Content Warning: Spiritual, physical and sexual abuse. Depression, post-partum depression, infertility and suicidal idealization.
Arline guest hosts interviewing author and podcaster, Nicki Pappas. Nicki Pappas is a writer who critiques the evangelical establishment that shaped her. She’s the author of As Familiar as Family: Leaving the Toxic Religion I Was Groomed For. She’s also the host of the Broadening the Narrative podcast where she interviews guests who are broadening the narratives she was taught within white evangelicalism. She has three young children with Stephen Pappas, her steady partner in the chaos since 2010. Through her work, she desires to spark hope in the world around her and live out an embodied faith.
Content Warning: sexual abuse, rape, spiritual abuse
This week’s guest is Jessica Moore, a life coach focusing on purity culture. Jessica grew up in a non-denominational Christian in Salt Lake City Utah surrounded by Mormons. She felt both the pressure to evangelize and be proselytized.
Jessica went to an unaccredited Christian college where she first began to have doubts. She wound up traveling to Israel and seeing life on both sides of the Palestinian/Israeli border. She experienced the reverse culture shock coming back to the United States.
Jessica put a lot of pressure on herself to be a “godly woman.” Purity culture had a damaging impact on her life.
The focus of her work now is helping people recover from purity culture and religious abuse.
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!
This week’s guest is the content creator, @boundless_and_free. Boundless grew up in a good Christian home, attended a PCA church and believed all was well in her life. She would later learn the term CPTSD and understand that her “good Christian upbringing” was not quite what she’d thought.
In college, Ms. Free first experienced anxiety and depression but had no vocabulary for it. (The Church rarely discusses these things.) It wasn’t until the “perfect life” she’d been promised began to unravel that she realized she needed a different way to understand both “god” and herself .
Now, as a “parts work” therapist, she helps others on their own journeys. Her personal experience of the divine centers around the ways that humans are connected to one another and the universe.
Once again—whether someone leaves religion and becomes an atheist or continues on a spiritual journey—the real purpose in life comes from connecting with other people. We are all in this together, and we each get one life to leave this world better than we found it.
This week’s guest is Treasure, interviewed by Arline, the Deconversion Anonymous community manager. Treasure grew up in the Seventh Day Adventist tradition. Her whole family was focused on ministry. Treasure is a singer and was continually asked to sing for every church she attended. She was focused on mental health issues and ministering to people in need.
In 2020, Treasure began to quietly question her faith and then began the slow painful process of deconstruction. Though she still loves hymns, even music–once a joy–has become “confusing” due to the obligation to perform for churches and feels like a “job”.
Treasure has found spiritual and community fulfillment in her current spiritual practices of meditation, intentional journaling and yoga, including sound bowl healing. She is also a participant in the Deconversion Anonymous Facebook group where she says, “It is safe to vent.”
Does prayer work?
Why am I here?
I am OK with not knowing.
You don’t have to unpack it all.
Once…the mind is stretched, it cannot go back to its original form. It just can’t.
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 slipery slope is really as slippery as they say.”
“It just all came apart in my hands until nothing was left”
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…”
This week’s guest is Cooper. Cooper grew up deeply immersed in church world. From a young age, she was devoted to God and obedient to her family. In high school, life threw her a curve ball, but she continued faithfully loving Jesus and doing what she believed to be best.
Parenthood, marriage, church life and military life all, in different ways, knocked her feet out from beneath her. Every year it seemed like something was more difficult, more uncertain, and the church didn’t stepping up with the support she needed.
After years of questions without satisfying answers, Cooper finds herself a woman—more than just a wife and mom—with options and freedom to choose her own life. She may not have the answers to every question, but she’s okay with that. She and her children keep moving forward, empowered now to love one another without sacrificing themselves.
“Looking back…I was so broken, and I thought that should be celebrated.”
“It was…‘Any of your natural instincts? Completely disregard them because they’re sinful, especially because you’re female.’”
“I thought anytime anything would go wrong in my life, it was punishment.”
“I had been told, ‘If you walk in these ways, God is going to bless your life, so I just thought we were immune to everything.”
“Our story is like Jesus or Jerry Springer, depending on your view of the world.”
“I was like, ‘No more God. No more church…I need a break’”
“There isn’t this male entity that’s just waiting for me to mess up and show me why I should have done it his way.”
“I definitely want to raise my kids with…altruism, empathy and genuine love for people but also knowing that they don’t have to take crap from people.”
Content Warning: This week’s story includes references to physical and emotional abuse, mental illness and suicidal ideation. Listener discretion is advised.
This week’s guest is Jan. Jan grew up in a strict fundamentalist household but attended a loving church. That disconnect planted the first seeds of doubt.
She went off to a Christian university where she was told to expect “signs and wonders”, but they didn’t happen. Becoming a missionary wife was supposed to satisfy her “need to serve God” but it didn’t happen. Again and again, as she pursued God, she was let down.
Trauma, depression and unfulfilled promises slowly broke her, and even then, God didn’t show up. She had been doing it all on her own, and it would take a divorce and leaving the Church completely, for her to see that.
After finding care and support in therapy and “spiritual but not religious” communities, Jan now supports others struggling with mental illness. She is living a life filled with grace both for herself and others.
“I just kept believing it, because that’s the subtly of brainwashing…even though it has positive aspects, the problem is you’re not getting any other influences, not developing any critical thinking skills.”
“I kept putting doubts on the shelf…but the shelf kept getting heavier.”
“…[thinking] ‘Wow, something’s wrong with me. Nobody else is talking about [depression], so I must be the only one.’ That’s a hallmark for problems in mental health, when you think you’re the only one.”
“I got divorced and left the church. It was like jumping off a cliff with no parachute.”
“One of my quests is to just have adventure and have fun.”
“Find a compassionate person. Don’t be afraid to be vulnerable…know that it is not hopeless, you have choices and there are people waiting to point you in the right direction…”
This week’s guest is Matthew. Matthew grew up in the Pentacostal tradition and went from being a youth leader in high school to a full-time international missionary as an adult. He had all the right answers to all the important questions.
The missionary life, however, didn’t turn out as he’d expected. He and his team did everything in their power to tell people about Jesus but nothing supernatural was happening. Year after year, “the hiddenness of God” became too much for Matthew.
It hasn’t been easy for Matthew to arrive where he is now—living a freer life, not having to have all the answers, not having to wait for the supernatural to happen. He loves the people closest to him, enjoys his friends and acquaintances without judgment, and those small things are what can slowly change the world.
“For a long time, I was doing mental gymnastics to make things work…”
“I was asking everybody, ‘How do you know?!’ And all of the answers were so unsatisfying.”
“I’m trying really hard [to communicate clearly with my kids] and I’m not able. But God, by definition, is able but doesn’t seem to be trying very hard.”