, you know, the story of the Good Samaritan, or whatever, that's a universal story that is just incredibly moving on an empathetic level. It's not, it's got nothing to do with, who is the god? Or what kind of God is it? Or what's what sort of deal does he have? It's just, here's a human being, how do you treat them, and, you know, but we're all enmeshed in these moral exemplars, whether it be from religious stories, whether it be from other stories, historical stories, you know, we all have plenty of stories, and plenty of examples, even just movies, books, whatever, where there's good people, and that resonates with us, or we know people, you know, we people in our own lives, who were just so touching that they were so loving, or caring or connected, and that resonates with us. And we resonate to with other people's needs and suffering. And so we have that basis. And so in Scandinavia, sure, you can say, yeah, they had Judeo Christian background, well, sure, we've all got all kinds of backgrounds, but what they've managed to do is take the fruits of those some of those stories or feelings and, and myths or whatever, and they're just in the background, they're part of their ethical life, probably. And they move forward without necessarily subscribing to these more outlandish or extraordinary claims about the universe. Without without the gods really without, so the question of what's going to happen without the gods, we don't know if it would always be like Scandinavia, but but Scandinavia being the premier example in the world. Right now. Is, is encouraging. It's encouraging.

David Ames  1:04:23  
And just to wrap this up, one of my favorite definitions of religion is from Anthony Penn. And it doesn't require supernatural claims. It is the collective search for meaning. And so a sense of we are a community and we support each other and we care about each other and we are even pushing each other to good works as it were, you know, like it all of that is good. And it's only when we start to make, in your words, you know, claims about how the universe works, where the story becomes literal in some way. That that's the problem.

Thom Krystofiak  1:04:57  
Yeah. When things sort of solidify I and solidify that way into discrete doctrinal claims, whatever, obviously one of the side effects of that throughout history has been wars fought over these doctrinal differences. I mean, you know, the idea that you have to take these wonderful aspects of human life and, and, and define them and say you must subscribe, or if you don't subscribe any longer, we're going to shun you, you know, these kinds of prac. This kind of adherence to the specificities of these discrete claims, has obviously been harmful in a whole bunch of ways. And if if it were possible to, to have religion in the sense of you just described it, which I think to some extent is what's going on and a lot of Scandinavia and elsewhere, is it would be, I think it would be a wonderful thing, it would be a win win, yeah.

David Ames  1:06:00  
So heading towards wrap up here, you start the book with a couple of questions. Is it better to be fooled many times than to be skeptical? And are you missing something? We'll end with the beginning a bit here. But like how you resolve that for yourself, personally? How do you answer those questions? And again, I appreciate that's the entire book, people will go and buy the book.

Thom Krystofiak  1:06:22  
Well, you know, the book is really a journey that's rather than the book being, I ask a question at the beginning, and then I answer it for the next 300 pitches, you know, it's more, let's, let's look into this. And so it's looking at it from this angle, from this angle from this aspect of history and this aspect of philosophy, this aspect of religion, this aspect of science, it's just looking at it from different facets and illuminating different ways of, of exploring the question. So it's in the book is an exploration rather than a declaration of my of my answer, but but in the last chapter, I think I say So after all that, yeah. Is it better to be fooled? And I admit that it is. It is, for me better to be fooled in certain circumstances. And I talk about that a lot. We don't need to get into it much. But I talked about that, that if if if I was in some horrific situation in the morphine had run out, and they could give me a saline solution, which has been proven to work as a placebo after you've gotten some morphine for a while, and then they give you saline for a while, and it works just about as well as the morphine because the body has that incredible response. Please fool me. Yeah, don't tell me. Sorry, Bob, the morphine is gone. Yeah. You know, I mean, fool me. But I go to some lengths to try to explain why that, to me is an acceptable kind of fooling. And the basic reason is that morphine is real. It's a real thing. It's not like an angel that they're telling me about, which I don't believe in, it's morphine. And that's real. And they're saying, this is morphine, they're fooling me about a specific fact, but not about the fact that morphine works, which is what's working in my brain. So there are ways that I'll be happy to be fooled, but they're more like that. They're more like these technicalities. No, I don't, I don't believe for me. And this is where it comes down to something, David, it's like, who are you? Are you a person who cares about the truth? Who cares to really feel grounded? In what am I doing here? In this world? Who What am I? What is all this? If those are questions that matter to you, then then being fooled about those things is completely off the table. It's completely unacceptable if that's, if that's a high priority for you to feel that here I am in these in these small number of decades on this planet? And do I is it important to me that I make my best efforts to really understand what is true, what is going on what this is, what life is, what all of this is how should I live my life, all of these things? If that's a critical priority, which it is for me, then the idea of being fooled about those fundamentals is completely a non starter. It's just and I you know, I understand that some people in my mind might be fooled about those things, or feeling great about it. Yeah, I'm not trying to take that away from them. I'm not pontificate. I don't go after my friends who are believers and just, you know, assault them with my skepticism. But, but, but for me, for anyone who is has that kind of orientation towards towards a grounding in reality, or grounding and truth, the kind that we're talking about, it's just not it's just not a possibility. And the second question, Am I missing Something I'm not missing something that I that I haven't clearly missing something that they have, you know, they've got some stuff that I don't know. But I mean, that's true all of us have people have stuff that you don't have one way or another. But the question is whether you would really want want that. And no, I'm not missing something that at this point in my life, I wish I had, I wish I had faith or I wish I could believe these claims that I can't find evidence for. Because they'll do something for me. I can't put those two together with the desire to be grounded in truth.

David Ames  1:10:38  
The book is tempted to believe I want to give you just a second to be able to promote that how can people find the book and any anything else that you'd like to promote?

Thom Krystofiak  1:10:46  
Okay, thanks. The book is just simply available on Amazon, both in terms of print, print, book and Kindle. So it's just Amazon, you can just say tempted to believe they will, unfortunately, Amazon always keeps older editions around once they've been published. And I did a preliminary version, mostly because I wanted to have some readers have a book in their hand, as I was finalizing it. Okay, so there was a preliminary version, which is still out there. This is this is the one with the dynamic blue cover with an incredible picture on it. It's not, it's not the one that with text only. And it's the one with, you know, all the reviews and so forth. So it's pretty obvious, tempted to believe on Amazon. And, you know, not necessarily terribly germane to the things we've been discussing here today, but some of my shorter writing over the years on a variety of topics. And other things is in my website, which is simply my last name, which is Krystofiak, which I will spell. It's, it's K, R, Y, S, T O, F, as in Frank, I A K. That's And then there's some things there that also talks about the book.

David Ames  1:12:03  
Fantastic. And we will have those in the show notes. And I will try not to murder your last name again. Thom, thank you so much for being on the podcast. Oh,

Thom Krystofiak  1:12:12  
it's been a great trip. Thank you.

David Ames  1:12:20  
Final thoughts on the episode? I love this book. I loved this conversation with Thom, this is so important topic. Skepticism is it's it touches every area of our lives from the onslaught of advertising that we face every day to the misinformation and disinformation that political entities put out to apologetics. And this comes from all corners. It is not just Christian apologetics that I'm talking about. Thom comes from the Transcendental Meditation perspective, and having new age friends who are making in his words off grid claims. And I identified so much with the I feel impervious to these claims. Why is that? What is there something different about me. And so it's Thom's humility that comes through in the book in the conversation that is so profound. When you hear the word skepticism, the first thing that might leap to mind is really argumentative debate style cynics. And it is actually the exact opposite is humility, of recognizing the human condition and our susceptibility to believing things that we want to believe that we want to be true. And believing things that fit within our in group. And skepticism is actually from humility of recognizing I could be wrong. Therefore, I need some evidence to know whether this thing is true or not. The other thing that I think Thom does really well in the book, I'm not sure we completely got to it in the conversation is acknowledging the reality of the experience. These literally all inspiring experiences. Create in us a sense of having touch to the Divine, having touched the transcendent, having gained secret knowledge. When you have the experience, you can't help but make those connections. And part of skepticism is recognizing that it is our ability to fool ourselves as the Fineman quote says that is the problem. And so we are protecting ourselves by looking for objective evidence. But it is the empathy for the human condition that Thom has in the book that really speaks to secular grace, secular grace for our son elves when we believe things that don't have evidence and secular grace for those people, we'd love to believe things without evidence. The book is tempted to believe by Thom Krystofiak is amazing, you need to get this book you need to read it. It is one of those things that I'm telling you, we'll help you through deconstruction and deconversion. We will, of course have links in the show notes, as well as the link to Thom's personal sites. I want to thank Thom for being on the podcast and even more so for the book. I said to him Off mic that This truly was the book that I wish I had had when I was going through my deconversion. So thank you, Thom, for writing such an empathetic, humble and true book. The secular Grace Thought of the Week is about humility, about our own ability to fool ourselves. The Fineman quote is, the first principle is you must not fool yourself, and you are the easiest person to fool. If you really absorb that, if you really feel that viscerally. And for those of us who have gone through deconstruction and deconversion that should feel pretty real and present in our lives, you can begin to recognize when you are fooling yourself in lots of different contexts. I'd love a quote from Alice Gretchen when she was on, she said that she stopped being good at fooling herself. And I feel the same way. And if you are like me, and you find yourself skeptical, and you're like Thom and unable to accept claims without evidence, that is okay. It's actually a good thing. And it will protect you from, as we've already said, advertising, politics, disinformation, as well as religion, or supernatural claims. But it ultimately begins with, I could be wrong. And really knowing that and feeling that. So the skepticism that Thom is talking about, the skepticism that I'm talking about is less about saying where someone else is wrong, and more about recognizing where we have been mistaken. We have lots of great interviews coming up. We have got Julia from Germany, who is a doctor and at one point in time in her life, given up her medical career to participate in a healing ministry. And her deconstruction is just powerful and deep. We have Jessica Moore, who is a part of the deconversion anonymous Facebook group, and is now dealing with purity culture, and surviving the aftermath of purity culture, as well as a number of other interviews that are coming up that are gonna be fantastic. Until then, my name is David, and I am trying to be the graceful atheist. Join me and be graceful.

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

this has been the graceful atheist podcast

Transcribed by

Arline Interviews B

Agnosticism, Autonomy, Deconstruction, ExVangelical, Podcast, Purity Culture, Secular Community
Listen on Apple Podcasts

This week’s guest is B. B grew up homeschooled in a large evangelical household and spent nearly thirty years in the church, determined to fit in.  He felt like leaving for a while, never having belonged, and then in 2016, he knew it was the end for him. He hit the door running. 

One of the most destructive forces within his Christian upbringing was Purity Culture. Since deconverting, he’s learned that he isn’t alone when it comes to loving yourself and exerting your autonomy. B’s story is one of great evolution and freedom.

Tweet-Worthy Quotes

“…I thought, It’s real to everyone around me. It should be real to me. I need to keep trying. If it’s not real to me, then something’s wrong with me.

“I had been edging towards the door, and 2016 got me walking full-speed towards the door.”

“…consciously making that choice to say, ‘I’m not going back. I’m done.’…it was the biggest relief.”

“Now I feel free not to care. Is there a god? I don’t know, but more importantly to me, I don’t really care.”

“I sat down and looked at that picture and thought, I really like this picture. That was a whole new feeling. I had never felt that way.”

Podcast Recommendation

Go Home, Bible. You’re Drunk


B’s Instagram


Join the Deconversion Anonymous Facebook group!


Secular Grace

Support the podcast

Podchaser - Graceful Atheist Podcast


“Waves” track written and produced by Makaih Beats

Bob Barnes: BAHACon 2022

Agnosticism, Atheism, Dones, Humanism, Podcast
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This week’s guest is Bob Barnes. Bob is a lifelong atheist and an organizer with BAHA, Bluewater Atheists, Humanists & Agnostics. BAHA “is a non-profit organization dedicated to improving the image of Freethinkers and Atheists and to give back to our communities.” 

BAHA is hosting its annual conference, BAHACon, with speakers and events you won’t want to miss! August 26 – 28th, 2022 in Sarnia, Ontario, Canada.



Bluewater Atheists, Humanists and Agnostics


Join the Deconversion Anonymous Facebook group!


Secular Grace

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Podchaser - Graceful Atheist Podcast


“Waves” track written and produced by Makaih Beats

Deb is Done

Agnosticism, Autonomy, Deconstruction, Dones, ExVangelical, Podcast, Purity Culture, Spirituality
Click to play episode on Apple Podcasts
Listen on Apple Podcasts

This week’s guest is Deb. Deb “asked Jesus into her heart” at six years old and remained a devoted follower of Jesus for decades. She married her high school sweetheart, started a family and found herself living the missionary life on the continent of Africa.

As the years passed, Deb’s faith was tested—praying and watching children die on two continents, her husband pointlessly fired from their church, meeting different types of Christians and the reading of diverse books. Deb had more and more questions about her lifelong faith.

Today, Deb’s spirituality is one that stays curious and open to new thing, no longer holding tightly to any one creed. Her story is a beautiful one filled with compassion and love and a desire to meet people wherever they are. She is truly living out secular grace. 

Deb’s husband, Paul, tells his story.

Tweet-worthy quotes

“I just knew the more we prayed, the likelihood of God answering was higher.”

“That’s what we needed. We needed to get kicked out of the church to begin being more honest with our doubts and our questions.”

“After sixty years of feeling like I have to go [to church] every time the doors are open, it was just amazing—the release that was!”

“…it’s so important to be curious and to be a lifelong learner. That’s my purpose for living, to just be a learner.”

“I want to be a lifelong learner. I’m seventy-one. I want to learn. I want to be teachable…and curious. That’s really my desire for the last years of my life.”



Tara Brach’s guided meditations


Brian McLaren’s Books


Brian McLaren’s Books


Join the Deconversion Anonymous Facebook group!


Secular Grace

Support the podcast

Podchaser - Graceful Atheist Podcast


“Waves” track written and produced by Makaih Beats