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 Jack Robertson, host of the Musings of an ADD Mind podcast. He grew up with a deeply evangelical Southern Baptist mother, always going to church. As a teenager, he became decidedly religious himself until a confidant revealed a secret. They let the entire youth group know that he was having sex with his girlfriend. He then stopped attending church for a while.
Late in his 30’s, Jack became heavily involved in an Oklahoma City based megachurch. He read through the bible three times, but Jack always had questions.
“In the Exodus story god is the bad guy, not Pharaoh. If man was created in god’s image, then wicked pre-flood people that were so evil [that] he needed to destroy the world, would be a reflection of him.”
Jack asks himself now: Did I really believe or was it my ADD hyper-focus on Christianity that kept me in for so long?
After a friend asked him to pray about a job interview, it hit him, “How would god decide? Go with whoever had the most friends pray? The person whose friends prayed the most? Use a prayer version of a ‘comment winner generator’?”
Later, during a deep dive into Mesopotamian history, Jack realized it was all just stories.
“It is weird that history cemented my deconversion, but I guess that’s just me.”
Lastly, the results of the 2016 US election and his son coming out as bi-sexual finalized his decision. He could no longer believe.
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!
My guest this week is Geoffrey Wallis, author of A Voice From Inside: Notes on Religious Trauma in a Captive Organization. Geoffrey is Physically In but Mentally Out (PIMO) of the Jehovah’s Witnesses. After recognizing the religious trauma and the cognitive dissonance he was experiencing he found help through therapy. He remains within the Watchtower organization because it is a “captive organization” which enforces shunning by family members and friends.
My guest this week is Thomas. Thomas is a Missionary Kid. He was very close to his mother who passed away in her 40s when he was in middle school.
There were all these other people there [his mom’s funeral] talking about her being in a better place, but I knew she was just gone.
There is nothing else.
Thomas went through real depression for years after losing his mother and losing his faith. We discuss the hardships of grieving a loved one without comforting beliefs. He went through bouts of self-medication including being immersed in the massively multi-player online game, World of Warcraft.
It all just seems like symbols for human metaphors and common experience.
Thomas went on to become a professional scientist. The meditative nature of running was helpful. He also discovered actual meditation gave him peace. A rich and varied diet of podcasts also helped him along the way. He says he now experiences real joy that was only promised to him as a Christian.
Akira the Don, created a genre of music called Meaningwave, lofi hip-hop with themed lecture content made musical. On Spotify and YouTube, with some songs having full visuals.
One of the most difficult things about deconstruction, deconversion, etc. is feeling alone. It’s terrifying not only to go through a full blown metaphysical and existential crisis, but to do so knowing that the people who are supposed to love you the most can’t or won’t accept you as they once did.
My guest this week is Vanessa. She describes herself as “born into a large family of fire and brimstone preaching, bible beating, in-tongues-speaking Christians in the Pentecostal Church of God faith tradition.” Her father, her grandfather, and her great grandfather all were pastors of her home church.
My full break from faith came in the form of rage when it hit me that I’d never had parents – I’d only had pastors.
She began to doubt at a fairly young age and discovered she no longer believed in god in her college years.
As a non-believer she married her believing husband. Recently being unequally yoked has become a discussion point as they negotiate how to raise their daughter. Vanessa is grateful she can be present for her daughter in a way she did not receive when she was young.
We discuss unequally yoked marriage, secular parenting and post-traumatic church syndrome.
If you are interested in producing music for the Graceful Atheist Podcast, the sound I am looking for has a strong baseline and beat with gospel church organ, potentially with R&B or Gospel vocal samples. Here is a playlist to inspire you to Gospel R&B Beats. Get in touch.
I begin every streaming interview with a question, “hi, can you hear me?” Never has an affirmative answer to such a mundane question been so profound as it was with this week’s guest, Caroline Schwabe. Caroline had progressive hearing loss and eventually could no longer speak on the phone even with hearing aids. Almost by accident, she was referred to a Cochlear implant program in Canada during a routine hearing test. January 28, 2018, was her last deaf day. She has been on a three-year journey of rediscovery after receiving a Cochlear implant.
Along with her husband, Andreas, Caroline co-hosts a podcast called My Beautify Cyborg about her Cochlear implant journey. It describes the hopes and fears leading up to surgery and the joy and rediscovery after turning on the implant. Caroline’s gratitude and joy is infectious and comes through in each episode.
Caroline and Andreas had experienced major disappointments and hurts from the Church. At the same time she was going through the implant process, both she and her husband were slowly leaving the Church. If not a full blown deconstruction, they have been asking very hard questions and wrestling with the answers. This episode is unique in that there are two parallel stories: one of regaining hearing and one of questioning one’s faith.
Podcasts have played an out sized role in Caroline’s rediscovery of hearing and language recognition, including this one.
My guest this week is Brette. Brette was so serious about her Christianity in junior high her goal was martyrdom. In her young adulthood, she followed her pastor’s advice and attended Master’s Commission, similar to a discipleship training program. Her experience there was nothing short of psychological torture.
Of course, everything was always very spiritualized there and this was no exception. Everything was either god or demons. One part of the program was that we all we went through deliverance (exorcism) while we were there that we spent weeks preparing for.
Her faith began breaking down as did her physical and psychological health at Master’s Commission. It included deliverance sessions and enumerating her demons. It wasn’t until she saw her younger brother being treated poorly that she began to question. She and her brother left: “leaving was the BEST feeling!”
But I had finally given myself permission to question things and it all unraveled pretty quickly from there.
After a brief stint in “spiritual but not religious” land, she finally admitted she no longer believed in god. She let go of “trying to make it be true.”
Since then it’s been really interesting to me to look back on my past experiences and understand them from a purely naturalistic and psychological perspective. It was really helpful to learn, too, about Religious Trauma Syndrome.
Brette has since discovered naturalistic and psychological explanations of her experiences that have given her more closure and comfort.