When one has deconverted, the holidays may look completely different, reexamining everything from family traditions to singing carols to dealing with those extended family members. On today’s episode, two returning guests, Arline and Lars and a new guest, Carlene, share how the holidays have and haven’t changed since deconversion.
Lars and Arline go into what it’s like to be an unbelieving parent during the holidays, navigating the mythologies of Santa and Jesus. Children ask genuine questions, and they expect genuine answers.
The group discusses what they have not given up, among other things, singing Christmas carols. Carols are different than singing religious songs at church, more cultural than sacred. For some, however, it takes a little self-discipline to sing along without critiquing the lyrics.
The guests also examine what they have thrown in the trash bin completely, including, but not limited to, the phrase “Merry Christmas” and all those nativity scenes.
Being thankful of the time spent with extended family can be challenging, regardless of religious beliefs. Each person shares how they’re finding their own unique ways of appreciating time with family. Religion does not own the rights to giving thanks.
Lastly, Carlene, David, Lars and Arline consider some new traditions they’ve started or would like to start. Nature is the easiest place to experience awe and wonder, and everyone discussed ways to be in nature more this winter. Also, creating new traditions can be awkward and may not always turn out quite like we hope.
It is a lovely conversation, full of hope and lots of humor.
“…It’s scary and new, and that might actually be the best part because your life is in many ways new again…you get to experience so many things for the first time with a new mindset, and this will hopefully enrich your life going forward…”
This week’s guest is Jose Ramos, Hannah’s husband from her episode two weeks ago.
Jose’s family converted to Independent Fundamentalist Baptist and his father became a pastor. They were taught that the IFB had the “pure word of God,” and it was their purpose to evangelize and change the world.
“I had this sense…that God was going to use me in a special way to impact the world. To be that young and to have the weight of the world on your shoulders is…looking back, traumatizing.”
Throughout his teens, Jose’s only rebellion was, “like a month partying with [his] brothers.” Later, he went to Bible College, and then started preaching. He met Hannah and took over his father’s Spanish speaking church. Studying the Bible for ministry, however, brought more questions and doubts.
“If I wrestle with these questions and allow myself to doubt, shouldn’t my faith come out stronger?”
Over the next year, he continued preaching but knew he didn’t believe. He left the ministry and later told Hannah why. After another hard and depressive year, he knew he was agnostic.
“Even when I realized, ‘I am a full blown agnostic,’ there was still this sense of, ‘I can still come back.’”
Jose gave Hannah the space to go on her own journey. They still attended church as a family, but he did not try to change her. Today, their stories can give comfort to other couples facing religious doubts and uncertainties.
Jose’s honesty and vulnerability show the grace and goodness in his own human heart. No more looking forward to heaven or fearing hell, simply being present in each moment and looking for the beauty found there.
My guest this week is Hannah Ramos. Hannah grew up in an Independent Fundamentalist Baptist family, one of ten homeschooled children. Dissuaded from going to bible college, she waited for her Prince Charming. When Jose showed up to speak at her church, she knew he was “God’s choice” for her as a husband.
Very early in their marriage, Jose took over as pastor of a Spanish speaking church. Everything seemed to be going according to God’s plan, until three years later when Jose admitted to Hannah that he no longer believed. Suddenly, she found herself in an unequally yoked relationship.
For six years, Hannah focused on her own faith and raising their three children as believers, and they loved one other through this time. Jose supported Hannah’s faith, and Hannah had given up on changing Jose’s mind. Hannah had the space to begin to question her own faith.
Her children innocently asked her to explain the Trinity, and they were not satisfied with her answers. She read through the Bible, asking, “But is this true?” She no longer could assume that it was. Finally the pat answers Hannah received no longer satisfied her, and she admitted to herself that she also no longer believed.
To Jose’s amazement (and slight disbelief), Hannah revealed that she was no longer a Christian. Today, they are closer than ever, and their children are free to decide for themselves what they believe. Hannah has found a peace she did not think was possible.
My guest this week is Phil Quagliariello who blogs at Phil Q Musings. Phil grew up moving around often as PK in Independent Fundamentalist Baptist Churches and attending Christian schools even into college. Unfortunately, he saw the dark side of ministry when his father was removed from a church by its board for being too “new fangled.”
Phil eventually found himself in Calvary Chapel churches. They were were more exegetical, more focused on the Bible. He married and they both were worship leaders. Phil led worship for the service in which he was introduced to the idea of the “Emergent Church.” His marriage did not last, and Phil found himself seeking a church experience that was more authentic and “did not suck.” He found a faith community that met in the basement of a bar, and at first, it was satisfying.
Phil remarried a woman with two children. These children and the children they have together became the light of his life. When he became a father, he began to recognize the trauma of his upbringing: the fear of punishment and the fear of Hell. He focused on being parent who does not use fear as a weapon.
Phil began to seriously doubt Evangelicalism during the 2016 election. But he still hung on to the church experience until the Jan 6th insurrection when he could no longer call himself an Evangelical, a Christian or even a believer.
Phil has a particularly thoughtful answer to how he finds meaning in his life now.
My guest this week is Emily. Emily grew up in an Evangelical Free Church in the rural Midwest. She was on the Cubbies-Sparks-AWANA track. Around age 10, Her dad switched careers, went into ministry and she became a pastor’s kid. Her early childhood church experiences were fairly positive, but from a young age, she struggled with a severe fear of hell and the rapture.
The youth group setting was horribly unsuited to a sensitive introvert like Emily. She was miserable, being forced to attend churches where she didn’t know anyone except her parents. This discomfort in Christian circles continued into college.
After college, Emily spent a year in London working on a master’s degree. She immersed myself in the city’s amazing performing arts scene and met a lot of people with totally different backgrounds and beliefs to hers. That year expanded her horizons; when she moved back to the US, she pursued a career in performing arts administration.
For the first few years after grad school, Emily wasn’t ready to reject everything, saying she didn’t believe in God. However, she had no interest in going to church, praying, reading the Bible, etc. Then the 2016 election happened. She watched with horror as Christians whom she loved and admired went all-in for Trump. At that point, she wanted nothing more to do with Christianity.
[The White Evangelical embrace of Trump] turned my indifference that I had had towards Christianity into a feeling of disgust. I want nothing to do with this. I was so disillusioned and just repelled by it.
In the past 2-3 years Emily has really done the hard work of figuring out what she believes now and addressing the harm that her Christian background has caused. Emily has had to work through the baggage of purity culture as she is in her first long term relationship.
Therapy with a focus on religious trauma has been helpful; Emily is discovering who she is–relishing the arts and experiencing the joy of being a human being.
I’m so much happier now that I’ve left Christianity. As someone with a deep appreciation of the arts, I’ve found so much joy in embracing the beauty that humans create – music, theater, literature, etc. – without the need to glorify God as the source of inspiration. I love being able to navigate relationships and shape my life on my own terms, rather than trying to fit into the prescribed narrative that evangelical Christianity boxes people into. I also like sleeping in on Sundays!
“It was both a mental and emotional decision, it was a whole being decision.”
My guest this week is Ginna. Ginna is a software developer in her 30’s. She went through deconversion in her 20’s after suffering depression during her college years. Even though there were Christians around her who were on medication for their depression, no one was public about it. The implied stigma kept her from reaching out for help and kept her from finding the right treatment when she did reach out.
“God can’t be bothered to help children survive, I seriously doubt if god is getting you a parking place at the game.”
After college Ginna went to a “shelter for honest questions,” called L`Abri to find answers. Her questions were pointed and personal. The questions of theodicy, divine hiddenness and theological evil. She “had a really good time, but [she] didn’t get answers to the questions that [she] had.”
“[I realized] they are not ready to answer these questions either. The answers they have satisfy them, and they don’t satisfy me, and I don’t know what to do with that.”
After a brief stint in a liturgical church, which she loved, she stopped going to church and gained a new perspective. She realized she could no longer believe in a god where there was no practical difference between non-existence and said god being evil.
“It seems unlikely to be true. And if it is true I am worshiping a mad man.”
Ginna eventually received the help she needed for her mental health. She tried multiple different doctors and therapies until she found the right combination. Today, she is excited about exploring secular community and growing as a human being.
My guest this week is Monique. Monique grew up a cultural Christian until the family of her boyfriend “made it known they were Southern Baptists.” She married that boyfriend and had kids. He became abusive. First psychologically, then spiritually and eventually physically. He gaslit her, told her she was not worthy and that she was not following god, and called her purity culture epithets we won’t recount here.
How dare I question him [ex-husband], how dare I question god.
After years of isolation and spiritual abuse, Monique left after executing a cloak and dagger level plan to serve divorce papers and a restraining order simultaneously. Eventually, her kids were taken from her as he had lawyers and she did not. She was estranged from them for years.
Monique went through a deconstruction and deconversion that began to give her some peace. Her youngest son reached out to her to tell her he is gay. She opened up her arms and showed grace, love and respect. She and her daughter attempted to reunite but this was ruined when the daughter took offence to a passing joke about prayer.
I am not going to conform. I will not conform to meet someone else’s standards. I am who I am.
Today, Monique is free and loves learning true things. Her and her new husband (who happens to be a believer) have respect and love for each other. Monique is telling her story to give hope to others so they may know they are not alone.
You are not alone. I am here. I am may not be able to help you, but I am here with you.
My guest this week is Stephanie, the host of the StephUp Podcast where she “delve[s] into different topics to learn more about the world and more about ourselves.” Stephanie had me on her podcast to delve into atheism.
In this episode, Stephanie describes her journey of deconstruction of Christianity, politics and conservative culture. She is focused on caring for people and shedding racism, sexism and abusive behavior within and without the Church.
Stephanie lives up to the honesty contest while describing: the burden of a “relationship with God,” purity culture and being single in the Church, and her disappointments with Church leadership. Ultimately, I believe Stephanie is an important voice of change within the Church.
My guest this week is Eli Fuhrmler-Wheeler. Eli grew up going to Awanas at an Evangelical Free church. Eventually, he attended an Assemblies of God church and spoke in tongues. His parents forbade him from going to that church and “of course I felt they were keeping me from the gates of heaven and pulling me into hell.”
Eli’s childhood was traumatic in many ways. He experienced sexual abuse, neglect, his mom was very sick her whole life, her boyfriends were abusive, his father had an antisocial personality disorder, and he lived on and off in foster homes.
Eli sought the comfort of drugs and alcohol. He discovered he was a lesbian. He was told he was going to hell by his family.
As an adult he began a relationship with his now wife. At 30 he realized he was a man and began transition. Eli has faced rejection by family and some friends. However, his gracefulness through it all has won some of them over.
[Rather than show grace, why not be angry at those who have not shown you grace?] That wouldn’t teach anybody anything. It wouldn’t teach me anything and it wouldn’t teach them anything.
Eli deconstructed from Christianity through the years. He has explored various world religions including Norse Heathenry and various mystic traditions.
Transition and therapy have given Eli the wholeness he deserves. Eli and his wife show unconditional love for one another. This is the relationship that Eli has experienced grace for himself.