Matt: Deconversion Anonymous

Agnosticism, Atheism, Deconstruction, Deconversion, High Demand Religious Group, Podcast, Purity Culture, Unequally yoked
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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.  


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“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].”



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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

Audrey: Deconversion of an American Christian

Autonomy, Deconstruction, Deconversion, ExVangelical, Podcast, Purity Culture, The Bubble, Unequally yoked
Listen on Apple Podcasts

This week’s guest is Audrey. Audrey spent her childhood and adolescence deep in American Christianity. 

In college, she took a course in “biblical perspectives,” and she had many questions. She would shelve the cognitive dissonance for years, though, pretending that everything was fine. 

After years of experiencing church from the inside and working around more “secular” people, the uncertainty could no longer stay buried. “Something just wasn’t right.”

Audrey is an atheist now, but deconversion is fresh. The past guilt and shame still come up at times. She’s reconnecting with her body and mind, though, and loving the woman she is—the woman she’s always been.

“It’s so incredible how once I stepped away from christianity, how I was able to gain a better understanding of how to actually take care of myself.”

“All I wanted to do was be a Woman of God. I had my future planned out: I was going to find a husband at college, be the perfect godly woman, and he was going to be the man that was going to lead me in Christ.”


“I was so oblivious to the bubble that I grew up in.”

“Those things I’d buried started to rise up again.”

“There was so much cognitive dissonance that I don’t think I could verbalize to you what doubts I was struggling with. It was just ‘something wasn’t right.’”

“Fuck being equally yoked!”

“To be able to off-load all of the things that I had been dealing and also find solace and comfort in mutual doubts with somebody—and not just somebody—my husband.”

“In my upbringing, from my perspective, being a good Christian was the ultimate for my parents. That was the definition of a good child—a good Christian, so I was like, Okay. That is what I’m going to be.

“I have never felt more free in my whole entire life…I was walking around without feeling guilty for every little decision I made.”

“The last year of my Christianity, I feel like it can be boiled down to: I am just believing this because I’m scared of the alternative.”

“I can be a decent human and it not be connected to a deity.”

“I really, really love the person that’s underneath [all the layers]. The confidence I have found in myself, owning my femininity, owning who I am, taking up space in the world, no longer subscribing to that dialogue…of a ‘sweet Christian woman.’” 

“I have control over the information I care to share. I have control over how I present that information. I have control over my reactions and the words that come out of my mouth. I have zero control over what that person on the other side wants to say…I don’t need to concern myself now with what they think of me because it’s none of my business.”

“Well-being is not ‘your relationship with the lord.’ Well-being is how you’re taking care of your physical body, how you’re taking care of your mental body.”

“It’s so incredible how once I stepped away from Christianity, how I was able to gain a better understanding of how to actually take care of myself.”


Join the Deconversion Anonymous Facebook group!


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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 consider reading and reviewing the podcasts on the Apple podcast store. You can rate the podcast on Spotify, and subscribe to the podcast wherever you are listening. Thank you to all my patrons if you too would like an ad free experience become a patron at any level at atheist.

We are trying to create a safe place to land to ask questions to doubt to deconstruct in our private Facebook group deconversion anonymous. Please join us be a part of a community so that you do not have to go through this alone. You can find it at

Special thanks to Mike T for editing today's show. On today's show, Arline interviews Our guests today Audrey. Audrey is one of those people who was fully dedicated completely within the bubble. She went to camp every year including becoming a counselor and began to see how the sausage was made. She also participated in ministry and her experience working at the church also caused her to begin to doubt. It turns out that her husband had de converted ahead of her. And there was some tension there. But when she finally told him that she was having doubts, she felt much better. She felt that her and her husband became closer. Audrey talks about telling her parents her mom specifically and how hard that was. I think you're gonna love Audrey story here is our Lean interviewing Audrey.

Arline  2:21  
Welcome Audrey to the graceful atheist podcast.

Audrey  2:24  
Hi, thanks for having me.

Arline  2:27  
Yes, I'm excited. You and I connected shortly after I did my episode on the podcast. Yes, I heard you. Yes, you and I had some some church things related. And you and I were able to talk and so I'm excited to hear your story.

Audrey  2:44  
sYeah, for sure. Yeah, I heard I heard you on the podcast. And when you talked about where you lived and where you came from, I just thought I'm gonna reach out to her because I feel like we have some similarities. And I was just at a point where all of this was just starting to unfold. And I knew that it would be or I thought it would be beneficial for me to just chat with somebody who had been through it because it was all so new. And I just didn't even know I don't know, it was felt kind of like the rug had been pulled out from under me. And I was like grappling for something to hang on to somebody to give me some kind of advice. I was like, I'm gonna reach out to Arline and you were kind enough to immediately respond. So thank you, because that was very, very helpful for me.

Arline  3:30  
Oh, you're too kind. Yes, I, I enjoyed it. It was my first experience. Like I had talked to David during my episode. But there was no deconversion anonymous Facebook group yet. I had maybe found some other podcasts. But I had no idea that other people near where I lived. Were also going through this. So it was it was good for me. It was good to have that conversation. So yes, we usually start tell me about the spiritual environment that you grew up in.

Audrey  3:58  
Yeah. So to your point. The reason why I wanted to reach out is because you were from the old state of Georgia. I was like, I want to talk to a fellow southerner. It's been interesting, born and raised in Georgia, born and raised in just a small suburb north of Atlanta. I guess not small, pretty big, pretty big. Metro Atlanta is pretty big. But I still live here just further north. So not in the same suburb that I grew up in, which I'm very thankful for. Because I am the kind of person that does not like going to the grocery store and see people that I know and I got to a point where, you know, growing up in the summer working in the same area, I worked at a church in the same area. So it's just every single where every single place I went, I saw somebody I knew and I'm so happy that my husband and I are now 20 minutes further north because I don't run into those familiar faces in in the grocery store, um, but yeah, so fake background, I guess. Well, where should we begin? Definitely, I'm born and raised in a Christian household, from the very beginning pretty much popped out a Christian, I guess. I remember, I'm the youngest of. So I guess I'll just start with my family in the background. I'm the youngest of three brothers. So I, there's my family definitely. sort of formed who I am today, by being the only girl. Both my parents are still together. My mom and I grew up really close to just being the only girl in the family but born and raised into a very, very conservative household I was. But I didn't really realize it, you know, because when, in when you're in the bubble, or when you are born into a conservative family, you tend to hang out with other conservative families. And yet, homeschooling is a whole thing in and of itself, which is its own bubble. So you don't really realize this until you get outside of it. But I was homeschooled until about fifth grade. And then my mom put us all into school in the same year. So we're all two years apart. So I was fifth grade, my brother above me with seventh grade, my brother above him was ninth grade. And then my brother above him was 11th grade. So I'm not envious of my eldest brother, who was homeschooled pretty much all the way through. He did a few schools here and there. So wasn't it was definitely split up. And for the majority of his high school, he was at a private Christian school. But for my brother and I are the two youngest kids. So me and my brother, who's two years older than me, we got put into a very small Presbyterian Christian school. So it was basically, if you can the equivalent of like homeschooling, but the church version where you actually go, it was like, the place where other people that were homeschooled, went to school. If that makes sense, the graduation from homeschool. So still very, very sheltered environment. It was a Presbyterian school.

I think the name covenant was in the name.

Yes, very much. So. And I should mention to go back just a second, I went to a sort of a one day a week hybrid program in the third and fourth grade, which was also it was a classical school. And it was also Yep, it was also Christian. So education thus far has been all entirely Christian. And then, in eighth grade, when my brother graduated from the school that we both went to, it was only up it was K through eighth. So he went to a bigger private Christian school down the road, which was, you know, entirely a new experience for him, because going from homeschooling to just to give you an idea, the school that I went to in middle school, fifth through seventh grade was there was about 20 people in my grade. And we were divided into two homeroom classes, you know, 10 and 10. So very, very tiny. Yes. And then, so he, when he was finished with eighth grade, he went on to the bigger private Christian school that had, you know, probably like 8200 people per grade. So that's, even though people listening to this that might have gone to a public school, that seems so tiny, I actually ended up going there. The plan was for me to follow him and go there in high school, but I just, I wasn't having the greatest experience in my middle school environment. So I just went ahead and transferred. And that was a completely new experience for me again, all the while. Christian, Christian, Christian, Christian school, Christian, small school, bigger Christian school, throughout this whole time period of mine developmental years. I was in this bubble, that it was cool to be a Christian. And like, the more the more Christian you were, the cooler that you were. So it was definitely there were incentives outside of just what the Bible said to sort of walk the walk, if that makes sense. And I'm trying not to get too much into the nitty gritty here, but I feel like it's kind of important to bring some con Next up sort of my developmental years, because I'm in my later 20s Now, but that was, you know, elementary, high school, early college, you know, all of that was in this bubble, and it was all it was cool to be a Christian. Right. So, um, anyway, so that's kind of my schooling and into high school. Definitely the, the vibe, I should say, at the bigger Christian high school that I went to was, you know, it's cool to be a Christian. You know, definitely in a group of friends where, you know, the kids that maybe didn't, didn't follow the way if you will, or kind of rebellious work, gossiped about, you know, rumors were started that kind of thing. So, I definitely set myself up in the group of friends that was not rebellious, but also, you know, not super uptight, but just in that comfortable, sort of, I guess, it's hard to bring vocabulary to it. But it was just this element of, we're all Christians, we talk about it, it's cool if you're a Christian. And if you're not, you're going to be gossiped about, or if you choose to do things that are quote, unquote, like against what the right way to do things is, then you're going to be considered rebellious or a black sheep, or you're gonna get a rumor mill started about you. So God forbid, quite literally, you know.

All throughout elementary, middle and high school, my parents, you know, wanted us all to be involved in church wanted us to be involved in the youth group. And I one more aspect, and I think this is probably the most one of the most important aspects of my sort of developmental years for forming my faith was I was a camper. So I went to church camp every single year, and it wasn't affiliated with my church, so to speak, it was can I say the name? Is that okay? That's, I feel like it might, some people listening might even resonate, but I went to camp called Kanak in Missouri, and not super popular in my state of Georgia. But so many people from Texas, Arkansas, Colorado, all the surrounding states were Frequenters there, and this camp was, you know, the best thing that ever happened to me in my elementary school mind, it was just so cool. I remember going there the first year. So I started going there when I was eight years old. Yeah, yeah. So the way that camp works is that it's one you know, the big name, but with the big name, there's several camps spread out in the same area in Missouri, that based on age group, and duration that you want to go and sort of your focus. So I went started out in like the elementary age camp, then went to the middle school age camp, and went to the high school age camp, and then was a counselor. So all in all spent about 13 summers, wow, my life at this camp. And, you know, the more and more and packed that the more and more issues I have with things that I learned at this camp. But I remember going when I was eight, and talk about it was cool to be a Christian, you know, this camp, it was an app like a sports camp, but you know, all under the guise of evangelical Christian ism, I guess, if you will. So the whole goal was you know, how many people can we get in the doors and how many kids can we get to pray the prayer and then like, fire them up to go home and then spread the gospel and all that, you know, whereas now I just, it blows my mind really, and some of the experiences that I had there I quite frankly, look back on it and I'm just like, there was a coat it was it was a cold. It was so secluded, you know, when you go there, you don't have your phone. You can spend I was at Canberra one summer for a whole month. So as a high schooler being at a camp without your phone you know, it's it's weird because you go and you know, it's healthy in a way to you know, but just be out in nature and there was parts of it that I loved. The now looking back back on it. That was so it was like every summer I would go and it would be like a reboot to my fate that reboot to my bit the reboot to my bit. So every year it was, you know, I get reminded of why I believe in this. And this is so incredible. And not to mention, all the while and I'm trying to get to sort of a very vital part of my story was that, you know, my mom, my mom and I, and I had my dad really, I had this incredible desire to please my parents and what they wanted me to be and I knew that my parents loved you know what I learned at camp and I remember my mom saying something to me in high school, just she goes, you're just when you get home from camp, you're just better I don't know how to explain it, but you're just better. You know, I don't really know exactly what she said. But how do you interpret that you know, as a, as a high schooler, she said something along the lines of You just have this better demeanor, you seem just more kind and all of this stuff. And I'm thinking in my head, all right, well, better try to be exactly the way that I am. When I get home from camp all year long. I don't know what that even means, or how to interpret that. But it just kind of became this thing of all wrapped up in I left camp. But I also loved the fact that my parents loved that I went and it was like this, this whole toxic feedback loop, I guess, of just wanting to please them, but also, you know, enjoying the camp in and of itself. But that is sort of where my I would guess people might remember this term, you know, my fire for the Lord was sort of kick knighted, you know, and you see the counselors, the older Christian college girls and how awesome they are. And you're just like, I want to be just like that. And then you know, you get on the other side of it. And I worked at the camp for four summers as well. And it kind of de romanticize it it sighs did a little bit for me. D romanticized it a little bit. For me just being on the other end of things and seeing how things were run by the leadership and seeing the attitudes of people behind the scenes, that kind of thing. So with a little bit of a bad taste in my mouth, and maybe if I could pinpoint sort of, I don't know how to say it. Where I started maybe asking questions, but but I didn't want to admit that I was just kind of seeing the other side of things, you know, and then, you know, reshelving that not wanting to get into it, it like I could feel something and I don't even know if I knew how to verbalize it. But and I don't even think I could pinpoint when this happened. But maybe towards the last summer so I was probably I guess this would be summer going into my sophomore year of college. Okay, I have no summer going into my junior year of college would have been my last summer working there. And I would say you Yeah, questioning a little bit. I'm just I left with a bad taste in my mouth is what I would say. But if I could really so, you know, I feel like I'm skipping around here but that's my long intro to elementary, middle school high school, then I go to college. You know, still camper Audrey still coming from a Christian high school, all I wanted to do is just, you know, be a woman of God, you know, had my future planned, I was going to find a husband at college and, you know, be the perfect godly woman and he was going to be the man that would lead me in Christ and all the things and didn't really think about like a career much. I know that sounds so cliche, but I knew that my quote unquote, heart's desire was to just be a mother. So that's what I was paying attention to working at a summer camp, working with kids, I was a nanny, you know, it just it makes me angry. And I don't want to be angry. But I think back on it, I'm just like, if I had just had a little bit more of my own opinions that my own drive and I didn't try to morph into what the Christian community wanted me to be. And I'll get into that a little bit, but I'm trying to be concise with my background here. So I feel like if I could pinpoint sort of when the beginning maybe that first thread you know, got pulled from from the stitching I took Biblical perspectives class in my freshman year of college. So I should mention that I went to a Christian college that I was going to. Yeah. So I went to a Christian college called Samford University, you might have heard it in Birmingham just for a year, though, I went for my freshman year. And that was where, you know, my heart was set. It was basically like my high school but bigger.

Basically, like the the college version of where I went to high school and looking back on it, I'm just wondering why in the hell, I wanted to do that. But anyways, did it went and I took a biblical perspective class at Stanford. And you know, still remember where I sat in the class, I remember my professors name, it was just the first time in all of my years of education, that someone took the time to teach me, it wasn't just biblical perspectives of just a Christian perspective of the Bible. But this class taught me perspective, other religions and other people's perspective of the Bible. And that was so eye opening, and I am so appreciative of that professor, because the way that she chose to teach the class was from a completely unbiased place. You know, I think that she is a Christian, and I'm not really sure where she is today. But she was, she had a grace about her. That was never, she never came from a place of condemning or laughing at other people's perspectives. And that was very different for me, because I actually came from in my high school courses, we were required to take Bible classes every year, but also our junior year, we took an apologetics class. And my professor, I guess, teacher, was very, very, very biased and very judgmental, and kind of like, would give the perspectives of other people for the sake of teaching us the arguments. And he was very good, he was very good at teaching us how to argue and do it well, but it's funny, my husband and I were actually just talking about this is a very good app, because we went to the same high school, but we took the same course, actually, I'll get into him, he's also part of my story, but it was just always from a place of look at what these other people believe how silly is this, how ridiculously stupid of them to have this perspective, and of course, as a malleable, you know, 16 year old, and not to mention, that teacher was like, the Cool Teacher, you know, that all the students looked up to, so if it comes from Him, you're gonna kind of if you're a robot that follows what you're told, You're gonna mimic his sort of attitude about other people's worldviews and perspectives, which is so toxic, and there's so many things wrong with that, which I could spend the whole time venting my frustration about that. And my issues with teachers, you know, pushing their own, not teaching but pushing their own opinions on to a very impressionable aged students. But so then to go from him to the professor at Stanford, that was very much so this from an unbiased teaching place, was just very helpful for me. And at the time, I maybe wouldn't have said the word helpful, it was very confusing and very frustrating to sort of deal with that, and not understand what was happening, but the reality of it was my brain was actually starting to work. And I was maybe seeing things from the other side and being frustrated with the fact that, you know, on one hand, this is how I was born and raised. And this is what I was trained to believe in, and this is the stuff that I was robotically, you know, told to spit out when people would ask me what my faith was in the God that I served and whatnot, and then on the other hand, I would see other people's perspectives and be like, that doesn't really seem all that weird or silly to not believe in Christianity or even hearing, you know, people that might be Islamic or Buddhist in coming from their perspectives of the Bible and seeing the core relation between, you know, their religious upbringing and what their perspective is in seeing how there's lots of commonalities in religions across the world and things of that nature. But when you're born and raised in good old Georgia, and there's a church on every corner, of course, the religion that I believe is the right one, right? How could it be any different, right? It's so silly to believe in anything else. Obviously, I'm kidding. But that is just, that was the first the start of it. And then it became one of those things where, so this was probably 1920 year old Audrey, and I just, I shelved it, I was too frustrated, and too confused, and probably a little bit too immature to actually wrestle with it. And it was a lot more comfortable for me to just pretend that I found closure, but I really did it, if that makes sense. So I came to a point in my faith where I told myself, well, look at your life, Audrey, look at all of the things that you have been blessed with, look how fortunate you've been to, you know, grow up in a family that could afford to send you to a school like this, or, you know, afford to send you to a summer camp, that that wasn't even, you know, something that I mentioned, but of course, it was predominantly a white Christian summer camp. So if that is any, and it also was not free. So that's any indication of the camp campers in the families and the kind of people that were there, and the kind of people that ran the camp. So I just, I was so oblivious to the bubble that I grew up in. And I, you know, I used to be embarrassed to admit that, but life is a journey, and I'm, you're learning every day, you know, and I can't help that. I can't help the background that I came from, but I can proceed in a different way. So

Arline  27:24  
we know better, we can do better.

Audrey  27:26  
Exactly. When you know better, you can do better. And so from all that, I just realized that. Okay, look at my life, look at all of the things that I've quote, unquote, been blessed with and how things have quote unquote, worked out like, of course, that's the sovereignty of God. Of course, he exists, of course, you know, how can he not and that sounds very naive, you know, saying that from where I was to where I am now, but that was kind of what I fell back on. It's like, okay, I have a lot of questions. But it seems like God has been utterly faithful in my life. So I'm just going to cling to that. And I'm just going to sort of bury all of the concerns that I have that cognitive dissonance, right. So that went on for a while.

Flash forward, took a little bit of a break from school. My junior year decided that I wanted to pursue songwriting, which is kind of a hobby of mine, but I for a year took just a break and moved out to Nashville and was on my mat. Yeah. During that time, I reconnected with someone who went to my high school and we actually started dating. We were not I actually dated one of his good friends in high school. And then we reconnected later because I transferred from Sanford to Kennesaw, which is a school near close to where I live now. But during that time, started dating Mason, my husband. And then I took a break from school, went to Nashville, highly recommend anyone who is of college age to just take a year and do it completely on their own because I feel like even though at the time still a Christian still trying to pursue my faith with the Lord but just to kind of be on your own it. You know, some of those things I buried started to rise up again. Being a waitress out in Nashville writing songs being in a completely secular world, you know, going from a Christian High School to Christian College, then transferring to a massively secular or university was the best thing that I did, but at the time didn't know. Right? So slowly starting to become way more ingrained in the secular world, and having secular friends and all of that. So maybe those things I buried might start to rise up again. I remember just still dealing with some questions. And I actually when I saw I was in Nashville for a year. And then when I moved back, I decided I wanted to come back to where I'm from. And when I came back, I actually got a job working at a church as a, I guess my title was intern, which I have issues with, because I was paid. But I was, but not that internships can't be paid. But I was an intern, I think it was youth group intern was maybe my technical title on my contract. However, I called myself the student ministry coordinator, because that was, quite frankly, I was the student ministry, there was it it was a very small church in the student ministry, it was very small, and they just needed to hire someone part time to sort of establish a ministry, it really and I, so that was very, I was there. My contract was for two years, it was part time. And the job itself was very administrative. So it was kind of, you know, that typical female church role of, you know, they females work on the staff, well, they work in the children's ministry, and they do admin, you know, or the same thing for the student ministry, I was admin, I was never considered, you know, the pastor or anything like that, because I didn't have those credentials. However, it was required of me to teach lessons every Sunday and leave Bible study, but I was just strictly, you know, the coordinator.

Arline  32:11  
The requirement of having testicles, really does put a damper on things are some of this

Audrey  32:18  
exactly, and unfortunately, I do not have balls. So I was the intern or the coordinator or what have you. Um, but this church is very small. I was. At the time I was working there, there was only four people on staff. So including that. Yeah, so it was a pastor worship, Pastor me, the student ministry, and then another person who was definitely the church wouldn't have run without her. The admin gal that was pretty much the pastor's right hand, everything, you know, fell on her pretty much is what I would say. And I never knew what she was paid, but I bet you wish she was undefeated. But, so that was ultimately very unfulfilling. And I just, I would never have said that, you know, when I was in it, but looking back on it I felt the whole time that I was there, that I wasn't doing a good job. Because I it didn't come natural to me to you know, part of being a student ministry coordinator or leader or what have you is, you know, showing up to things for the students on random weekends and going to their homecoming and sort of being in their life and I'm sure people listening to this can resonate with that, you know, that cool youth group gal or guy that showed up to your homecoming pictures or went to your high school events just to say hey, and you know, be in your life. And I was very much so I would that was not natural for me, you know, going to grab a coffee with a student. It's just it wasn't I didn't love it. And I always felt very conversation felt very forced. I don't think anybody that was on the other side of those coffee dates when we would have said that but it was never I was never I never felt fully comfortable. Doing those kinds of outreach things. It felt forced, it felt in genuine like, the whole purpose in meaning behind me meeting for coffee with you is to really, you know, how's your heart?

Arline  34:48  
It's not I like this person. We're friends. Let's hang out and do a thing it here is part of my job and part of my job is hanging out with these kids but I've checked off this box I did this I went to this soccer game like that, that isn't loving, it doesn't feel loving.

Audrey  35:05  
Absolutely, I couldn't have said it better myself, it just being on the other side of it, having that church paycheck, you know, all the things that you do seem very and genuine. And I use this word before, but just like working at the camp, kind of de romanticized camp, for me, working at the church completely de romanticize the church for me. And that really was where the threads started pulling a little bit more and a little bit more. And I the whole time that I was there, I was wrestling with this, you know, I feel like I'm pouring out and pouring out and pouring out, but no one is pouring into me, I feel completely drained. I'm not really connecting to what I'm doing here, because I feel like it's coming from a place of engine Uranus. Yes, while I did form relationships with some, you know, high school girls and students that I still today, you know, think of in love, I don't reach out to them just because I don't think that that would be appropriate, just for where I am. And I don't have no idea where their worldviews are. And obviously, they're all older, probably college age now. But it's just looking back on it coming from this place of how can I lead you in love and guide you in love if I don't really feel connected to what I'm supposed to believe in? I was just impostor syndrome, like I, this is not. I'm not connecting here to what people are telling me to connect to. And then on top of that, I am required to now teach it to these people that I are young and impressionable. But I'm not really connecting to it. So how am I even supposed to teach it to them? So I got to the end of my contract, and I that was it, I was just like, Okay, I'm gonna leave all the while I had been getting my personal training certification, this was back in 2017 2018, getting certified as a personal trainer. So Little did I know that would completely set off the trajectory of you know, what I do now in my career, but fell in love with that whole industry. So that's kind of what I pivoted to after working at the church. And I had been training part time because the job at the church was also part time. So two part times make a full time. I was a busy gal. But all that today, the contract ended. Right around it. August of the pandemic of 2020. Oh, wow. So yeah, so I did the whole youth group thing from March to August, like virtually, which was a disaster. I was trying to pivot and figure out, you know, how to navigate that. And then of course, came to the end of my contract. And that was it for me, and, to be honest, took quite a long hiatus from going to church. And I knew when I my contract was up that I would I wanted and needed a break for myself almost like my own sabbatical. Because I had been pouring out so much. And I was just like, I don't even want to go to church. I just want to take a break. I'll listen to the podcasts, I'll listen to sermons, what have you, but I don't want to set foot in church for quite a bit

so it was throughout that process, that things kind of changed a little bit foggy for me, I guess is what I would say things became a little bit foggy.

Arline  39:17  
And what do you mean, what does foggy mean?

Audrey  39:20  
I would say I, I feel like a huge frustration and almost like a burden is that I, I always carried around so much Christian guilt. And I hated that, that during that period where I took time off from going to church, I was wracked with guilt for doing that. And dealing with that frustration and feeling like starting to feel disconnected. But not minding. Not good Going to church was a chore for me. And so finally it got to the end of those eight months or what have you. And I was like, okay, Sunday's the day, I'm gonna go, we're gonna go to church, I'm going to try something new, I definitely didn't want to go to the church that I had worked out. So I actually tried to go to the Woodstock City Church, because my husband and I are actually moving close to the church, not for the church. But we were in the process of moving out of our apartment to a, we were building a new construction home. So I knew that we were going to be in this area. So I started just perusing seeing what kind of churches were out here and started going there. My husband actually never went with me, even though, I asked him if he wanted to come, but again, never wanted to pressure him. So again, that was what I was wrestling with kind of like, maybe he doesn't, you know, want to do this anymore. I'm a little bit confused, because I thought, you know, I had this whole idea that we were going to be, you know, the Christian family and our kids in the church and all this stuff. So I was kind of dealing with a little bit of fear that I didn't know where he was. And so you know, months go on, I would infrequently visit the church, but I guess foggy just meant, I started dealing with frustration and doubt and almost jealousy of, you know, he sleeps in on Sunday, and doesn't feel bad about not going to but we weren't really having conversations about it, but I was jealous I want to sleep in but I have this Christian guilt. So I have to drag my ass out of bed, and you know, get up and go and then not really feel anything from what I just heard. You know that that whole you want to emotionally I'm uh, I was very much you know, I'm a singer and, you know, creative. So worship was a big thing for me and you want to feel that Holy Spirit, you know, rush of fire and you know, what have you but just stuff wasn't sitting right for me. And so I eventually, I remember distinctly sitting down with him at dinner. And I keep I keep using the phrase stuff didn't sit right with me and not really getting into the detail. Because at the time, that was all it was I it was so much cognitive dissonance, that I don't even think I could verbalize to you what doubts I was struggling with. It was just something wasn't right. So I feel like once I get past this portion of my story, I'll be able to explain the things that didn't sit right with me. But at that point, it was just like that feeling of something's not right here.

Arline  43:06  
Something's not right.

Audrey  43:08  
Something's not right here. And I don't know what it is. But I remember we were at dinner, my husband and I and we had just come to see our house for like, the last time before we like moved into. It's very, it was definitely like the closing of a chapter the newness it was very timely, but we were at dinner. And I remember going into the dinner with this. This plan to sort of ask him where he was in terms of his fate. And you know, how he was what that has turned into, because I've noticed that you haven't really wanted to come to church with me and that kind of thing. And I don't really know what happened, but it was like, I opened my mouth to start to say that. And then it was it became a conversation of I've actually been really struggling like, is this something that I want to do? And he was like, eyes wide like, Oh, finally like, Oh, yes, talk about this, because he was all the while Little did I know having his own deconversion and didn't want to say it to me, because, you know, every you know how that goes. One person's a Christian one versus not what's that going to do to our relationship? This is something that really matters to her, you know, and I don't want to I think ultimately his heart and I so appreciate and love him for this. But he didn't want to persuade me he didn't want to be the reason why I decided that I wasn't a Christian anymore. My husband

Arline  44:47  
was the same way like he told me we had what we called our one on ones because that was like our like time to talk about the hard stuff happening in you know, marriage, parenting work, whatever. And he told He could not believe anymore. And multiple people have said on the podcast, you don't suddenly decide not to believe you just realize, I don't think I believe the same. And he told me, but yeah, he didn't want to tell me anything more or keep having conversations because he was afraid he didn't want me to go through because it was very important to me to go through what he went through. He didn't want to talk to the boys about it, because they were young and impressionable. And he did. But because he loves us, He cares about us. Now, we did fight, because I was like, if it's not true, then you need to tell us because I was not I did not take it kindly. Whenever he then led me that, you know, that's my own story. But yes, I understand. You don't want the other person to go through what you know, destroy the thing that they love. Yeah,

Audrey  45:49  
exactly. Exactly. And I think I still relate to you in that way of, except for the fact of the matter of I was already kind of unraveling when we had that conversation. So thankfully, I will i am just, I'm very, very, very happy with the timing of that, because I feel like spirit, serendipity right. That we were able to sort of both open up? Well, I don't want to say both of us, because he obviously had been going through silently for a couple of years, which I you know, that that I feel for him in that I can't I don't know what that's like, so I am. I'm so grateful that he's stuck around right? Here. I am like working at a church all the while I'm like, you want to come to church on Sunday? He's probably like, Hell, no, I don't want to go to church. But I love you. So I guess you know, but again, he would, thankfully was not super open at the time. Because I couldn't have handled it, I really don't think that I could have handled it. And he was wise enough to know that it was not the right time. So when I opened my mouth to have a conversation about are you a Christian? Because I am actually turned into a conversation. Are you a Christian? Because I actually am not sure I am either. Which I just I don't know, it was almost like, I think it's kind of interesting to think about. It was like one side of my brain knew the conversation that I was supposed to have with him. And the other side of my brain knew the conversation that I needed to

Arline  47:33  
have with. That's interesting. Yeah.

Audrey  47:36  
My mind knew that something wasn't right. But the Christian side of me, the Audrey, you have to be a dedicated what godly woman like you need to talk to your husband about where he is in his faith, because this is this is going to be an issue in your marriage or whatever. And the fact of the matter. No, it's not, you guys need to just get on the same page here, because both of you are going through it and you're not talking about it. So that just kind of the floodgates opened. And I would say that Mark did a very significant date for me, but also like, my relationship with my husband comes in, completely changed in the best way. Because, yeah, because I no longer was like dealing with this. Oh, we're not, you know, equally yoked or that. I hate that term. Now, just like wool makes my makes me nauseous, really. But like, there was no longer that. Okay, how do I phrase this in the Christian bubble that I was born and raised. And most a lot of people listening to this might relate to this, there's like a standard, there's a way that your marriage should look like and the way that you should portray yourself to other fellow Christians. And if I was looking at our relationship, outside looking in, did not meet that standard. So I was the word is concerned, too, go from a dinner, being concerned and then to leave a restaurant being like, oh, my gosh, I have a peer, a fellow person that I can finally like, unburden all of my doubts to and not feel condemned or judged. And I'm also you know, fuck being equal to whatever that means. Like, I love this man. And there's nothing It was almost like for me there was this like barrier between us. And you know, he's gonna he's probably gonna listen to all of this first time, but there was like this wall that that I was this wall of concern. And that's the only way I know. And then it was like once I was able to eliminate that wall of concern, there was no longer a barrier between us. And I just felt it's so interesting because you didn't have that Bible verse like you. You become one

Arline  50:17  
that you felt that happened,

Audrey  50:19  
right? It was in that moment, that I finally felt like, oh my god, this is my person, and it had nothing to do with a deity. It was just like, Oh, finally, I feel like I can take a deep breath. And that was amazing. And that was like, I would say that conversation was, you know, I've been referencing like a slow thread unraveling. Or people have said, you know, the statue has crumbled, or the foundation starts getting chipped out, shut down, shut down, and then once it crumbles, or once that scarf unravels, there's, it's quite frankly, impossible to put back together. Right? Yes. So, after that night, I would, I would say that was the statue crumbling for me.

I have felt like the past year of my life, I have met myself for the first time. And the Audrey that existed underneath the I am an onion essentially, like referencing Shrek, I feel like my whole entire life, I had been putting on layers of myself to fit a mold that everyone in my Christian bubble wanted me to be, especially my parents. And what are reference? A huge part of my unraveling was the realization that I didn't choose this belief system, this belief system was I was born into it. And it was quite literally force fed to me from the time that I could talk. And then not until I'm 28 years old, or 27, I don't even know how not into my upper, you know, upper 20s had this realization of not only was I forced by this religion, but it was so wrapped up in pleasing the people that were in charge of me, even after they weren't in charge of me anymore. How twisted is that? And obviously, I love my parents and I did the best they could, they really did with with their worldview. They loved me in the best way that they knew how to, and they still do. But I think it's very important. And it was very important for me to recognize and find out through therapy, etc. that a large part of what I was trying to be back to that onion, that those layers, I was trying to appear to be the person that they wanted me to be. Yeah. And because of that, those layers hid the root of who I really am my opinions, what I care about, you know, what I actually think is right, and just, you know, it was almost immediately after having the conversation with my husband, I was like, Okay, no more sermons for me, I immediately started looking up, you know, atheists podcast,

Arline  53:53  
you just jumped like,

Audrey  53:55  
immediately, literally, I have not listened to a worship song or a sermon since that dinner. So I immediately jumped. That's actually how I found this podcast, which I am so thankful for, because that's been a big part of my deconversion as well, but I started listening to it's called Voices of deconstruction by Steve hilliker. I don't know if that name sounds familiar, but I quite literally found the podcast just I think I typed in like deconversion in the search bar, and Spotify is how I find a lot of my podcasts anyway, just like a keyword. But I typed deconversion in my search bar, and found his podcast and I started listening. And I remember the very first girl that he interviewed or the very first podcast that I listen to, um, he interviewed a bisexual girl and she was talking about, you know, just with her sexuality and how she said the phrase, I couldn't subscribe to her religion. That didn't allow me to love all people. Oh, wow. And I was just like, I was running, but I almost stopped. It was just like, holy shit. What have I been doing? Like, just wanted to weep because that's that. That's it for me. Like, if I could boil it all down, I don't want to subscribe to I mean, there's a million other things at this point now that I could say this is it for me this is it for me this is it from that I think we all can relate to that of there's just a slow unraveling of in this in this in this and I, I think I felt shared full transparency before we started that I was like, a little bit unprepared because I feel like there's just so many things that I am gonna forget to mention. And it might take me a while to get to the point of my of my deconversion. But I remember hearing her say that. And, you know, she was sharing how she, you know, had struggled with her sexuality. And then when she, you know, obviously was able to go through the process of de converting and accepting herself for who she was, and being bisexual and all of that. It just was so eye opening for me. And honestly, I doubt a little bit for a while of just feeling horrible for subscribing to a worldview that as much as I said, it didn't matter. At the end of the day, there's that rhetoric, it does depend on what set of religion of Christianity that you belong to. But there's that rhetoric of that I don't even want to say it because it makes me want to throw up but the love the sinner Hate the sin. The phrase, it's like, That doesn't even make sense. Like, if you're hating a part of who someone is at their core, then you're hating them. Like it's not, you can't separate the two. And so I think that was a huge thing. For me. It's like, okay, I immediately know to be a Christian. I just like had this moment of Yeah, that's not who I am anymore. Absolutely not. And I have never felt in the week of like that dinner with my husband and the week following. I felt like I was floating on air. Like I had never felt more free in my whole entire life. To get to a point where I was walking around and not feeling guilty for every little decision that I made or questioning. I think for me, a huge thing was I always wanted to you know, be in the Lord's will and do what he wanted for my life. So every single every damn decision was prayed about, you know, and gosh, that is tiring. It's exhausting.

Arline  58:07  
I remember when I consciously I didn't I didn't know I was deconversion. I didn't know you don't know what's happening. You just, you're just you're just asking questions or whatever. I remember when I was like, I don't think I'm gonna pray about stuff anymore. And I don't remember exactly why I decided that. But it was like my brain like my I have ADHD. So my brains already busy. But it was just like, my brain just slowed down. And I was like, Have I really been causing this this whole time? Like, the just constant hamster wheel inside my mind of I need to pray about this. Is God gonna answer? What's God's answer going to be? Do I need to read in the Bible? Do I need to look for signs? Do I need to ask them? I mean, like, and then it was just like, I'm done. And my brain just slowed down? Absolutely. Yes.

Audrey  58:55  
I feel like when I made that decision of, yeah, this isn't working for me anymore. I felt like I was able to take a deep breath for the first time in my whole entire life. Like to really know, it was like 100 pounds had been on my ribcage and I didn't know the difference. You didn't know. I didn't know what it felt like to walk around without 100 pounds on my ribcage. And so when I was able to take that deep breath, it was like, I was just realizing so many things about my upbringing, so many things about my past so many belief systems and neurological pathways that I had, like, two that started to unravel. That's a huge one. I'm just like, catching yourself in these thought processes of guilt and then being realizing, Oh, I don't need to feel guilty about thinking that, you know, or doing that, you know, and also I think for me, it was at the end For the last kind of year of my Christianity, I feel like it could be boiled down to I'm just believing in this because I'm scared of the alternative. Yeah. And I shared that with my husband. And he said something to me at that dinner. He said, I said, You know what, what happens when we die? That's really scary. What if, you know, I don't want to go to hell. And he was like, what if when you die, you just die. And that's it, you're just dead, you pretty much disintegrate and you lived your life. And there's nothing that happens after. And I was like, that sounds really good actually. Like, I like that. And whereas a year before, that might have terrified me to think God, eternal life doesn't exist. And then to be in a place with where I believe now is that, you know, I don't claim to know everything, I know that there are things that we can explain. And that is, I'm happy to just kind of leave it at that. And I will never say that, like, my belief is the absolute correct belief, because I just don't think that anybody really knows. But I'm happy to believe that when I die, I just die. And I am okay, I'm satisfied with that. And honestly, it's super free, because it just is more motivation to live a life that I really am, I love and enjoy. I agree. It's like now

Arline  1:01:31  
this life is way more important. So let's, you know, whatever the things that we value, let's be sure that we do them. Exactly.

Audrey  1:01:39  
And I think a huge thing for me was that realizing, I, there's this sort of this dialogue, and this way of thinking, as a Christian, at least from my background of like, life is just a drudgery, life is something that you have to kind of get through to get to the good part, which is heaven. Like, we're servants, we're bond servants of Christ. And this is just the, this is like the time we have to surf in order to get that mansion in the sky. And so, first of all, it's a horrible, sad way to approach life my opinion, because then you're just living your, you know, 75 Hopefully yours that you have on this planet in this sort of mindset of I'll just get through it, you know, just get through it. And now it's like, no, I have, I have maybe 55 solid, good more years on this earth, and I'm going to try to milk it for all it's worth.

The other thing that I was, quote unquote, scared about was that argument you always hear of like, what it's making you be a good person, if you're not a Christian, you know, it's like I can, I can be a decent human, and not be connected to a deity. And I can also there are aspects of Christianity that I can value and that I can teach to my kids, not the religious aspect of it. But you know, I think it is a wonderful thing to be a person of integrity. I think it is a wonderful thing to be a person who, you know, is honest in the in in his kind. But I don't have to say, you know, this is the Bible verse that tells you that you need to do that right.

Arline  1:03:43  
Now we we still use the phrase, love your neighbor as yourself. And that's why you have to brush your teeth, children, like you're going to be around your friends and you love them. Please brush your teeth. It's Jesus. Like, this is why we love our neighbor.

Audrey  1:04:04  
Yeah. All right. Um, so all that to say, I'm definitely spent about a year sort of detoxing, I guess, if you will, from the Christian garb. The Christian diet that I had been on for my life, really, honestly, that's the best way of saying it. Like I put my Bible in a box in the attic when we moved in. Haven't gone up there since. Like, I don't maybe I'll get to a place where I want to go, you know, from a different perspective, sort of read and just for information sake, but I have just been, you know, eating up all the podcasts and listening to all the things that I would have felt guilty for listening to before are, you know, really just diving into everyone else's, everything outside of the bubble has been for the past year. And it's just been super enlightening. A bit disturbing. To realize the brainwashing that I went through. I know that sounds that that term is kind of thrown around. And it seems like harsh, but in reality is a little bit brainwashing, you know, to be, you know, put through. And so that sort of crumbling started last October. And I, I knew I wanted to come on this podcast, but I because I had this, this community has meant so much to me. And I felt like, maybe I'll share my story, because I feel like there's a lot of people out there that might have a similar one. And just like a lot of people that have been on this podcast have said the same thing. And I've related to a lot of people. So I was hoping that, you know, maybe someone would hear this and say, Oh, my gosh, I went to summer camp to and that you never know. But I wanted to take a year to just sort of, like I had mentioned earlier, unwrap the onion, D layer myself and figure out who I actually was the center of all of the outer clothing and layers I had put on to fit the mold that people wanted me to be. And I really, really love the person that's underneath all of that. And the confidence that I have found in myself back to how I was saying I needed to take this year to detox. I took a whole year to process because I knew that I want to tell my mom, but I didn't want to tell her as it was happening. I wanted it to be this has happened this is where I am now. So take that and process it how you will because

Arline  1:07:15  
yeah, Audrey, you are not responsible for how they respond, which is something else. So I have had to learn as a full grown adults. Yes, that is my responsibility.

Audrey  1:07:27  
That has been such a huge source of battle for me and realization that I have control over information that I care to share. I have control over the way I present said information, I have control over my own reactions and the words that come out of my mouth, I have Zerbo control over what that person on the other side wants to say how they want to react, also their own thoughts that are in their head that I don't know, I don't need to concern myself of what they now think of me because it's none of my business.

I have had two best friends from the time I was in eighth grade at that private Christian school until now. And I told them as kind of like my prep to tell my mom, I also waited a year to tell them and that was really difficult. At least in my story. That was what I was the most terrified of doing. Because I had grown up in this bubble and every, every my community, everybody was a Christian. So I got to this point of like, what do I do? You know, how do I move forward? I know that the second that I tell my two best friends, it's going to completely change the dynamic of our relationship. Because we are best we have been best friends. But a lot of that friendship has been deep talks about our faith in our Christian unity. And that was sort of the thread that connected us. But telling them I was like, Okay, once I told her, I felt like I could be my authentic self. The reason why that was this is such an important part of my story is because my relationship with my mom, very much so really correlates with my relationship with God because it was like, Oh, wow. We've been very close, but a huge sort of foundation of our closeness in our relationship with our spirituality. And I think she and I connected because my dad's not super outspoken about his faith, and none of my brothers really We're and so for us to have that mutuality and connection there. And then also to see, you know, always hear from her, like, you're just the daughter, I always wanted, and I love you so much. And I'm so happy that you're the person that you are, you know, hearing that my whole life and then sitting down to dinner with my mom and saying to her, you know, how do you tell somebody something that you know, is going to break their heart? Yeah. Without a doubt, it's not like, Oh, I hope this doesn't affect her. It's, this is going to affect her in a major way. And it is going to affect our relationship, it's going to affect the dynamic that I have with my parents right now. So I sat down with dinner with her. Well, I had it all out, laid it on the table. I had, I went into the conversation, trying really hard to not have any expectations of the way that she was going to respond, because I didn't want to sort of set myself up for disappointment and failure. You know, I'm so sat down with dinner, waiting on the table. At first, I remember her saying, you know, it just seems so saddened to me, you're not one to make a rash decision, you know, like, like, Mom. It's been a year. Since I have decided I want to tell you, so it's definitely a year of me mulling this over officially. But it's been about three, four years in the making, I'd say. So this is where I am now. It was probably the most emotionally draining conversation I have ever had in my life. I told her that in this is just all because of the closeness that we shared. And the foundation of our love, I guess. And I remember, there was two pivotal things. One of the things that and maybe someone out there listening to this is struggling with knowing how or when, or if to tell their parents if that's like a difficult thing. And this is true, just for me, it might be true for someone else. But my mom loves me, my dad loves me. I had to come to a realization of, okay, I know my mom. And I know that I know her heart. And I know that once I share this with her, while it will change our dynamic, she's not going to stop loving me. So there's really and you know, if she does it, my business is none of my business. So I kind of had to had that, quote, unquote, come to Jesus meeting with myself, to use that terminology. And I shared it with her. And at the end of the conversation, I'm a big apologizer I understand that I'm learning that to apologize to Yep, that word sorry, has been a battle for me my whole entire life. And something I'm trying really hard to only say when it is appropriate for me to say. And at the end of the conversation, I said, you know, mom, everything in me right now wants to say sorry for something. But I'm not. And I hope that we can move past this. But, you know, I know you're going to need to take your own time to sort of process and it's new for you. Well, it's not new for me. So that's kind of where we left it. I asked her that she would tell my dad, because I didn't really feel like I felt like I owed it to tell my mom because of our relationship. My dad and I had never really had a super close spiritual relationship. So I didn't really feel like I and I also knew that he would not react the way that my mother did. And he is very my dad is very conservative, very, this is the way that you do it. And if you do it differently from this, then you're wrong and you're stupid. Yeah, so So kind of close minded there. I haven't asked her how he responded. Ultimately, my family's pretty conservative and it is interesting to go from being the perfect child to now kind of watching the vibe of I am the black sheep which I've never been in my whole entire life. But then also, I came to the realization that like we had been saying earlier that night after I shared with my mom, I thought that I was going to immediately feel this sense of like, relief. And my drive home, of course, I was bawling, because I just like, it was like a release for me, but a work home and I was like, why do I still feel just kind of icky. And it was because my brain was diverting to those neurological pathways of I want to please her, I want to please her. And also, I caught myself thinking, I hope she doesn't think a BNC about me, I hope she doesn't think this about me, I hope she doesn't think this about me. And then I got eyebrows like, whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa, it doesn't matter. It does not fucking matter what she thinks about me anymore. I'm my own woman. I am really happy with the woman that I have started becoming right. I love my mom. We love her so much. I love my dad, I love my family. And I know that they loved me in the way that the best way that they knew how. But now I have to kind of remove myself, take a step back and accept that their perception of me has now changed. And it's not in my business, and I can still love them. And I can accept the the secret elbow nudges in the side eyes, and what have you, and what might come when we start having kids and the problems that might, you know, ensued from that dynamic. But I'm so happy with

the trajectory of this deconversion. While it has been incredibly challenging. I don't know, I just would encourage other people that if there are things that they're afraid to sort of tap into or unravel because of fear. Just do it bit by bit, you know, go in a little bit. And you might find that, okay, this is scary, but I'm feeling better. I feel like I'm finding clarity. And it's just interesting to I'm trying to wrap up here, but I think a huge part, not only mentioning, you know, the development of self confidence and just becoming sure of who I am, but my whole 2022 I set out to reconnect with my body. Because there's such a disconnect when you're, quote, unquote, living that Christian in that Christian perspective of, you know, that verse like the the adorning of your body or whatever. The you know, there's so much a highlight on you or your soul. And that's it. And I have lived my entire life in my head. And I I should have mentioned this earlier, but I'm a wellness specialist, I'm I said, I'm a trainer. So my my profession is very much so in the body. And I also just recently got my yoga certification. So I would say yoga has been a huge, huge lifesaver.

It's so incredible, how once I stepped away from Christianity, how I was able to gain a better understanding of how to actually take care of myself, because beforehand, taking care of myself just meant working on my relationship with the Lord.

Arline  1:19:14  
Anything more be selfish.

Audrey  1:19:16  
Exactly, exactly. And now that I am in, or self care is selfish, you know, that kind of mindset, that kind of dialogue and now that I'm on the complete opposite spectrum, where I actually tell people all day or on how to take care of themselves and remind them to take care of themselves. It's just been it's been great. What else say and it's just, uh, you know, I am every day, sort of unraveling bits and pieces of my past and dealing with them as they come and taking deep breaths and trying not to be angry you And, you know, learning who I am, and tragically beautiful.

Arline  1:20:10  
It's amazing. And that was 28 years. It's been one year, you know, it's a journey. And there's so much to grieve so much to be angry about too much to move past. So I mean, it just, there's not a here's the timeline. And this is how things will work out.

Audrey  1:20:24  
Exactly, exactly. And I am thankful though, that it, it has happened when it has happened because my husband and I don't have children yet. We might kids. But I'm really happy that I am going to be able to, you know, right from the beginning, not have to deconstruct or not have to teach them something that I don't really, you know, believe in anyway. And also, I'm excited to give them the freedom to decide whatever they want to

Arline  1:20:55  
leave it. We homeschool and it's been fun to see like, I used to be really scared of like, Greek mythology, Roman mythology, indigenous wisdom, you know, these ancient stories, because they were so similar to the ones I was supposed to tell them are true stories. Oh, yeah. So we would just kind of like say, there are other stories, and then we would just move on. And now it's like, we can just read anything and talk about it. And it's so fun. And we can we can, we can love all these stories of how the birds used to talk and the animals used to talk and all you know this, God ate this other god and then spit out humans like it's so fun, like, and we can just enjoy it without having to be afraid of any of it or thinking of it's true. We can just and the boys of course, you know, they're going to like anything that says, you know, one God ate another god and then spit out?

Audrey  1:21:46  
Yes, I mean, absolutely. I can't wait like some of the things that I was sheltered from as a child. I cannot wait. Like one thing. This is kind of silly. But Harry Potter not allowing me. Yep, I so to this day, I'm almost embarrassed to say like, I have never watched a Harry Potter movie, maybe one. And I've never read a Harry Potter book. But the reason now I'm holding out because I want to like read them to my kids and experience that for the first time and like, let them love it. Because obviously, it's a great series from everyone and their mother. But he's like that. And even this is, again, another thing that I'm embarrassed about. But I've learned evolution for the first

Arline  1:22:31  
time. I did to I'm a decade older than you Yes, I

Audrey  1:22:35  
understand. That is how sheltered my education was in I was that made me angry. Because how can you choose what you want to believe in if you're not even taught the other part? So that's huge for me is like I am definitely my kids education is going to be well rounded. It's going to be from a Christian perspective, because I think that'd be some damage. So that is another thing that I'm just like, Okay, I went to the museum. I think it's like the Natural History Museum in Georgia. I can't remember it's in Atlanta, but they have like, a fun Fernbank yes, they had this event called Night at the Fernbank. And it was so fun because it's like, they shut down and they serve alcohol. And so it's like you go and you can walk through the museum and just get a drink at each station. I went with our group of friends but I was there like reading everything like guys, this is amazing. And they're all like yeah, pretty cool stuff. We learned it back and didn't know about this faultline in Georgia. How I know that that is someone who's probably listening to this thinking this girl is completely sheltered. But it's true. Like I I didn't have the opportunity. And nor nor did I have the confidence in myself to go and seek out the other people's perspectives. It was I only knew one way and I was too afraid to veer from the one way that I knew. So yeah, all that to say, teach your kids evolution, folks.

Arline  1:24:24  
Audrey, this has been so lovely. I have enjoyed this so much. Thank you. Thank you for telling us your story. This has been wonderful.

Audrey  1:24:33  
Thank you for letting me I hope that this might be helpful to maybe one soul out there. So I I do appreciate thanks for dealing with my ramblings.

Arline  1:24:44  
There will be lots of people who can relate to to a lot of your story. It's it's wonderful. It's always amazing to me. Everybody's story is unique and so many things overlap. So many things. So, thank you again for being on. Thanks for having In

my final thoughts on the episode, Audrey was an absolute delight to speak with. I know her story is going to resonate with lots of people who she's becoming now, realizing that the person she is now is the person she always was. But she was unable to be that woman able to be that little girl. She had to cover up in layers, like an onion, like an artichoke, but like it's being peeled back. And she's realizing who she is. And the confidence she's gaining, exerting her presence, no longer apologizing for just existing, but being able to be her whole self, her true self like, this is an absolutely beautiful thing. And I know that there are so many men and women, women, especially, but also men, who know what it's like to spend decades of your life being somebody else, because that's what God's will is for your life, or that's what your church says is best for you. That's what someone else has put on you. And being able to have the freedom to change and to I guess, unlearn so many things to reveal your true self. That's a good thing. It's a beautiful thing. And the world needs more of those people. And so, again, Audrey, thank you so much for telling your story and letting me be a part of hearing it.

David Ames  1:26:45  
The secular great start of the week is about radical acceptance. I've been thinking about this from last week's guests, Taylor Yoder, this week's guest Audrey and my discussion on the beyond atheism podcast with Nathan Alexander and Todd Tavares. A lot of the conception of secular grace comes from some of my experience with 12 steps when I was very young, and my mom was in early recovery. And it was about watching someone tell their story. Sometimes horrifying stories, sometimes stories that talked about really, truly hurting people. And then washing that group of people love and accept that person. And what I'm not saying is that they condone it, they weren't saying it was okay. They weren't saying it was right. They were saying that they loved that person. And they were gonna love them through their recovery process in that context. I'd been pulling that out into secular grace, in the recognition that we as human beings need to feel accepted, to feel loved. And a couple of things that Audrey and Taylor said, Taylor last week said, after she d converted, she realized that, you know, there was no one following her around judging her. And Audrey talked about just the guilt that she felt that constant guilt. And it is letting go of the Christian conception of sin and the guilt and the sense of being judged constantly, not just by God up above, but from the community of faith that you belong to. The experience of coming out of that and being authentically yourself. And this doesn't mean that you don't make mistakes, To err is human. To forgive is also human. It is the human experience that we are not perfect, and that's okay, and we can embrace ourselves and our humanity. Everything about this podcast has been about embracing our own humanity and bracing the humanity of others. Once we have come to a wholeness for ourselves, we can give that away we can be the person who hears the story from someone else and loves them through it. We have some great episodes coming up. We've got community members, and as well as Stacey who goes by apostasy, which I just absolutely love. And then in early March, we have Jennifer Michael Hecht, and we're going to have our four year anniversary podcast where we're going to talk about movies we like that talk about secular grace and deconversion. In fact, if you're out there, send us your recommendations on movies and TV shows that have a element about secular grace or deconversion. 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 Do 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 atheist United studios Podcast Network

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Dave Gossen: Agnostic and Done

Agnosticism, Deconversion, Dones, Podcast, Unequally yoked
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Our guest this week is Dave. Dave grew up in the Mennonite Brethren faith and followed all the rules until at age 50, a gift from his son made him begin to ask questions. Dave’s love for his family and a desire for truth are equally apparent in his story. He asked hard questions and was never given satisfying answers. Knowing he had to tell his wife about his waning faith, Dave feared the consequences. Fortunately, Dave and his family have chosen to turn toward one another in love. It has been a trying journey for Dave, but he knows that pursuing truth and loving the people around you give life purpose.

Tweet-worthy quotes

“When the Jenga tower begins to fall, it falls big time.”

“Good science. Good medicine. Good doctors.

“Taking the Bible for granted. Taking the existence of God for granted…Maybe I’ve got to question the things that I’ve been taught my entire life.’’

“Don’t be afraid to ask questions. The things that you were taught your whole life? Just make sure you do some critical thinking about them.”





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Jose Ramos: Deconverted In The Pulpit

Atheism, Critique of Apologetics, Deconstruction, Deconversion, ExVangelical, Podcast, Unequally yoked
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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.





Sam Harris’ Making Sense

Hannah’s episode

Clergy Project



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Hannah Ramos: From Unequally Yoked To Deconverted

Autonomy, Deconstruction, Deconversion, ExVangelical, Podcast, Purity Culture, Unequally yoked
Hannah and Jose
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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.


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Monique: Deconversion Anonymous

Autonomy, Deconstruction, Deconversion, Deconversion Anonymous, LGBTQ+, Podcast, Purity Culture, Religious Abuse, Secular Grace, Unequally yoked
Listen on Apple Podcasts

This week’s show is a Deconversion Anonymous episode.

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.



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Joel: Deconversion Anonymous

Atheism, Autonomy, Deconversion, Deconversion Anonymous, ExVangelical, Hell Anxiety, LGBTQ+, Podcast, Unequally yoked
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This week’s show is a Deconversion Anonymous episode.

My guest this week is Joel. Joel grew up in the WELS Lutheran church. He met his wife at a Christian group during college. They attended a few churches, one of which was Mars Hill, Mark Driscoll’s church.

Joel began to question what he had been taught. He began noticing discrepancies in scripture. He began to see the way the Church handled LGBTQ rights and the role of women was wrong.

Am I waiting for revelation to confirm what I have been taught
or am I avoiding an inevitable confrontation with my real thoughts and beliefs.

He was able to reconnect with his sister as they grieved the loss of his grandfather. He discovered that she had deconstructed as well. He began to see atheism as not just reductionist and evil but as a viable option.

I got really afraid, to be honest, because I am not thinking “oh, I am finally learning the truth.”
I am thinking, “I am losing this faith that I should be given and I am falling away I am going to be punished for it.”

Today he is making his unequally yoked relationship work with mutual respect and love. And he is experiencing “absolute joy that the shackles are off.”

It started to make me think of blind faith as a concept. And I started to think, “Am I also blindly faithful of things and what does that look like?”



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Jason: Deconversion Anonymous

Atheism, Critique of Apologetics, Deconstruction, Deconversion, Deconversion Anonymous, ExVangelical, Humanism, Podcast, Purity Culture, Unequally yoked
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This week’s show is a Deconversion Anonymous episode.

My guest this week is Jason, the son of a pastor. He grew up in the independent Christian Churches, an offshoot of Church of Christ that allows music. He grew up doing “sword drills” and was a devout teenage believer. He participated in Bible memorization contests. He became a musician and participated in worship bands for years.

In Jason’s young adulthood he began to question his own interpretation of the Bible. Why was bad language bad? Why the limited role of women in the church? How could a loving god send people to Hell? Eventually, the disparity between the idea of a loving god and the reality of the world and the suffering of innocent children led to his deconversion.

Anything you do with the bible is interpretation.

Jason’s wife is still a believer though they both deconstructed from Evangelicalism and started participating in an Episcopal church. They are making an “unequally yoked” relationship work based on love, equality and mutual respect.


Captain Cassidy interview

Roll To Disbelieve


Deconversion Anonymous


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Daniel Kelly: When Belief Dies

Atheism, Autonomy, Deconstruction, Deconversion, Hell Anxiety, LGBTQ+, Podcast, Podcasters, Purity Culture, Unequally yoked
Listen on Apple Podcasts

My guest this week is Daniel Kelly, the new co-host of When Belief Dies. Daniel began as a Charismatic Christian, moved to an Orthodox Christian church and eventually was at a Bible church that preached through every verse in the bible.

Daniel was a dedicated Christian working in a Christian non-profit helping those with disabilities. His mother had MS when he grew up so he was focused on helping his family through difficult times and did not always get to be a kid.

I believed I had to be perfect and I had to be helpful to everyone in order to be valuable.

Daniel’s feminism and belief in the humanity of the LGBTQ community, led to moral objections to some of the harder Biblical passages that do not uphold the humanity and full autonomy of everyone. His serious investigations into theology and the Bible were some of the early seeds that led to deconversion.

The grief Daniel experienced leaving the faith and the loss were profound. He lost his faith, his community, the health of his relationship and on top of that the pandemic hit. He was isolated and alone. He experienced “Hell Anxiety” and worried he was a “vessel of wrath.” The first year after deconversion was one of the most difficult of his life.

He made it through and today he is the co-host of the When Belief Dies podcast. He is building healthy relationships and restoring family relations. He is experiencing the freedom to love people unconditionally.


When Belief Dies Podcast

Recovering From Religion

Secular Therapy


Sam and Daniel interview me

Daniel and I interview Sam

Tris Mamone’s Finding Faith in Secular Grace


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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 am trying to be the graceful atheist. Please rate and review the podcast on pod or the Apple podcast store and subscribe wherever you are listening. Also, please consider voting and nominating the podcast on the podcast spirituality and religion category. Special thanks to Mike T for editing today's episode. onto today's show. My guest today is Daniel Kelly. Daniel is the new co host of when belief dies with Sam Davis. Daniel and Sam interviewed me on an episode a few weeks back and Daniel and I interviewed Sam that went on when belief dies a few weeks ago as well. Daniel has recently appeared on the when belief dies podcast as the ongoing co host. I got the opportunity to interview Daniel and hear his story firsthand here. And it is an amazing story. Daniel began as a more of a charismatic Protestant, he went to an orthodox church for a while, he really got serious about theology and studying. And some of those seeds lead to future doubt. Daniel also expresses the incredible grief and loss of the deconversion processes. This occurred for him shortly before the beginning of the pandemic, and the experience of the loss of community was profound and difficult. And it just reminds us to tell you that you don't have to go through this alone. If you need to talk to someone immediately recovering from has a chat hotline and you can talk to someone right now. Secular also has a list of secular therapists that we highly recommend. But now here's my conversation with Daniel Kelly.

Daniel Kelly, welcome to the graceful atheist podcast.

Daniel Kelly  2:30  
Thanks very much, David, looking forward to chatting to you again.

David Ames  2:33  
Yes, absolutely. So we're gonna acknowledge here that the timing is interesting, you are a host of when belief dies with Sam. And you actually were on when you and I interviewed Sam, and that aired on when belief dies. But you are just now i'll probably as people are listening to this coming on as the CO hosts for that podcast. So the timing is just a little different based on the delay that you guys have had. But I'm really excited to have you here today to hear your story. So as much of your story as we can tell. And then at the kind of near the end there. We'll we'll talk more about your work on the podcasts. So let's begin with what was your faith tradition growing up? What was that? Like? Were you a really serious Christian?

Daniel Kelly  3:19  
Yeah, so I grew up in a Christian household. And it was a far more charismatic, you know, gifts of the Spirit kind of church that I grew up in. And, you know, obviously, as a kid, that's all I knew, sort of went along with it. But as I sort of entered into my teenage years, I found this magical thing called theology. And I absolutely loved it. You know, I had a copy of Wayne Grudem, systematic theology, and I'd worked my way through the entirety of it. And, and I found that the church that I grew up in, I became more skeptical of the cultural Christianity. And I, I started to question, well, you know, is this true? Or is this just what people want to be true? And I found in theology like, okay, no, no, I'm actually accessing the truth. That's, that's sort of how I viewed it. And I went around to a bunch of different churches in the end in the local area. And I really struggled. It felt like they all sort of had this culture of Christianity. But you know, having these these theological conversations that I was reading about in all my, my textbooks just wasn't going on. And I really struggled with that. So, curiously, I ended up at an Eastern Orthodox Church.

David Ames  4:52  

Daniel Kelly  4:54  
I can't wait, which, you know, was tiny because it's, it's it's Scotland. This is not a The images that you didn't expect much orthodoxy around, but I fell in love with it. You know, obviously, there was just such a different type of worship. But it felt older, it felt ancient. And alongside that, you know, they introduced me to a lot of the, the early church fathers, people like basil couristan Athanasius, these sort of people and, you know, discovered the work of Augustine as well. Okay, who, as I was engaged with Reformed theology was a key part of so you know, that there's some really great teaching there as well. So I absolutely loved, absolutely loved the place and yeah, but eventually I moved out of Scotland, I went to work for a Christian charity down in England, in Yorkshire. and rent a bit there, I had the same struggle finding a church, you know, I couldn't find an Orthodox Church with the same sort of culture. You know, there were very other few Christians who would had any knowledge, real knowledge of Orthodoxy, nevermind, Orthodox themselves. You know, I wasn't fully orthodox myself, I wasn't fully part of that church. But I kind of, I would have said, I had the heart of an orthodox while the mind of a reformed Christian and okay, you know, this was my Christian project to find what what was the true Christianity at the very core of it, because the Orthodox claim to hold on to the original Christianity, the reformers were trying to bring it back to the original Christianity. So I want you to get at that sort of eternal truth.

David Ames  6:45  
Now, and you're telling my story, theology being an important part, I often say that Jesus, the Jesus of the, the Gospels, one my heart, you know, I've come for the sick and not the Well, that was like, I'm there Right? At but it was the ology, and specifically systematic theology and college for me that was like that one my mind. And like, I think I've remained a Christian, for much longer than I would have had not had that theological background, and it kind of gave you the playground the, to work with that to have a kind of an never ending puzzle to work with and engage with the intellect. And in some way, the question that I have for you is, I think it's relatively unique, relatively rare, let's just say, to go from a more Protestant to beginning to look at an Orthodox Church. What were the differences? And was was that striking to you? In some way I am, where I'm getting at is, I think many people remain myopic in their own cultural Christianity to use your term and don't, and then they can be shocked when they go, even to the church down the street. Right. So what was that experience? Like?

Daniel Kelly  8:03  
Yeah, I mean, I guess the curiosity too, called First and foremost, and just, I guess, because it was outside of my culture, all I could get out of it was the more things that I could understand and things that I could intellectually engage with. But also, there's the sort of the, like, because the liturgy is that they use an orthodoxy is so old. Yeah. And you're surrounded in that room with all the different icons of these, you know, Heroes of Christian faith. There's, there's almost a timelessness to it. And it's, it's closer to, you know, I can't get along with meditation now, which is weird, because in that Orthodox liturgy, it almost feels like a meditative state. And the, you know, to describe it emotionally, it's sort of like the walls fall away, and you're there with the Church throughout, not just throughout the whole world, but throughout all time. And that sort of connects you into that wider story, which I guess because I was on that intellectual journey, trying to uncover sort of more historical intellectual Christianity, that sort of experience alongside it sort of coincided with that. So yeah, it was kind of foreign and I just asked so many questions, which, obviously, they were more than happy to, like, ya know, why do you kiss icons, and, and all these sort of things. But, you know, at the core of, of, particularly that church, there was sort of a strong core of teaching theology and understanding the truth and holding fast to the truth that has been inherited throughout the generations. And I was more of that side of things that I really enjoyed going along and engaging with time again again.

David Ames  10:17  
So one more thing that I relate to, and I'll try to get you back to where where I interrupted you. I talked a lot about when I was at Bible college, you know, we would have our dining commons would be open 24 hours a day, and you'd literally be in there at four in the morning having some deep theological conversation. And when I got out of college, the hardest thing for me the most difficult thing was that people did not want to have four hour conversations at three in the morning. And ironically, coming full circle, a lot of the work I'm doing today is people want to have these deep conversations, right, and and when we find each other, that's really exciting. And so I definitely feel like you're a kindred spirit, if I can use that term. In that in that regard. And then secondly, to get us back to where I interrupted you, you were talking about moving and trying to recapture lightning in a bottle and that I relate to that as well, like when you are forced to go to a different church, even within your own denomination, you don't always find the same feel that you're looking for, you have a sense of what you want to be there. And when it's not there, it's can be disorienting.

Daniel Kelly  11:34  
Yeah, absolutely. And, you know, I very quickly sort of came to this recognition that denominations, men, virtually nothing, every single individual church had kind of its own culture. And, and it was very few, that actually really, I felt captured that, right, that desire for truth, over and above what was comfortable. And, you know, part of the culture. And you know, when I was when I was in Bradford, it took a couple of years. And eventually I went along to a church where they taught the entire Bible from, I mean, the entire Bible, like literally, their sermons for this week, we're reading chapters one and two. Next week, we'll read chapters three and four, right? Not a single verse was missed, you know, The Good, the Bad, and the ugly. And this was what I struggled with so much, you know, working at a Christian charity, where you're surrounded by all these different types of Christians. And, you know, the Philo theologian me with, every single time someone says, For I know, the plans I have for you, plans for you to prosper. It's, oh, it made me so angry. I mean, I laugh No, because obviously, my interpretation was just as much of a reading into that passage, you know, saying it's a promise of price does, as there's is no, you know, there is a, a funny arrogance that I know, viewed by for myself with that I had then. But you know, it the way that people used the Bible more like a scrapbook, where you took out your favorite passages, and just held to that, rather than, no, actually, that's, this, this book engages with the hardest and darkest themes of life. And, and we should be engaging in embracing of that. So I eventually found the church and it was, you know, a far more conservative, fundamentalist church, then I was used to, you know, as much as I was quite a strong Christian, I was also quite lefty, in my politics, and I'd grown up with a feminist ideology, you know, as as the standard. And so going along to church were some of the I'm I'm then having to challenge myself as well, you know, when they started to teach about complementarianism. And all of a sudden, I'm like, I'm not comfortable with this. Yeah. But at the same time, the challenge came back. Well, while I was trying to escape cultural Christianity, you know, am I just dismissing what the Bible actually says, in favor of the culture that I grew up in? And so eventually, you know, I tried to convince myself of that, and various other things along the way.

David Ames  14:39  
Interesting. In some ways, it's your moral intuition that is getting in the way, right. You have a sense of the equity for women in particular, and when that is getting challenged, you're having this moral reaction to that and having in your words to kind of overcome that.

Daniel Kelly  14:59  
Yeah, absolutely. and you divide. I remained part of that church for six years, you know, I learned a lot there, you know, they were really intensive with the teaching of sort of biblical theology and sort of reading the entire book I, you know, I felt like I learned a lot. But yeah, there was always that discomfort. And well, I felt like I could really get along with and except the people in my church, sometimes the, the wider community when we went along to conferences, because the other thing was, obviously I, I always struggled with LGBT issues as well. And, you know, going along to a conference where I'm being told, oh, you should support this legal campaign to against gay marriage, you know, it was always this really uncomfortable like me, because, you know, I didn't have this disgust response to sexuality, about, you know, the vast majority of people have been attracted to be women. There were exceptions. And I just went, but you know, I was, I was a very good Christian boy, and I repressed everything. I was just one more thing on the pile, and, you know, it. But at the same time, this, I could see the disgust response coming out of people. And that's was driving their theology rather than, for me, it was a reluctant. Well, God has said this, and I can't question that. It's, it's clear, right? And we have to submit to God, but it was this very reluctant. So yeah, these these sort of, to moral issues around, you know,

David Ames  16:55  
human beings, as human

Daniel Kelly  16:57  
beings. It's so much easier though. I don't have to hold this conundrum in my head. Yeah. So So these, these really came out quite strong. So what happened is, I got a job offer down in London, and it was a great opportunity. And obviously, London had many, many churches, most of which were considered good ones, within our circles, and so you know, where you could get good teaching. And so yeah, so mid down there. And I saw obviously, stepping back into a secular workplace, having been in this Christian community where I worked at a Christian workplace, and went to church. And, you know, by this point, 95 to 99% of my social circle was Christian.

David Ames  17:57  
Right. Okay.

Daniel Kelly  17:59  
You know, it was actually really quite hard to break out of it. A lot of the time. And literally, I'm, I'm in the office the first week, and it will, it would have been actually, three years ago, almost to the day. No, because, of course, very first, you know, one of the first things that happens as I'm meeting some people, and they give me this rainbow iced cupcake

David Ames  18:23  
for a price. Okay?

Daniel Kelly  18:26  
And I'm just stood there holding this cupcake going, Oh, crap, what do I do? Can I eat the cupcake? If this cupcake, am I betraying my Christian values? Am I betraying their values? Like, and, you know, I kind of had an intellectual answer to this. And obviously, I was not someone who's shouting this from the streets, and I had very clear, gay marriage should be legal, you know, God's law is something separate, and, you know, all this sort of thing. But still the idea that, actually no, I'm, I'm now actually working alongside and engaging with people on a regular basis, who are homosexual, gay, bi, trans, you know, and I want to engage with them. And I want to, you know, I started to really go, how am I going to explain this, if it if it ever needs to come up? And how am I gonna talk about this? And also, because I'd taken a job where I was managing policy, and sort of the development of of debt advice. I, I knew that a lot of my policies really impacted women. And I was reading an amazing book by women called Caroline criado Perez, called Invisible women talking about the biases that are built into sis stones and places by men, because we just assume, well, how we live our lives. It's how people live their lives. And so therefore, women are sort of missed out.

David Ames  20:14  
It's, it's built into medicine and technology and in almost every facet of our lives. Yeah.

Daniel Kelly  20:21  
Yeah. I, I love this book. And obviously for me, this was a massive challenge. And it was, it was that that that made me go. I'm also uncomfortable when I read passages in the Bible, where I could come up with an apologetic, you know, I could I could use every hermeneutic trick in the book. Well, you know, and, but more and more, I started to read the Bible a bit more with the anthropological lens, you know, and there were some other dates, which we'll get to, but the passages where I was reading, where was it an easier and more sensible position, or made more sense, that actually the passages that related to women, were coming from men with that perspective, versus coming from a god with the omniscient expected perspective, right. And obviously, you know, if there are some truly horrendous passages in the Bible in relation to this, and, you know, there's those passages like numbers five, where I could provide an apologetic for it, I could just about squeeze it out so that I couldn't hold to that passage and try and argue that not only could I answer it, but I could show how it was a good thing. In terms of purity, and the importance of Jesus's genealogy and things like that. But at the same time, why what if I was wrong? If I was wrong, then I was holding on to passages and declaring them as good and perfect when actually, they're saying something that that's deeply problematic.

David Ames  22:22  
Could you refresh me? Numbers five, I'm sorry, I don't have an off the top of my head.

Daniel Kelly  22:29  
Yeah, no worries. So numbers five is a tricky passage, where, effectively if a woman is suspected of sleeping with a man who is not her husband, then she would be brought in front of a priest who would take some holy water and some dust from the tabernacle, mix it together and force it to her to drink. And if apparently, according to the verse, if she's not set forth, the man should be fine. And she will be, she will go on to give birth. If, however, she has slept with another man, then she will be cursed. And the description of the curse is that her womb will swell, and her thigh will fall away. And when you take that sort of a theological reading of that text, you can sort of say, well, first of all, this is really important, genealogies are absolutely vital to the Israelites, and we're going to rely on those genealogies by the time we get to Jesus. And, you know, it's, uh, they're about to enter into the holy land. And it's not just any water or any dirt, this is holy substances. And so what we see here is God is in complete control. And it's as the purity and the holiness of his presence touches this awful depravity.

David Ames  24:01  
And, again, I don't know off the top of my head, probably not a lot of mention of the man who was involved in this scenario. No, no.

Daniel Kelly  24:14  
Whereas obviously, if you read it from an anthropological perspective, her womb will swell after she's supposedly just had sex with another man. But if she's innocent, she will go on to give birth, you know, probably doesn't take much to read in between the lines here. And that's problematic on a number of levels because obviously, this is not by her consent, she is brought to the priest by her husband. So the thing is, is you can try and push that apologetic, but the question for me is, but what if I'm wrong, but if I'm wrong, this isn't something people are acting out Obviously, I don't, I don't think any Christians are trying to find the tabernacle to write fulfill this, but it's still part of that moral framework of this. This is what God commands, this is the importance of purity. Even that word now sends a bit of a shiver down my spine, knowing how it's been used, especially in the context, particularly of sex and women. But, yeah, that that question really loomed large and became just more and more problematic.

David Ames  25:43  
You know, we'll just acknowledge here, the obvious fact that throughout Christian history, women have borne the brunt of being blamed for men's failures. In other words, they are treated as the Jezebel, they're treated as the temptress when it's ultimately the, the men within that culture that have been the problem. And, and even to today, they're complementarianism of today. The problem is, it's not acknowledging that the men are the problem. And I would, you know, would have included my previous self in this as well, of just, you know, a buying into that culture at any level.

Daniel Kelly  26:21  
Yeah, yeah, absolutely. I guess, like, I guess I had, like, these were things that were really niggling away at me. And they were way more problematic, because I felt like, Okay, I actually have to talk to people. And if this ever comes up, how am I going to respond, but at the same time, there was also more, the more boring and technical stuff that just was weighing on top of me, because, you know, I, I kind of always had this really funny relationship with Genesis that I just could not get my head around. And obviously, there's, this is a classic, you know, Christian problem, in terms of what genre is, is Genesis, because, you know, when I read it, you know, there were there were clearly elements of poetry in here. And my main argument was always, this is teaching theological truth like that is its core purpose, rather than, yeah, if you were there with your eyes, this is precisely what you would see. At the same time, there was always this question of, well, how did the New Testament off authors then look back at the Old Testament? And how did they read it? And I kind of got myself into this, a bit of a loop in terms of, you know, I want it to read the Bible for truth. And that meant understanding the author's intent and what, what they meant by it in their time and place. And so now, trying to figure out well, actually, it seems like both Jesus or Paul reference Adam, as a real human, and even some of Paul's theological arguments, are based on Adam being a real man. It seems to really struggle. And obviously, to a certain extent, while you know, the ancient readers of these texts were not scientists, they don't think in the way that we think now, at the same time, when they see this big, long list of people and how long they lived, they believe that that's how long they lived. That was kind of the 10. And it's, to a certain extent, I was struggling to figure out how do I match up this special revelation of God and how he's revealed himself through the Bible, verses? Well, what we observe in the world. And then Paul did something weird in the book, in this letter to the Galatians, where he says, Oh, the promise was made to Abraham. And it said to your offspring, singular, rather than plural, except that doesn't. It just doesn't. I tried to read a number of apologetics on on this and trying to figure out how to understand it. But you know, effectively Paul is taking this promise that was made to Abraham and showing how it relates to Jesus. And to, like, I didn't have a problem with the theological points he was making, but he was, he was stretching this passage and changing it to fit what he wanted it to see. As opposed to the clear reading that the author of Genesis had, you know, you know, even like Abraham is his name was originally Abraham, which meant father, and then Abraham father of many, and his offspring will date number this Stars. So Paul's assertion here that the singular rather than plural actually cuts against the entire narrative that was there, right by the original author. And so it all came to a head when, you know, I was reading one day, First Timothy, chapter two in it, it was another passage about women submitting to their husbands. And it were more around teaching in the church, sorry. And so women were not to teach in the church, because Adam was created first than Eve, which, you know, was this doctrine of created order, and it was quite common use by complementarians, and was kind of the thing that I'd accepted. But then he goes further and says, Oh, and Eve was deceived. But Adam wasn't. And once again, and you know, when I read the original story in Genesis, it's like, it's not really there. Yes, she is deceived, but I don't say with her, and then he eats the fruit. And if if she's deceived, well, then at least she she was just mistaken. Adam was just in pure rebellion, like, surely that's the bigger problem here like, yes, yeah. And then he goes on, oh, well, but she'll be saved through childbirth. What do you mean by that poll? I don't know that you've just thrown that in there with very little clarity, and how am I meant to take this passage? And go, Yes, this is good. This is helpful. Or do I take this passage as well, actually, you know, he's, he's a male, and he's living in a patriarchal society. And this is their interpretation. And even, you know, doing some reading around, you know, well, are women more easily deceived? Or is there any literature to support such a position? And the answer that, that I found, sort of reading through a few studies was quite effectively, a kind of yes, in that women are more likely to be victims of deception. But that's because they're more likely to have people try and deceive them. Because of us this morning, you've easily deceived. It's a vicious circle.

David Ames  32:26  
Yeah. So it's a self perpetuating cycle. Yeah, exactly.

Daniel Kelly  32:29  
But not because of anything intrinsic to that. It's, it's, it's society actually creating its own message. So. And that was just like the pinch point where both this technical concern of I can't make sense of this, and how it was then being used to create this narrative, which, yeah, despite constantly trying to tell myself, well, I can't judge God. The more and more I was considering it, and also, I, I read this obscure philosopher called zero, you call who was also a theist and a Christian and had sort of thought about different ways of morality. Ultimately, my moral contact I still had responsibility for, and to me that the cost of being a Christian, as a cisgendered, heterosexual, white male, was virtually nothing like it was it, you know, I probably will look back now and say, Actually, there were a few things, I missed out on problems and huge, but in comparison to the cost that it demands of others, it was too great. And, you know, for me, I was worried that one day I would become a father. And, you know, if I had a daughter, what would I teach her? If she came home one day and said, I don't think I'm a girl, or right, I'm attracted to girls, which even tell me these things. How much damage could I do? And I think the best image of I've found for this is like before I could flip a coin and if, if God existed, great, I win. If he didn't find a rot in the ground, no, no harm, no foul. And it looked a lot more like I was just a roulette table, putting it all on one number. And they weren't even my chips that I was playing with.

David Ames  34:50  
Wow, that is an amazing analogy. I want to respond to a number of those things. I don't want to take away from any of it but like, you know, I have daughters. In what through my deconversion, kind of prior to them becoming young women, so like, you know, I feel like I was able to get around that and really embrace them for whatever they chose, but definitely had the same concerns of when I was in the faith, you know, like, my daughters were whole, complete autonomous human beings, and I was gonna fight for them. And there was no way I was gonna diminish who or what they could become. So I definitely feel that

the other thing I want to touch on, and I don't know if I've, if I've mentioned this yet on Mike, but I recently have done like a Bible study, my wife and some friends. And it's interesting because it is going through the Old Testament. And it was reminding me of some of my Bible college training. So you have these two ideas, you use the word hermeneutics, which is how we interpret things. But the other word that is really important is exegesis, which has nothing to do with Jesus and said, Gee, and there, it just means interpreting the text, as the original author meant, and as the original readers and hearers would have understood it to mean. And then a third concept that is either very heavily implied or sometimes overt is this idea that you read the Old Testament in light of Jesus. And as I'm sitting here, you know, as an atheist, with my family, it was kind of this epiphany moment, like, wait a minute, you can't do both of those things. You can't do exegesis correctly, and do and read it in light of Jesus. And so what you highlighted earlier, and I want to compliment you, first of all, for being one of the most detailed person, people. That is very specific, Daniel. But what you highlighted was not only our propensity to read into the text, our current culture, but Paul's tendency to read his culture into the Old Testament text. And that is the thing that where we where we get, we break down. And my simple example of this is when I had mer Simka, on who's an Orthodox Jewish person. He pointed out that Isaiah 5553, rather, it has not only nothing to do with Jesus, it has nothing to do with the Messiah, as you know, so that just to give you perspective on the original hearers, didn't hear, Oh, this is talking about the Messiah, that now as an atheist, it's easy. This is a human document. These, as you've said, multiple times, every one who is an author of a biblical text is writing a theological document, they are making theological points, they are making a theological points within the culture that they are living in and on, you know, this side of faith that it's so much easier to just accept it, as it is. I recognize it for all of its flaws and some of the wisdom that's there as well, and, and then not be obligated to accept every word of it as literal truth.

Daniel Kelly  38:12  
Yeah, I think obviously, like, just because I'm saying this is not a divine book doesn't mean that you have to strip away its humanity as well. You know, you've read through Ecclesiastes, and you're just thinking, were you friends with John pulsar? I mean, you're just having this existential breakdown. And if you just at the very end, it's gone. Well, you know, life must be absurd, you know, we could have just had the early existential is, but instead, it finishes or therefore sort of gods, but you know, actually,

David Ames  38:48  
which many people believe is tacked on?

Daniel Kelly  38:52  
Yeah, it's brilliant. I think, you know, you can see some real humanity in it. And I think when you do appreciate it as such, and I think this is sort of, you know, I guess, you know, sort of stuff that was gonna touch on but, you know, obviously, coming out of Christianity, I just wanted to destroy it all. And to a certain extent, I believe this, you know, it's a lot of my learning, since I guess I've, I've actually come to appreciate more of, you know, this is a human story, and it's created by humans. And for that, I can just appreciate that. It's going to have all the characteristics of humanity. In all its brightest and, and darkest points along the way.

David Ames  39:44  
Yeah. To drive this point home just a little further, you know, in the last 10 years, just the last 10 years, we have gone through dramatic cultural changes with the acceptance of LGBT marriage. trans people are having a racial reckoning of the systemic racism within Western cultures in particular. And, you know, so that even in my lifetime, you know, I can read something from the 90s and think, oh, man, that's problematic. So, no wonder you're reading a document that's 2000, you know, 3000 years old, it's going to be problematic. And if we don't just accept it, that this is these are human beings who are flawed there in their context and their setting, that is just always going to be a terribly frustrating process. And then if you add on top of that, trying to interpret it as literal and authoritative truth, that's where things go deeply, deeply wrong.

Daniel Kelly  40:45  
Yeah. Yeah, absolutely. Absolutely.

David Ames  40:56  
You've hinted here that, you know, you have kind of this, this Reckoning and you kind of want to burn it all down, which I think is, first of all, a very natural response. I think that is, I think everyone goes through that for at least a certain amount of time. But what were those first few months, that first year, what was that like for you?

Daniel Kelly  41:18  
Yeah, it was, it was scary. It was great. Scary. You know, it was not even. I can't remember exactly when, but not long after that. I was just the in the house. And my wife turned to me, as she quite often would. She was reading first Timothy chapter two. And she was wondering what Paul meant by a when she'll be saved through childbirth. And it was this weird coincidence, but I was just caught in the headlights of it. And I all I said was, I don't know, I moved on, because it was truthful. But I, I didn't know what else to say. And I was scared. I was scared of what would happen if I said much more. And, you know, I was still going to church every Sunday for a good few months, probably about six months, in the end. But when you when I kind of made that shift from a dating Christian to a doting atheist, you see so much more. When you observe from the outside, and you see in, because in my, in my job, I was having to learn a lot of behavioral science things as well. You can see it in the songs, you can see these little nudges towards submit submit. Yeah, Jesus is the only answer. So if you leave, you're gonna be in trouble. Yeah. In in the sermons and, you know, this will satisfy you for a bit, but you'll need to keep coming back. It's yeah, you just see so much more

David Ames  43:12  
that you cannot unhear the manipulation. Yeah,

Daniel Kelly  43:15  
yeah. And it got harder and harder. And obviously, I was, I was just feeling like a fraud. Because I still had all the knowledge. It's like the skill set hadn't just disappeared to be able to read a passage and bring to light various historical facts, and it's different interpretations away stuff up. So I could still do stuff. And yet at the same time, I was going to believe it. But I don't, you know, this, this had been my entire life. And, you know, I'd only just moved, I had not long moved to London, this is probably a good year, after I'd moved down, this is going on and I'm I don't know what, what exists outside of that community, but I just couldn't do it anymore. And I eventually started to tell people and obviously, you know, I felt a lot of people responded with pity, mostly. Obviously, there were, there was suspicion as well. I got a dozen books just sent to be without any notice no one that wants, like, no one was really willing to have a sit down conversation with me. And, you know, especially because I done quite a lot of reading. I knew that. And, you know, I kind of had my arguments as to why I don't think this is either right or healthy. Right. You know, I was afraid of speaking. And, you know, for me atheists were Richard Dawkins or Christopher Hitchens. They were the smug, snarky Oxford men.

David Ames  45:08  

Daniel Kelly  45:11  
He were just mean. And I didn't want to be that they were still my friends. There were still people I wanted to connect with. But at the same time, you know, and also looking back, I projected a lot of anger. Because, you know, I was angry with who I was, as a Christian, I was angry with the way I dated, I was angry with the fact that I'd laid aside my moral intuitions under this, oh, well, I can't question God's I need to accept the truth I need to, uh, not really, I felt engaged with these things properly. Like, why had they not asked these questions sooner? These weren't passages that I hadn't read before I knew them. But Why hadn't I asked these questions in these ways? And also, you know, if someone had turned to me and said, I'm no longer a Christian, you know, my response, technically, as a Calvinist was, well, actually, that kind of means you probably weren't a Christian in the first. Yes, I know, I'm so sad there is this walking, talking contradiction to my former beliefs, and, you know, or, you know, something else has gone wrong. And so, of course, I am angry at myself. So I'm angry at other Christians. And I also feel that there was some rejection. I mean, I went for a walk with a close friend of mine, somebody was really close with and who I had talked a lot through my Christian journey, you know, they were originally a Christian, but they were this very liberal, free flowing, God is just love, kind of Christian. And I had taken them and turn them into this former evangelical Christian. When I tell them, you know, I'm bombarded with, you know, well, what have you been reading? Who Who have you been speaking to? How? How could you come to believe something so evil and arrogant? Wow. And, you know, when when they said that to me, I wasn't surprised. I wasn't shocked. I, I wasn't angry with them. I was angry at myself, because I heard like, behind those terms, I knew the thinking that was there. And I was hearing back. Things I had to create. I had indoctrinated, and I pray, I hated it. And those words haunted me for for a long time.

David Ames  47:55  
Man, Daniel, I can't tell you how well you are expressing this idea. I think that there the guilt that we feel for what our former selves have said and done. And you know, and you have the kind of the literal experience of having a friend kind of mirror that back to you. That's pretty intense. That's a pretty intense experience, I think, I think part of this deconversion process, or post deconversion or however you want to say it is forgiving yourself. You know, like, a few episodes back, I talked about, you know, you did the best you could with the information that you had. That was your understanding at the time. And all of us have said terrible, terrible things that we wish we had back. Right. When we were living within that bubble.

Daniel Kelly  48:48  
Yeah, yeah, absolutely. And, yeah, it took me a long time to get through that and also to get through, you know, how I then responded to all this, because, you know, a few months later, I I wasn't connected into the church, you know, unfortunately, my wife and I separated. You know, we, yeah, it just went through an incredibly dark time. I felt so completely isolated. Because most of the social interaction I was getting was at work, which kept me busy, but after a while and going through, yeah, just a really difficult place. I recognized actually, I'm, I'm really struggling here. I need. I need a new community. I need people around me who are going to support me because I didn't. I didn't know who my friends and family I could truly trust because they were all Christian. I felt they were all You're going to judge me. And some of that was true, some of that wasn't. But that's how I really felt in that time. So I had to go out, I had to go out of the house, so I needed to engage with people, I need to breathe the same air as them.

David Ames  50:19  
On this foreshadowing

Daniel Kelly  50:21  
was March 2020. Wow, yeah. Yeah, perfect timing, of course, as as prime minister, Boris Johnson comes out and says, You will stay at home, you will save lives, protect the NHS COVID is here, don't go anywhere. And, yeah, it the isolation definitely came at the worst possible time. And they got a lot worse. And, you know, it's, it's hard and weird to describe what I went through at that time, because I just really wasn't healthy. And in all this, as much as I have my reasons, you know, I was fairly confident that I had left my faith for, for good reasons. At the same time, I still had my moments of doubt. And, you know, those moments of panic, and I'm fear of being wrong, especially when, you know, as someone who was a Calvinist, it is kind of weird, because you look back, and then if we contextualize everything, you know, either I was mistaken the entire time. Or actually, I'm forsaken. Like, the every, every prayer that I made, every time that I felt like I was relying on God, and you know, he was the one person I could trust. I mean, what was he doing? Was he just laughing at me? Was he was the second by me, like, what, what was that? If I'm wrong, you know, why am I left in this situation? And then, you know, I, if you've ever talked to me about hell, as a Christian, I would have given you a very long talk about how Dante's Inferno is not canon. Be very careful about what we think about this topic. But at the same time, obviously, there is there is a motif, and there are passages like and, you know, especially for me, you know, the second John, it talks about people who would be deceivers, and they would speak against Jesus and, and I didn't want to be one of those people. That even though I did, because I was so angry, and but I didn't know what to do. Because if I open my mouth, I would be guilty. And you've got passages and revelation of a wine press, where you know, that people are, are thrown in, and Jesus tramples them to death until the blood runs for 200 miles. You've got Romans nine, where it talks about vessels of wrath. And this was, this was like the passage that really just was constantly in my mind, because it, it talks about people being prepared for destruction being set up so that and the kicker for that was the vessels of wrath were prepared for destruction, so that God's glory might be known to his first vessels of mercy. And, you know, for me, in those moments of panic in those moments where I'd got things wrong, you know, it would feel like, okay, this is what God created before. God created me so that I would have this moment, I would start to speak out and tear it, my friends and family so that in the final day, he would have this long list of things that goes, see, you're, you're nothing but that's their sort of wrath and I'm going to crush you to the cheers and adoration of your friends and family.

David Ames  54:42  
That's dark down. Yeah, yeah.

Daniel Kelly  54:46  
And I knew this wasn't rational. And I think that that was the that was the thing that really got to me because I'm usually this calm and collected, rational kind of person like these Yeah, these horrible fears were, were something else. And you know, there were things that I try and tell myself, it's like, well, you're not, you're not scared of Allah, you're not scared of these other gods with other forms of hell, why? This is the indoctrination, and you just need to work past this. But at the same time, obviously, and I was aware of that also, it was no coincidence that a lot of this is happening with the isolation. And with that, cutting off of off people, and this, this disconnect from, you know, the huge social circle that I had. And I couldn't even I felt like I couldn't even turn to my youth work colleagues or or some of the few non Christian friends that I have. Because if I then had to say, Well, I believe this, they've got sorry, you believed what?

David Ames  56:15  
Can I just acknowledge the, the incredible amount of loss that you're experienced. So those of us who have believed before we are losing the intimacy of a God, who knows that every hair on our heads, we lose that we lose, as you mentioned, 95% of your social circle was were Christian. So you lose, you lose that that was the end of a marriage. So that's got to be devastating. And then on top of all of that, the pandemic is happening. I mean, I just You're breaking my heart down, you're like, I feel for you how I know what it's like to go through parts of that. And you were having all of that at one time. That is absolutely incredible.

Daniel Kelly  57:02  
It was bad timing. Certainly. You know, I, I did. I did find my way through it, though. And I guess I and even through the darkest times, there was always something I was always driving myself for, as I knew there was a way through, and I could kind of find that way. I wish I'd gone for therapy at that time. I really should have. That was, that was a mistake. Because yeah, I was on the edge. And in a really unhealthy and unnatural for me, state coming out of it. But you know, a couple of things that start to help. So, you know, because for me, for some reason, in my head, there was still this idea that people don't lose their faith. Or the people that did didn't act. Like even though I had lost my faith, it still felt like I must be the only person that's true. And then I just thought, I wonder if like, I went onto YouTube. And I think I just typed in former Christian. And I started watching videos, I remember coming across a guy called drew in his channel, genetically modified skeptic, a great atheist activist. And I remember seeing his videos, hearing a bit about his story, seeing him critique other atheists for the same things that I was like, Yeah, that's what I don't like about it. And sort of demonstrating a bit more of a actually as atheists, you can have empathy, as well as intellectual rigor. And I'm like, yes. Okay. Yes, that's, that's, that's it. And a various bunch of other people, including, you know, going on to Facebook one day, and a friend of mine, Sam, put up that he was going to be on unbelievable. And I thought, oh, Sam, that's cool. I wonder what atheists you'll be debating because I've just been watching some of those episodes. Until he put up another post that was recommending Alex O'Connor's video and I was like, hang on a bit, Sam. I did a bit more looking. And I came across his blog and his podcasts, and we had worked at the same Christian charity. And basically, it's gone our separate ways. When I moved down to London. It's it's funny looking back at his texts, then we're just texting back. I'll be praying for you as you move into iron and all these things. That's hysterical. I know all of a sudden, it's like, I know someone who has gone through this like, Yeah, and so I reached out to salmon. Obviously, we started talking again. And, you know, obviously a couple of months later, that's when we then actually said, Hey, do you fancy joining me on when belief dies? When obviously, I've moved past quite a lot of this. So yeah, so that was, that was great. And also, obviously, Sam introduced me to your podcast and hearing other people sort of engaged with the real, the real loss that does come with, you know, I don't mind using the phrase losing your faith, because it is a loss in some way. I would, I would wish atheism on everyone. Yeah. The journey? I mean, yeah. On the one, you know, that's sort of a paradox. But yeah, I find that incredibly helpful. But also, I think, what was what was really important for me was just before lockdown, I think it must be in the weekend, or just two weeks, weekends before my dad has come down to London see me? Because, you know, he just really wanted to talk. And obviously, you know, I was so nervous, coming up to this. And my dad just reassured me that, you know, they still loved me, though, the, this wasn't going to change that. And as much as they'd said that when I first told them, there was still a lot of doubt, that actually that was true. But he said, I've just got one question. Do you think I'm stupid for believing in God? And it's kind of funny, because of all the questions like, it seems weird that it wasn't a question about me, but just sort of insecurity about this. It kind of took all the pressure off of

David Ames  1:02:03  
Yeah, like, that's an easy one to answer. Yeah, no.

Daniel Kelly  1:02:07  
I don't think I was stupid for 20 years, and then suddenly got intelligent. That's not how I think this works. Right. Exactly. Yeah. But I was able to talk about everything with them, and actually just really recognize No, I was, I was still loved by them. I was not a failure. As a son. Yeah. And yeah, eventually went forward for some therapy, to work some things through. Because obviously, like, I was so aware, that sort of this, this journey I'd been on that was, was more than it should have been. A, I knew it was irrational, there was something that all of this was was really setting off. In me, there's real insecurity. And, you know, even when my dad came down to visit, you know, he had said to me, you know, his, his, his main worry was that him and my mom had been bad parents, and that they hadn't done the right thing. And obviously, you know, my instant response was to reassure them and say, No, you guys were loving parents, I know you did your best. But at the same time, you know, my mom had multiple sclerosis. As I was growing up, my dad used to work Saturdays, and all the other days of the week, basically, because we had to keep a roof over our head, we eventually had to lose our house. That's why I work in debt advice, because I actually know the journey of Song of what it's like to grow up in a house that's actually really burdened with debt and to go through that journey. But he would work Saturdays, so the only day we have together as a family was once a Sunday. And that was the one time we be able to spend together. And also just recognizing that, you know, a lot of the behaviors and patterns that I had about myself had grown during that time when I had to be super independence. And when I needed to that sort of comfort, actually, my faith had provided that to me as a such a young child. You know, I and it reinforced some unhelpful things as well. You know, I believed I had to be perfect and I had to be helpful to everyone in order to be valuable. And of course, you know, my faith men, you know, yeah, you you, you have to suppress the desires of the flesh, you need to serve people. And in the end, you'll you'll hear from God Well done my good and faithful servants, you know,

David Ames  1:04:57  
all you have to do is be superhuman, and it's, it's okay. Yeah, absolutely.

Daniel Kelly  1:05:01  
And, you know, I think, sort of working through that journey sort of realizing that, you know, and this wasn't overnight, but through a long process, so of recognizing, you know, as a, as a little kid, I, I could not comprehend my mom's multiple sclerosis, I can understand that, I couldn't understand really, why my dad had to work so many hours, or why my brother needed extra support, you know. So when I couldn't get sort of the support that I did need, uh, you know, it was sort of this message of, I had created this narrative for myself, Oh, it must be because I'm ugly and broken. You know, I'm a vessel of wrath. And when I could really connect with the kids that had gone through that and reconcile some of that stuff, all of a sudden, this fear of judgment, this fear of, from Gods sort of, came into context of actually just been taking these destructive narratives that I've lived with my entire life and my faith, it's provided some cover to some things, it depends, some things that sort of provided half answers to, and all of a sudden, it was all just coming up, and I just had to work through it. And I needed to take the time to understand myself a lot more. And thankfully, I had plenty of time for that. Thanks. Thanks to COVID.

David Ames  1:06:45  
I think as we wrap up, I think it's really something very deeply important that you just described, and that is, when you are giving out to someone else, and you recognize someone who has been in the place that you've been, and you feel empathy and compassion, and you can then recognize that you are deserving of empathy and compassion and, and attention when you were a kid as well. So So for me, it's drug and alcohol and the family and being the family hero, it sounds like for you, you know, the, you know, a serious illness and the need for your dad to work all the time. But regardless, in the long run, you aren't getting the attention that you needed and deserved. And when you see that in someone else, yeah, that that light bulb goes off. And it's like, oh, you know, they did the best they could. It's not there's not an attack against your parents in any way. But you can also acknowledge that you deserve that you needed that. And it wasn't there.

Daniel Kelly  1:07:49  
Yeah, absolutely. And that was the thing like, hearing, hearing that from my dad, I know, sort of their recognition of that. And they wanted better as well. It was it was they were doing the best they could and I'd always wanted to support that message. But recognizing that and recognizing just okay, yeah, I need to change the way I think about myself, because, yeah, I've carried that along the entire time. And the faith was my coping mechanism. So when that was stripped away, you know, looking back, it's like, I can see why I fell apart just so much during that time.

David Ames  1:08:31  
Wow, Daniel, I cannot tell you what a powerful story this is, your story is going to really impact some people out there the hell anxiety that, in your words, you know, thinking of oneself as a vessel of destruction, I think is very, very common. And it's an area that can take years for people to overcome as they deconstruct and D convert. So I thank you so much for the vulnerability that you've shown and the depth of your story. I'd love the detail. That's been it has been wonderful having you on

Daniel Kelly  1:09:08  
Grant. Thanks very much for having me.

David Ames  1:09:17  
Final thoughts on the episode. Daniel has an amazing story to tell. And he tells it so very well. I really appreciate Daniel telling his story here. One of the ironies of deconversion is that it's very often that a person has a moral feeling of the wrongness of what Christianity teaches, and that that is one of the precipitating events that leads to deconversion. And in this case, Daniel having an understanding of feminism and the autonomy and wholeness of women and LGBTQ community members, as he was going all the way through the Bible that that was one of the As triggers for him, The irony being that Christianity tries to claim whole ownership of morality, and suggest that non believers don't have any moral framework. And this is just demonstrably untrue. The other thing I thought was really fascinating is talking about Paul's interpretation of the Old Testament, and the recognition that this is not a new phenomenon. There is no way to approach the Bible without interpreting it. So everyone has an interpretation of the Bible, including Paul himself. And that realization can be really freeing, in that you aren't rejecting some deities, word off the mountain, you're rejecting someone's interpretation of the claim that that comes from some deity. And as I recently said, on another podcast, whether or not there is an objective morality, and that's a whole other conversation, you should be terrified of anyone who tells you that they know what it is, and you should do what they say. Bottom line, that is the most dangerous thing has ever happened in history as any one group or any one person who says, They know what's right, and you need to do what they say. Daniel also expressed this idea of the guilt that we feel about the way we used to talk to people the things we might have said the things we might have done, he recognized when he told his friend that he had he converted. And his friend saw that as arrogance. What was brilliant about Daniel is he recognized that he would have done the same, that's the humility that we need to get to. And that's the secular grace, we need to get to that we would have done the same. So how we handle the conservative believers in our lives, needs to be with grace. And that is really, really hard, and it is unfair, but that is the way it is. And then Daniels experience of so much loss, all at the same time. Going through deconversion, losing the community, he said 95% of his social group were Christians having marital difficulties right then probably because of the process of deconversion. And then all on top of that 2020 hits, and we're all isolated. So I just grieve for Daniel, and I'm so thankful that he has made it through. It is a difficult process. I'm not gonna lie to you, it can be very lonely. Part of the reason we do this podcast is to say that you are not alone. And as I mentioned at the top of the podcast, if you need immediate assistance, recovering from, has an online chat, I believe you can even get on the phone there. Reach out to them, somebody can talk to you right right now, as well as secular therapy, which has a number of secular therapists who you could talk to you you can talk through this process with someone so you do not have to go through this alone. I want to thank Daniel for being on the podcast for sharing his story with such vulnerability and how articulate he was going into specific verses in numbers add Second Timothy at the specific reasons why he had to reach some intellectual honesty. Thank you, Daniel, for being on the show. Remember, you can catch Daniel on the when belief dies podcast with Sam Davis. He is an excellent co host. You can hear he and I interviewing Sam on the Wimba leaf dies podcast from a few weeks ago. And you can hear Sam and Daniel interviewing me on this podcast a few weeks ago as well. So I will put links into the show notes for all of these things. So you can hear more from Daniel. For the secular Grace Thought of the Week, I want to give a shout out to Tris Ramon, they wrote an article about self grace, after having read some of my work about secular grace. And this ties into what Daniel talked about as well, having felt gullible, how could I have believed these things feeling guilty? How could I have said these things. And it's just really important to recognize that the first person you need to forgive is yourself. I've realized how trite this is this sounds so sacrimoni Sweet, and I appreciate that. But the reality is, that's true. You cannot continue to beat yourself up for previous versions of yourself, the mistakes that you may have made, you can make amends if that's helpful, and you can forgive yourself and you can move on and grow as a human being. So the secular Grace Thought of the Week is to have self grace. I have a bunch of interviews lined up in the very near future. But due to scheduling issues, there is a possibility that we may go to an every other week for a while. I'll see what I can do. We'll see if I get things lined up properly and we'll try to continue that once a week. But one of the things I said to myself when I began this podcast is that I wouldn't beat myself up if I couldn't live up to once a week, which is really challenging, right? That's a lot of work. So we're going to do our best Mike and I and I've got again several interviews scheduled and we will try our best to get those out to you as fast as possible. Until then, my name is David, and I am trying to be the graceful atheist. Join me and be graceful human beings.

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 for books on brisket 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 race. 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

Chris Highland: Friendly Freethinker

Authors, Bloggers, Deconversion, Humanism, Naturalism, Podcast, Secular Grace, Unequally yoked
Listen on Apple Podcasts

My guest this week is Chris Highland. Chris is an author of over a dozen books, he was a Protestant minister for 14 years and an Interfaith (collaborative, open-minded, inclusive) chaplain for 25 years. Currently a Humanist celebrant, he has a B.A. in Philosophy and Religion from Seattle Pacific University and an M.Div. from San Francisco Theological Seminary

The more I interact with freethinking humanists and atheists the more great opportunities I see for building connections rather than breaking them down.

My highest compliment to Chris is that he has been doing Secular Grace for most of his life.

A revival of goodness and graciousness!

Chris shares his love of nature and beauty. We discuss humanism, nature and loving believing spouses.

I am a follower of Beauty


Friendly Freethinker Blog

Clergy Project

Why I am not an angry evangelical atheist

I’ve never felt “called” to be an “atheist evangelist”. I don’t feel the need to convert anyone to my viewpoint or use all the mocking memes out there to prove what a great apologist for atheism I can be.

Do we have to choose between aggressive religion and aggravated atheism?

I don’t see religion going away, so I think it’s much more productive to find ways of working with those faith communities who are open to it, and those seculars who are open to it, than complaining about them top score AAA points or RRR points.




Secular Grace

Support the podcast

Podchaser - Graceful Atheist Podcast


Additional music
Dakar Flow – Carmen María and Edu Espinal

“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 am trying to be the graceful atheist. As usual, please consider rating and reviewing the podcast on pod or the Apple podcast store and subscribe wherever you are listening. I want to thank my newest supporter Andy all the way from Switzerland. Thank you so much, Andy. Andy has inspired me to set up a PayPal account, as I've had a couple of people asked over the years to be able to give to the podcast but not on a recurring basis. If you are interested in doing that. You can send money through PayPal atheist. As always, I'm more interested in people's participation. If there are things you can do for the podcast, I'm interested in that more. But if you want to support financially, I will leverage that to make the podcast better on an ongoing basis. Thank you to all of my supporters over the years it is much appreciated. Special thanks to Mike T for editing today's episode. On to today's episode, my guest today is Chris Highland. He is the author of over a dozen books. He was a Protestant minister for 14 years he was a interfaith chaplain for 25 years. He is now a humanist celebrant, he blogs he has been featured on the rational doubt blog that Linda Scola runs, and he is a part of the clergy project as well. He has been very kind to send me two books from faith to free thought a natural journey. And nature is enough essays for free thinkers. I tell the story in our conversation, but I became aware of Chris's work on the rational doubt blog a couple of years ago, and thought to myself, Man, I really need to talk to this guy. And just recently he reached out to me, he had become aware of the podcast. It's just one of those times where here's somebody who has been saying the same things for decades that I've been trying to formulate over the last couple of years. As I say in the episode, Chris is doing secular grace. So I'm very excited to give you my conversation with Chris Highland.

Chris Highland, welcome to the graceful atheist podcast.

Chris Highland  2:47  
Great to be here. Thank you,

David Ames  2:49  
Chris, trying to summarize your bone a few days is quite impossible. I was unaware of the fact that you've written multiple books, 12 books, it sounds like you're a prolific essayist, you've written for rational doubts blog, and the citizen times. You're a speaker and instructor. You're a former minister, chaplain for 25 years and you're currently a humanist celebrant does that almost cover all the things that you do

Chris Highland  3:14  
makes me so impressed with myself?

David Ames  3:19  
I had become aware of your work a couple of years ago caught one of your articles on a rational doubts blog. And I immediately thought, wow, this is, you know, somebody who I have a lot in common with. And so it's been amazing, you happen to reach out to me just recently with a recent article of yours that was kind of along the same lines of a bit of criticism for the atheist community, and more importantly, how we embrace the believers in our lives, how we actually go about doing good in the world, rather than just debating one another and arguing. My summary for this concept is secular grace is the word that I use. And really, I'm just describing my brand of humanism, but my highest compliment for you is that you've been doing secular grace for most of your life, and I'm trying to just trying to catch up. So we will spend most of our time talking about your work. But I'd like to hear first, you know, you were a minister for a number of years. So clearly a very dedicated Christian. And now you're a humanist celebrant and a part of the clergy project to talk to us about your your faith tradition, and what what led to some doubts, and what was that process like?

Chris Highland  4:31  
Well, yeah, thank you. That's a That's a loaded question and so many ways. I have tried to approach that description of the journey in many different ways over time, through writing and speaking and just a lot of thinking about and reflection, but it's it's kind of my own personal Exodus as I think of it, but at least it wasn't 40 years in the wilderness. Maybe it was a little bit actually. But yeah, I grew up in the Presbyterian Church in Seattle. And that was my upbringing and got involved in youth groups, from Baptists to evangelical to Pentecostal through the high school years and ended up going to an evangelical college. And the kind of the saving grace, so to speak. And that experience was that in this particular, evangelical college, there was a pretty good philosophy department, and good world religion teacher. So I took classes and really began to blow my mind expand my mind to way beyond Christian, beyond conservative Christian, realizing that there's a whole spectrum of beliefs out there, and it kind of set me going on a lifetime of, of discovery and investigation and what's out there. And and why should I ever think that my beliefs are any better than anybody else's? We're just a part of, I'm only a particle in the in the big ocean here. Yes. And then at my home church pastor in the Presbyterian Church to his, to his credit. In fact, I just recently reconnected with him. He's in his 80s now. And he encouraged me to go to the Seminary where he graduated from in the San Francisco Bay area. So I went down there, partially because it was Presbyterian, because that was my my roots, but also because of the graduate theological union and Berkeley that had, you know, very wide diverse faculty in different kinds of religious branches. So that was my, my ministry, education, my seminary education for the master's degree, but went on to find that the pastor of a church was just not going to fit me. And I kind of fell into chaplaincy, and that has shaped that shaped my my career, my vocation, whatever, whatever you want to call it for a long, long time. And what what made that really special for me and kind of blew my mind even even more, was that these were, these were interfaith chaplaincy. So even beyond ecumenical wasn't just Christian. It was Buddhist and, and Jewish, and Catholic, and Protestant, and Sufi, and a bunch of different kinds of flavors of faith. I kind of think of that as my, my seminary education after seminary, it was it was really getting in the trenches with with people who were mostly outcast, marginalized by by the church communities by all religious communities. And those were my that was my congregation for a whole long time.

David Ames  8:24  
Interesting. Yeah. Yeah. I think one of the healthiest things that believers and non believers can do is, is have exposure to that interfaith community right to hear cultural diversity, religious diversity, the wisdom of various different traditions, and just just like you say, have the humility to recognize maybe I don't have all the answers,

Chris Highland  8:48  
yes. And their wisdom. Wisdom is wisdom. And truth is truth. I mean, it just it doesn't really matter where it comes from. And, you know, even back in that evangelical college, one course I took one of our books that we were our textbooks, I guess, was the title of it was all truth is God's truth. And I thought, huh, that's already kind of breaking the mold a bit. All truth is God's truth. And now I would say, well, all truth is truth.

David Ames  9:24  
Yeah, yeah.

Chris Highland  9:26  
It really does open the doors and windows and, you know, that's, that's what it's all about to me.

David Ames  9:33  
Yeah. I think one other point of similarity is I often say that my I went to a very tiny, very, very conservative evangelical college, but I often say that my professors did too good of job. I wouldn't say they were quite as open as what you were describing, but the they taught me critical thinking and an investigation into the Bible and good exegesis and good hermeneutics and And that laid the seeds that that later I think led me away from Christianity.

Chris Highland  10:05  
Oh, yeah. Oh, yeah. Well, I took up somehow I took a year of Greek in college, you know, mainly to study the, the Christian scriptures. But what we did was we read a lot of classical things. So I was reading Socrates in Greek, before it was reading some of the New Testament in Greek. So, I mean, yeah, that can't help but open the landscape. In a lot of ways, you know, the, the little stream that I grew up with, really became a floodplain with with lots of streams of thought. And when, when one of my pious professors said, well, here, why don't you read Nietzsche? And it's kind of like, Well, okay. That's dangerous. But I did it. And I really enjoyed the, the engagement with, with things that made my mind expand.

David Ames  11:04  
So I think you identify with the term free thinker more than some others. Whereabouts in time. Did you start to say, you know, I think I'm a free thinker now and not a Christian any longer?

Chris Highland  11:18  
That's a great question. I think that I think it was through Susan Jacoby's book, you know, the free thinkers book that she came out with. So we're going back, you know, 15 years or so. And just reading that history of secularism, particularly in American context, pretty much convinced me Hey, if I'm not in that tradition, I sure want to be and it gave me Yeah, gave me an identity are a way to identify that wasn't based on a negative. So I will say that I, I do. I just feel much more comfortable with with a positive like that. And then saying atheist, you know, I really have in my life that it's been all about trying to build bridges be constructive, creative, open lines of communication, where possible, and to refer to myself as a non theist or non believer all the time. I'm not one of those. I'm not one of those, like going through life and saying, I'm not a Republican, I'm not a Republican. Yeah, it's like, that's not a, you know, it's not an identity to live with. I mean, I like what you're doing, because it's, it's focusing on a really positive aspect, that really, in my estimation, I think you feel the way same way I do. It's very important to, to interpret and reinterpret what, what nonbelief is about. So it's not all non non non all the time.

David Ames  13:00  
Yeah, I absolutely felt it was important to have a positive statement. You know, so I personally liked the term humanism or humanist, yes, but I like to summarize it by just saying I believe in people. Yeah. You know, we were talking about wisdom earlier in that, you know, if from a more naturalists perspective, you know, religion is a natural phenomenon. It's a human cultural phenomenon. And so that, that wisdom is human wisdom, and we can borrow from it as much as we want.

Chris Highland  13:29  
That's right. That's right. And I I'm attracted to that, too. In fact, a couple of years ago, I became a humanist celebrant. And that was partly to, you know, my identity for so many years was a chaplain, clergy person who could work with people of many different backgrounds. And so I kind of people ask, Well, what do you feel like you missed when you let left? All of that left the church left faith? And part of it is that role of being a professional helper, I guess. And so becoming a humanist celebrant really opened up the opportunity for me to be, you know, to perform weddings legally, and be a part of that. So I was working with an organization over the past couple of years. That was a consortium of of humanist celebrants and performing lots of weddings. And I've just found out Oh, a lot of couples were was just grateful. It could be that someone could work with them wasn't going to impose beliefs and celebrate love with them. mean, I mean, what better thing can you do?

David Ames  14:49  
That's a pretty pretty good, pretty good deal. Yeah. For people who are in the clergy project, the personality type is someone who is wants to be a helper to be pastoral. And we don't need to be afraid of that term right to to be alongside someone as they go through their life events, the positive ones like getting married, or the birth of their children and the negative ones of losing losing a loved one. And so do you still feel that pastoral? Like, call if I could use the term?

Chris Highland  15:24  
Yeah, yes, I do. I guess, at times, I've called myself a secular chaplain. I've kind of just played with that for a while. I, you know, it's not all about titles, of course, and I, I don't need to be a clergy person any longer. But I'll tell you, even though the word chaplain has deep roots in Christianity, that became such a part of my life, that that I respect that term. And, you know, I respect the person, even, you know, a person who's an evangelical chaplain or any other kind, you know, I have my critiques. And I have my own experience, what I think was the most effective what worked the best for the most people kind of utilitarian approach to chaplaincy. But, you know, we, we were always focused my, with my team, working with the chaplain team working with Chaplain assistants, in various settings, whether it was a county jail system, or on the streets and shelters, other places. It was, you know, we had a guiding principle, and it was presence, it was presence ministry, and it was simply being with people. So that takes away a whole lot of extra stuff that people feel like they've got to, you know, you have to have your own agenda. And you've got to be able to convince people and all that kind of stuff and pass along something. And, as I say, you know, becoming a chaplain was really a way to to begin an education that you cannot get in a classroom. It just can't and, and the people that have something to teach are the ironically, I suppose, or sadly, they're the ones that we're not listening to, because we talk too much, or we have our own agenda.

David Ames  17:47  
So one of the things that I think, drew us to one another is that we have some criticisms of atheist culture, and particularly online atheist culture. I want to preface this conversation by saying that I think you know, you have plenty of Skeptic bone a few days. So we're not talking about not having a skeptical outlook. And the way I've said it is, you know, it, it's frustrating to me that immediately as people go through a process of, however you want to describe it, the loss of faith, questioning doubt. deconversion deconstruction, the first sources that they land on are going to be very debate oriented, a very aggressive, dismissive, you know, almost angry. And so you've, you've written a couple of these articles where you're saying, you know, does this actually benefit us having that stance towards other believers? Do you want to expand on that?

Chris Highland  18:49  
Yeah, well, it's Yeah, I guess I pick up on these a words like, Well, other than the, you know, aihole. There's also just aggression, aggravation, anger, you know, an anti anti is a big one. Yeah. You know, if your whole your whole outlook is to be anti religion, particularly, in this context, I find that number one, I find that sad. Number two, I think that a person needs to look in the mirror and deal with their own stuff. And unfortunately, some of us who want to hold up on me, none of us like to look in the mirror about some of this

David Ames  19:35  
stuff. Uncomfortable. Yeah.

Chris Highland  19:39  
And so I think that's where some of the pushback is come toward my writing. But, you know, I'm, I'm married to a minister, my my wife is still in ministry. She's very progressive and and she's a teacher and a counselor. And we've been together a long Time. So she's seen me through this whole process and supports me. And that's an unusual story. I understand. That's an unusual story. But But I think what I like to point out to people, and sometimes it's a, I do it in a pointed way, holding up that mirror and say, look in the mirror. It's when people attack religion in general, or religious people in general, oh, they're all deluded. Oh, they're all just, you know, in a fantasy world, they're all really basically stupid idiots. And whenever I pick up on that, I say, well, Where's that coming from? Obviously, they've had a bad experience. And that's what they've learned about religion, that's, that's their experience of religion? Well, you know, I was once in a, in a little splinter of, of Christianity of one religion in the world, I was distant, a little tiny branch. Right. And that, as I've already said, it took a period of time to learn that there was a whole lot more. So I like to encourage, let's just put it this way, I like to encourage people to look in the mirror that and see that, okay, I am angry, I may be very justified to be angry toward my little group, right? Or a big group of it's the Catholic Church, or, you know, some bigger the Southern Baptists or something, I understand I get it, you had a bad experience, okay. So you can get all angry, you want to add that tradition. But, but when you start pointing the finger to make blanket statements, then you're talking about Quakers. And you're talking about progressives of a lot of different religion, you're talking about, you know, Catholic nuns who are doing running soup kitchens, and all of that, you know, a lot of good things going on, out there, in the name of religion, I'm not saying, you know, I'm not going to be a defender of, of everything to do with religion. You know, and I, and I have my own critiques. And I expressed those in a pointed way too. But I, I've done enough self criticism and self critique and self analysis, to know that, you know, it's kind of like calling myself a free thinker. Once again, it's focusing on what can we do to heal ourselves? What can we do to bring people together to deal with what really matters? Does theology matters so much to people that they got to argue about it all the time? You know, and, I mean, one of my neighbors, and I'm kind of exaggerating, it's down the road a bit from us is Franklin Graham. Wow, Billy Graham's empire, you know, is down the road from us here, where we live in North Carolina. And, you know, I could spend my time attacking him and say, See, that's what those Christians are doing? Well, that's not that's, that's only a small part of Christianity. And it's, it's not a healthy part of Christianity. And I've written letters to the paper about him, and I've written blog posts on their, some of their deception when it comes to the Samaritans person and all that. But, you know, I'm not going to waste my time, just attacking one branch of Christianity, one small branch of religion, or religion in general. I mean, what's the purpose?

David Ames  23:47  
Yeah, man, several things that I want to respond to you there, I think, one of one of my observations of, of just friends of mine, so friends in the secular community, who, who's still very actively engaged with people online, and you know, in a in a fairly debate oriented style, so people that I care about friends of mine, that still do this, and I think it's part of the, you know, someone is wrong on the internet phenomenon. Right? It's just, you see something that you have a strong reaction to, and that actually should be your indication to slow down and think more. Before I throw anybody under the bus. This I do this too, right. I think that Twitter brings the worst out of me, I take a potshot at a apologist every once in a while, and I immediately think, why did I do that? You know, and there's trollish behavior by Christians and there's trollish behavior by atheists is one of the things that I like about your work and I'm gonna try to give a quote here. The more I interact with free thinking humanists and atheists that the more I see the great opportunities of for building connections, rather than breaking them down, and it's that change in focus right from correcting someone's mistaken belief, from your perspective, to seeing their full humanity and finding out which ways can we work together? One more. One more way of describing this is, you know, I think apologists often critique humanism to say, Well, you can't justify being good or doing good or goodness. And I think, why do you care? If we can do good together, and you have your justification, and I have my justification? Isn't that better for everyone?

Chris Highland  25:40  
Yeah, yeah. Well, I mean, it does have to come back. I mean, humanism is great, because it's, it's about humans. And I'm a real nature guy. And I know you are too and a lot of this, we are common ground literally is, is the natural world. And we have to find ways of connecting. More people with that. That's one reason why I'm, I'm wearing my Yellowstone shirt today, to remind myself that, you know, the, the national park system, as I see it, in this country, is is made up of secular sanctuaries. I mean, this is the the secular answer to, to the church to sanctuaries is, and that's how John Muir and some of my, you know, my heroes might call them secular saints, sometimes, you know, people who have something to say about the natural world and want to draw people out kind of evangelists for nature. So, so how to do that in a way that that's inviting to everyone. And I love to, I love to say that I think this is responding to your question, let me know if it's not, but I can remember a time when I was in Yellowstone National Park, and I was observing a scene with a probably 100 other people. And it was a scene in a valley and there was a grizzly eating an elk. And there were bald eagles waiting to get their part of the snack. And then there was a moose that came running out of the woods chased by a wolf. And we all got to see that in one scene right in front of us in the wild in the wild. And he's kind of just I would just want to freeze that scene and say, okay, is that is that a Baptist over there? You know, is that a Catholic? Is that an atheist watching this scene? And it didn't matter? It's that sense of, it's that sense of awe and wonder and wildness, that I think, is really the core of our humanity. And why not? Keep urging, nudging us all toward that, instead of suddenly wanting to divide everybody up? Which is what religion tends to do? Why should atheism do that? Right? Why should atheism do the same thing that religion does breaking into this group and that group and getting and arguing and all that kind of stuff? There's a place for that, I honor a certain amount of what I hear from some of the more famous atheists the face of atheism out there. But I am concerned as you read in, in my one of my latest articles, I am concerned about what is the face of, of atheism? Partly because I want to, I wonder what is the face of free thought? What is the face of secularism? And if you ask people out there, you know, what do you think of or what do you think of if they only come up with these debaters and the agitators and the militants, and all those folks that are so anti religious, I want to say wait a minute, there's a whole bunch of us who aren't like that, right.

David Ames  29:20  
One of the things I've observed is the nature of social media is such that provocative tweets or posts get a lot of attention. So if you say something about, hey, we ought to be kinder to one another and love one another. It's, you know, crickets. Nobody responds, but if you say this group is stupid, you know, retweets and likes and so I've been very cognizant of restraint of restraining my desire to, to score points. And again, sometimes sometimes I don't live up to that but that but I'm aware of that as as a phenomena and so much of what we see, both in books and YouTube and social media is that the scoring of points is raised above actually trying to connect with one another.

Chris Highland  30:15  
Exactly, exactly. I've never been really a debater, I know I can, I can certainly I have a voice and I speak up and I write most of it, have my have had my shares of share of arguments and with people, but you know, a lot of this, I think David comes back to semantics. You know, I think I think choosing our words a little more carefully. Instead of speaking of religion, as I said, and some great broad brushstroke to say some religion, some religious people, some Christians, or as I said earlier, if you come out of some tradition that's been, you know, you feel like you've been abused, it's been at least a particular church you came from or whatever was, caused some trauma in your life and cause you agitation in your own life, then, then I understand you deal with that. But, you know, I like to bring up the possibility that someone could say, well, some in that church, now, I could probably spend a lot of time we could talk for an hour or more just about the Presbyterian Church, because that's what I grew up with. That's what I've known the best. That's what I was ordained in. I know that church probably better than any others. And I have a lot of criticisms. And here's the thing. I have a lot of friends, close friends and family who are members of the Presbyterian church now. Right, right. And so if I'm just going to say, well, Presbyterian, you know, the Presbyterian churches like this, well, someone's going to point out right away, and say, Well, Chris, don't you remember that other Presbyterian Church and what they were like, and don't you remember when they came out with this social justice statement? And they have these programs that are doing good in the community? So Oh, yeah, you're right. I forgot your right. So I forgot that I need to add a qualifier that says some Presbyterians. Yeah. You know, and so you do the same with with Christianity itself. You say, Well, yeah, there's a segment of Christianity that I have a real problem with, and I'm pushing on all the time, which is Christian nationalism, and some of that a member of the Americans United. And I, you know, I really believe strongly, we need to push, push back on all of that. But then I know a whole lot of other Christians who are anti that too. I don't want Christian nationalism either, right.

David Ames  33:26  
So you mentioned that your wife is a minister, and my wife is very much a believer, and we are navigating that together. And, you know, as I've often tried to tell her is that I love her for who she is, which includes her beliefs, right, that makes her part of who it's part of who she is. And I think of my my in laws are some of the most generous, loving, caring giving people I've ever met in my life. And they are both theologically and politically conservative. Right. So I mean, we have some disagreements. But so to point out that there are very, very good people who are believers is just a statement of fact, and we don't need to feel like we need to tear them down in order to work with them.

Chris Highland  34:14  
Right. Yeah. And I have a chapter in one of my more recent books on difficult conversations, and it relates a conversation with one of my family members. And, you know, she and I have some some very divergent thoughts. So these things, and we have some, some heated discussions, but we don't yell and scream, and we end by saying love you talk to you soon. Right. You know, and, you know, what's the problem with that? I mean, that really bothers some, some of the atheist circles that, that just think, well, you've just got to argue and argue and argue, and until you convince them well, that what is the difference between between being an atheist evangelist, and being a Christian evangelist, if you're just there to like you said to win, you gotta win, there's gonna be a winner and a loser. And then you can walk away saying, Great, I, I convinced them well, what did you convince them up that you're unable? Good for you.

David Ames  35:25  
One more quote of yours. I think this is from your more recent article, let me see if I've got this prepped here. I don't see religion going away. So I think it's much more productive to find ways of working with those faith communities who are open to it, and those seculars who are open to it, and then rather than complaining about them to score points, the point I want to jump off on is I think in some ways, there is a unstated or implicit and sometimes overt implication that secularism will just overrun religion entirely. And I think I agree with you, you more, I think religion is a human phenomena. And so I think it's not going away anytime soon. And so, if secular, as secularists believed that their role is to eradicate religion, I think that's a fool's errand. Yes. So I'm curious, you know, in what ways do you see that, that we could be more interfaith as secular humanists or a secular person and interact with people of faith in a positive way?

Chris Highland  36:33  
Yeah. Well, that's the That's the million dollar question, I think is what are we what are we going to do? What are we going to do now and into the future, when, you know, there are a lot of forces that want to fracture, fracture us and divide us? And really, David, I think it comes back to relationships. And, you know, I guess I get, some people probably get tired of hearing me say it, but I, you know, if someone has critiques of religion, but they've never talked to a Buddhist, or a Quaker, or even somebody in their own tradition, that that maybe wasn't in a small town in the Midwest or something, I don't know. Right? It comes back to relationships. I, I published a book a couple of years ago called Broken bridges. And it was, you know, really a collection of my, my essays that I write the columns are right for the Asheville citizen times. And the focus of that book, it wasn't a lot of, there weren't a lot of essays in there. But the focus was, you know, let's look at what's broken. And then let's make some decisions. Some bridges should just crumble and fall, let them go right now. Other ones might, maybe there's a way to repair those, but we're not going to be able to do it. One group of one faction of our of our culture or society is not going to be able to do it by themselves. So we have to find a way cooperate, and then then becomes that that real, free thinking moment when we say, well, maybe maybe a bridge over there would work better. Maybe we need to try something different. And what if that difference is, well, can we put aside our theological problems, our belief divisions, those broken bridges? Can we put those aside to finish this project, this program, work with these people deal with this issue, this this critical problem in our community, where it doesn't matter what you believe, or don't believe, right? That's, that's what intrigues me. And I will say that, you know, for 25 years of my life in those chaplaincies, I was working shoulder to shoulder with people that theologically No, I'm not there. I'm not going there. Right. But we didn't have the time. We didn't have the time to argue those things, or sometimes to even discuss them. It was it was okay, there's, there's that person over there who's dying on the street, what are we going to do for them? And then everybody adds their solutions to the to that issue, which might come down to that one person. And that's what that's what gets me charged up. That's what energizes me is not always focusing on the Broken bridges, but where where we can either repair or build a new one.

David Ames  40:00  
Yeah, I, I love everything about what you what you said, let's get about the business of, of doing good in the world together collectively. And if we're just focusing on the parts that we disagree about, we aren't effectively doing good in the world. And if we can just accept one another as in the fullness of each other's human humanity, we can work together and have a positive effect on on the world.

Chris Highland  40:27  
Yes, and I just want to add real quick here that I can already hear the criticisms because people say, Well, yeah, but you can't, I'm not going to work with those people are I can't, those people aren't going to want to work with me, maybe, you know, maybe that's true, that that's those, that's the broken bridges that maybe just need to crumble. But it might also be that, that you or I might not be able to, to make a connection, and build a relationship with that particular person, or that particular group or organization. But somebody else who has some, some, you know, relationships or connections that are already there, have some other way has some other way to make that connection. Let them do it. Right them do it if you if you can't stand Baptists anymore, because you came out of a tradition, where you just kind of you just can't stand it anymore. I'm not gonna deal with those people. Good, don't do it. But but others who, who are okay with that, and are open to that, and, and maybe have the time and the energy and the patience to try to try to build those bridges, let them do it. Right.

David Ames  41:40  
I think sometimes we need to step back and be more explicit about what our goals are. And I think you've touched on briefly here already, but one of our goals ought to be more secularism, more pluralism, meaning in the non scary version of that, right. So we're not saying more people who are non believers, but rather, freedom of religion and freedom from religion, right, that's ability to truly allow people there to follow their conscience and, and still give all rights and privileges and citizenship to everyone. And one of the things I think that the problem is, is that we we approach it as a zero sum game, sometimes like we, like we have to win, atheism has to win in some way, instead of what I think our goal ought to be is acceptance of everyone. And then that is truly a marketplace of ideas so that the best solutions can fall out of that. Why do you think it is? Maybe like, just give you a an impossible question, why do you think it is that we as human beings, we want to put people in a box and add categorize them? And and say, this is the other and this isn't? That person's not on my team?

Chris Highland  42:58  
Well, yeah, yeah, you're right, I'm not going to answer that. It's, it's, um, it does seem to be I mean, I guess we're tribal. And, you know, we want to identify somehow and with with one particular group of people, that gives us some, some way to make sense of our lives and give our lives meaning. And it's always the other, we don't understand them. We call them them. We don't want to deal with that group. Those people. And you know, what, what really changed me or let's just say, helped me evolve a more inclusive viewpoint is working with those folks who are marginalized the outsiders and, you know, working in a county jail for 10 years. You know, I was conducting seven gatherings a week, for 10 years in county jails, women, men, people and maximum security people and minimum security. And I had to go through some real change and you know, those people who are those people who are in jail, and I found out that there are some great people who end up in jail and some very hurt people who end up in jail and some very guilty people are in jail and some very innocent people who are in jail so I mean, just all across the board like that. And then the same on the streets working with people in the we do we all we always call them something that they don't have we say their home less home last. And, you know, we just we got to know people as people, right? Maybe they don't have a house. They don't have a permanent dwelling, but they're people. So it's I guess I'm gonna say it again. It's that relationship thing. It's like, it's like, Do you know any of them? Right? Know when when a family member told me a few years ago, they started complaining about, about gay people and all the gay marriage and gay, this and all. And I ended up saying, Well, what are your What are your gay friends telling you? That's a classic question. Yes. You know, and in applies in all these different areas people complain about all those people on the street. Have you ever talked to one of them? You know, do you know any of the names of those folks? And it does change things. So, you know, one of the things I'll say, to address your question, I think, David, is that the mentality we come to the world with? In other words, our worldview makes such a huge difference. If we see it as a battlefield. Right, where we're all you know, it's let's go out there and fight. We're the defenders, we're the defenders of reason and critical thinking and truth and all these things, you know, then I don't there's not going to be any hope for for people to ever work things out or find just find ways of working together. And you mentioned about, you know, should we be working on pluralism? Well, part of it for me is kind of flipping the question around saying, Well, where is the pluralism? Where is the cooperation already going on? And how can we participate in that. And I've seen it the most in interfaith communities. And I don't really like the word interfaith either. But it's a huge step forward from ecumenical which is just Christians working together, to people of different faiths working together. And then when when my wife was the director of a large Interfaith Council in the Bay Area, people like me were part of that, and and Wiccans. And some of the some of the, the Muslim members had a hard time with the Wiccans. And some of the, you know, hardcore, people of one faith didn't necessarily like the fact that I was there. And I would call myself a secular person. So so how do we, how do we look at a person and see a person instead of slap a label on them and say, well, let's go to the battlefield?

David Ames  47:58  
So I've got a question about humanism. But I guess I first need to find out is, is humanism, something that you identify as, is that a thing you care about? Or is that not a term that you use?

Chris Highland  48:10  
Yeah, well, as I mentioned earlier, you know, I am a humanist celebrant. So I guess I have to have some affinity. Well, I'm just gonna say that it's just it's just to me, it's just based on people being human together, practicing ethics. And, you know, whether people call it a religion or not, it doesn't really matter to me, because you as you brought up earlier, you know, I don't see religion disappearing, I see morphing, evolving, as it always has done. And if we're just talking about institutions, well, institutions come and go and leadership changes and dogma and creeds and everything, change over time. But the kind of religion I think we're talking about is is more what I get from people from some of the naturalists and scientists. You know, I love what Carl Sagan says about us. He, he used the word spiritual in spirit, and he didn't. He didn't throw that out. He didn't throw that the spirit words out with the bit with the Christian bathwater. And he went back to itself that I learned way back in college in Greek and looking at original languages that these some of these words came from very earthy, naturalistic things. It's a breath, it's the breath is the wind. Like you can't get more natural than that.

David Ames  49:39  
Yeah, absolutely. Yeah.

Chris Highland  49:40  
So that's human.

David Ames  49:42  
Carl Sagan man, I can't say enough good things about him in that, you know, he so eloquently expresses hard science, and awe and wonder, and that's a that's a beautiful combination that is relatively rare.

Chris Highland  50:01  
Oh yeah, I get to be with Neil deGrasse Tyson this evening and a Gathering Online gathering by the Center for Inquiry. Okay. Neil deGrasse Tyson will be speaking for an hour and live and so it'd be kind of, that'd be cool. Like, a mini Carl Sagan.

David Ames  50:22  
That's right, he is carrying on the torch with cosmos. Yeah. Sorry, that was a bit of a digression on humanism, I often ask people who are active humanists. Why do you think humanism is, is so rare? Or people or the identification with humanism is so rare? Or another way of asking that is, why is humanism fail so badly?

Chris Highland  50:48  
Alright, well, I was suspicious of it for quite a long time myself. Partially because I'm such a nature person. So when you talk about the focus is on human humans. Right? I thought, well, that's not enough, you know, I. And so I guess I defined myself one time as a natural humanist or something like that. I think once again, it comes back to how comfortable we are with certain labels. And then we I think we need to be able to define those labels in a way. That's why I keep coming back to will, how am I going to define better do a better job of defining free thought, and free thinking? So my wife and I have a couple of years ago, we went on the freethought trail up in up in New York, and went to Elizabeth Cady Stanton's home, and Robert Greene. Ingersoll is home. And you know, just kind of all over the map, literally, to see, well, where did these folks come from? What were they thinking? And why are they why were they free thinkers? How were they free thinkers, and what did they focus on? And it was always a humanistic endeavor. It was something to do with with freeing with literally freeing slaves, freeing women to be fully members of the, of our society, freeing our minds from, you know, any kind of restriction, whether it's political or religious, or whatever. So, you know, to me, it just it's a constant self reflection, again, to say, Well, what do I mean by this word? And so I don't, I don't always feel comfortable saying, Oh, yes, I'm a humanist. In fact, I'm gonna be teaching your class, I teach courses over here at the university, on free thought, and I always pick one of the one of these folks, you know, these voices like Ingersoll, and yeah, and others to Frederick Douglass and, and some of these last names like Francis right, and Lucretia Mott, and I love these people, because you dig back into those, those people and they end those lives and what they were talking about. And it they always have something for us today, to help us define and redefine what we mean by terms like humanism, right? And being humanistic. What does that mean? Does that exclude the natural world? Well, I certainly hope not. Because we're, we're a part of it. We are part of nature.

David Ames  53:33  
Yeah, I I recently talked to a fellow podcaster named Sam Davis. And I mentioned that I feel like I came to humanism, late, I think we're already talking about sentient ism, you know, or, you know, the, you know, to broaden this to all levels of consciousness as it were, and, you know, to respect that. And so I definitely am very much open to that. And I think we've been talking about the nature part of naturalism. And that, you know, it's just important to recognize that we are, quite literally in a scientific, hard, naturalistic sense, interconnected with the entire ecology and that what we do to the environment, what we do to animals affects us so in a selfish way, we need to be concerned with that. So I never use humanism in the sense of excluding nature. But I think the thing that is important to me is people over ideology, right like that. I feel like we we focus so much on ideologies and those can be political, economic, religious, what have you. But when an ideology begins to hurt people is when it needs to be criticized and broken down. In my concern is we don't do a very good job of caring for one another. I talk about the homeless, you know, something so simple. My wife works with At the school district in a way that tries to help families that they are struggling with housing and that simple thing, having a place for a kid to go home to has a profound impact on that child's education. And you can make arguments all day long whether or not the parents are abusing the system. But that kid deserves the best opportunities possible. It's just something so simple as providing housing makes a huge impact. Yes.

Chris Highland  55:40  
I do appreciate when they're more secular voices coming out, and kind of taking this word secular and turning it around and upside down, and shaking it and trying to say, Well, what what is this, you know, how to be humans, you know, living together on this planet, and not getting to, you know, adding my own thing to it, I would say just, we don't we shouldn't get too hung up in our philosophical, theological, political issues and, and identities and debates, in my opinion, because it just, it just takes away from I mean, that's what I was gonna say earlier, is it you know, it's fine to focus on humans, and the best part of humans in terms of humanism. But then, as you were just saying, it's, it can't be anthropocentric or anthropomorphic. And if we fall back into that, then we haven't made much progress.

David Ames  56:51  
Right? When I went through my deconversion process, which was about 2015, and I started to think after the fact, you know, I think I want to speak into this world, I want to feel like I have something to say, I was very cognizant of trying to remember what it was like, as a believer. And I think, in our email discussion I mentioned, you know, I'm positive that it's not about intelligence, because I'm the same person, I was as a believer as I am now. So that, that helps ground you know, remove some vitriol remove some hostility towards believers. And then secondly, and this is where I want to get to with you. Because my wife is a believer, and much of my family and and friend group, are believers, that also helps ground me to remember that I love these people. And I, I respect them. And I think they are bright, intelligent, giving wonderful people. And you can stop me if this is too personal. But I wonder if you would talk just a little bit about what that was, like, where you went through a change of mind? How have you and your wife navigated that?

Chris Highland  58:01  
Yeah. Well, as part of what I've been writing about recently, that kind of got some people agitated. You know, because I was really talking about education matters, education matters. And if somebody is bringing up a topic about something, and I just didn't study that, or that it wasn't covered in my education, I would just say, you know, I, I don't really know what you're talking about, or I'm ignorant in that area. Yeah. And I think we just need to be honest about that. So, you know, that is to preface the fact that my wife and I both went to very liberal seminaries that had a lot of interfaith connection, she went to Union Seminary in New York City, and I went to San Francisco seminary, so on opposite coasts, okay. But we both got steeped in liberation thought liberation theology, okay. And which made a huge amount of difference because it gets you kind of away from a Bible focus, to to an action focus to a social justice, focus. And both of us came out of that. So that was a parallel, right to begin with. So Carol is my wife and I like to tell the story, we both get very amused telling the story that my wife and I met carrying the cross and it was a good Friday service at a Presbyterian Church. She had heard of me, I'd heard of her. She was doing advocacy work with immigrants, and I was working on the streets as a chaplain. So we'd heard of each other. We're both Presbyterian ministers. We show up for this, this Good Friday service, and someone had created this Big I guess it was. I don't think it was Styrofoam, but I think it was some kind of pressboard cross or something. And about four or five of us carry that up the aisle into this Good Friday service. So we kind of, you know, that's how we we met. But it was, you know, that event, in a sense, meant something different to us than maybe even some of the other people who were carrying that cross. And people who came to that service focused on Well, this is Good Friday, it's all about Jesus. It's all about Christians. It's all about being in church, without looking around to see, well, who's not here, who's not attracted to this kind of thing. And how divisive is that cross? For so many people? Well, she and I understood that from the very beginning. So I think, you know, that gives you have kind of a long background, but it's really, it started with us doing liberation kinds of work, which meant being out with a people presents ministry, inclusive, working and a diverse environment with diverse agencies and nonprofits. And so she she started this interfaith group, I was already doing interfaith chaplaincy. So it was, it was a natural, in some ways for us. So I, you know, all along the way. It really was. It made us love each other, for what we were doing and, you know, what we will be might see in the future for us doing together, which was kind of starts with marriage. So we just decided that we get along pretty well together and think a lot of like, when it comes to these matters, and she has a lot of criticisms of the church, her own church, the denomination, religion in general. She is a member of Americans United as I am, she's she's gets really upset about Christian nationalism, and a lot of that real. Yeah, boy, I mean, there's so many ways to say, you know, what I mean, all the crap out there that comes from various religious groups. But once again, we both have a background, we both have, actually, friendships, with colleagues, and others from a, from a lot of different faiths. And so, and now she's gotten to know some of my connections in the, in the secular community as well. And so we, we've decided to make a life of it. And it works pretty well. We certainly have disagreements, but yeah, like everything else. We've been saying, you know, it's really a matter of, you know, do I want this relationship does she want this relationship? How do we make that work? I don't go to church with her. But I actually know the pastors of the church where she goes, and her mother goes there to the family church for years. And I liked those folks and a lot and get get this a lot of the people that go to that particular church read my columns every week, and they really liked them. So that tells you something right there. Yeah,

David Ames  1:03:38  
yeah, definitely. One last thought here. I think that people like ourselves who have had a, a relatively long lifetime of faith and then subsequently find we no longer can believe I think we have a lot to offer to church groups, right like that, that they can learn something especially if we aren't being trying to be critical or trying to just tear them down.

Chris Highland  1:04:04  
Yes, and that's that's the purpose of my my writing almost all of my writing, you know, my columns as well as the books in my in my blog posts and other things. I'm always writing about these things and I I often come back to what one reason I really enjoy John Muir so much living in California for years and I've been to his boyhood home in Scotland and you know, he's just a I would highly recommend him to people of faith to people without faith doesn't matter. And I one of his his most succinct statements is in his journals where he says, the best synonym for God is beauty. The best synonym for God is beauty. So if we just would all take that and live with it. What does that mean? Does that mean to deny that there isn't beauty, that there's a lot of ugliness, a lot of death and disease and terrible things going on in the world. It's not denying any of that. It's just saying, if you're going to talk about a creative force in the universe, or within ourselves, bring it back, bring it back to nature, natural beauty, and work with that somehow. So now, maybe that's better, better than free, thought free thinker, and humanist and all that stuff. You know, I'm a follower of beauty.

David Ames  1:05:37  
That's amazing. I could not have thought of a better way to end up here. Chris, this has been an amazing conversation, can you let people know how they can get in touch with you. And then a topic we didn't touch on, but just maybe a plug for the clergy project? If we happen to have listeners that are working in the church in one way or another? I'm having doubts.

Chris Highland  1:05:55  
Yeah. So yeah, both of those. Yeah, I can be, you can read my writing and connect with me through C, which I also call friendly, free thinker. So friendly, free thinkers, sea All my books are listed on there, all my writings, and the clergy project. That's the, you know, clergy And if anybody is an in any kind of pastoral work, or clergy person, who's kind of making the transition out, and you either out with that, or still have to kind of stay in the closet, clergy project is a great place to get support and connect and network with other people. So and that's, you know, you can you can be as, as hidden as you want to be on the clergy project now, a little over 1000 people, I think now members of it. Yeah, I've been there maybe, I think 10 years I've been a member.

David Ames  1:06:57  
Okay. Wow, that's fantastic. Yeah,

Chris Highland  1:06:59  
that's a good organization.

David Ames  1:07:01  
Chris, thank you so much for being on the podcast.

Chris Highland  1:07:03  
Thank you appreciate it very much.

David Ames  1:07:18  
As you can hear, nature is very important to Chris his book, nature is enough. He is talking about searching for the ordinary wonders in our extraordinary natural world. This is a 15 second clip of the bird calls that I heard on a recent kayaking trip. The audio is terrible. But I was out there, I was listening. I was seeing nature and I was thinking about Chris, this is my gift to Chris.

Final thoughts on the episode. One of the very, very exciting things about doing this podcast is all of the frustration that I described about people who are going through a deconversion deconstruction process, finding the angry or louder, more argumentative, more debate oriented voices is becoming less true. Because I'm finding people like Chris Highland. I'm finding people like Troy more heart. I'm finding people like Bart Campolo and Leah Helbling. I'm finding people like Sasha Sagan, I am finding people like Reverend bones is harder to find us maybe. But we are out there. That is incredibly meaningful and exciting to me to find another voice out there who is doing secular grace. And even though that is not a term that Chris would have used prior to this conversation, that is what he's been doing. He was doing secular grace as an interfaith chaplain. And he is doing secular grace as a humanist celebrant. In his writing, what attracted me to his work is that he is expressing secular grace and several of those ideas are really important. One is obviously just about relationships, as he describes it is about our connection with other people. And that's what matters and winning points or arguments is not the point. We also I think, agree that if the end goal of the secular movement is more pluralism, and more acceptance and freedom of religion and freedom from religion. attacking people of faith is the wrong way to accomplish that goal. At one point, Chris says he is looking for a real Bible of goodness and graciousness, that is secular grace. I also appreciate Chris's relationship with his wife who is a minister. And the more voices we can have on that are people who are making an unequally yoked relationship work in a loving and kind, generous and humble way, the better we all are. So I think Chris and his wife are a great example of that. I want to thank Chris for being on the podcast for sharing all of his lived wisdom for sharing his secular grace. And I want to make sure that you are where you can find his website at sea Of course, I'll have links in the show notes. He has written a number of books, those are all available on his website. Many of his essays have been published in a few different media, including the rational doubt blog that Linda Scola runs Lindell Escola and Dan Dennett are a part of the clergy project that we discussed as well, I want to give a huge shout out to the clergy project. If you happen to be paid by the church in some way or another, and you are going through doubt clergy project is the place to reach out, they know what you're going through, they've been there. And as Chris mentioned, you can have the level of anonymity that you want. For the secular Grace Thought of the Week, I want to just emphasize Chris's focus on nature itself. He talked a lot about John mirror and beautiful places in California, like Yosemite, or the Grand Canyon in Arizona, places where you can go where you experience or at just the grandeur of nature itself. And one of the things that we mentioned is to be cognizant of our connection to nature, that evolution works in such a way that there is a web of interconnectedness amongst us and I mean, this in the most naturalistic, non woo way possible. We literally are connected to the ecology and we are connected to one another by interdependence, by relationships. And all of that is critically important, selfishly, for the human race to succeed, we need to take care of the environment, we need to take care of nature. I really appreciate Chris's focus on bringing out the wonder and beauty of nature itself. As always, we have some amazing episodes coming up next week is going to be Vanessa. And she describes her story as opposed to dramatic church syndrome. She's incredibly funny and humorous, and has beautiful laugh and a wonderful life story to tell. We're going to then take a break over the Fourth of July weekend. There'll be two weeks there one week without a podcast. And then when we come back, I'm going to have Thomas, who is actually a relative of a previous guest, Jimmy that we had on a number of months ago. So we get to hear a different side of that family story. And then after that, we'll also hear from Daniel, who is the co host of that when belief dies podcast, he was a part of the interview team that interviewed me for my recent episode, and he has been actively participating in that podcast, so look forward to that as well. Until then, my name is David and I am trying to be the graceful atheist. Join me and be graceful human beings.

Time for the footnotes. The beat is called waves for MCI beats, links will be in the shownotes. 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 for books on Bristol If you have podcast production experience and you would like to participate, podcast, please get in touch. 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 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 race. 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

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