Erin: Religious But Not Spiritual

Agnosticism, Authors, Deconstruction, Deconversion Anonymous, Humanism, Podcast, Religious but not Spiritual
Erin by Haida Draws
Photo by Haida Draws
Click to play episode on
Listen on Apple Podcasts

This week’s show is a Deconversion Anonymous episode.

My guest this week is Erin. Erin is working toward her chaplaincy and her Masters in Practical Theology. She describes herself as “religious, but not spiritual.”

If I had to encapsulate my religious outlook in one sentence, I would invert the oft-cited phrase ‘spiritual, but not religious’ and instead say I am ‘religious, but not spiritual’. I have always had a deep-seated interest in religion, and I love the traditions, community and way of life which Christianity provides. Yet I have always struggled with the supernatural aspects of the faith; I could never grasp the concept of communicating with a God ‘up there’ while humans were ‘down here’.

Erin grew up in Northern Ireland. She was raised to respect all people. But when she was accepted by an Evangelical Presbyterian church she became in her words “the worst kind of fundamentalist.” This included deriding Catholics.

At University she excelled and found herself attracted to more liberal theologies. She says she went from Evangelical to an Open Theist to a functional atheist (agnostic).

Erin also happens to be on the Autism spectrum. This had an impact on her inability to accept things on faith. She needed logical consistency.

But Erin still finds value in the Christian tradition. She plans to do good in the world as chaplain.

Links and recommendations

Doubts and Loves: What is Left of Christianity (Canons Book 104)

Autism Faith Network

Autism Pastor



Humanist Podcast

Secular Grace

Podchaser - Graceful Atheist Podcast

Send in a voice message

Support the podcast


“Waves” track written and produced by Makaih Beats

Photo by Haida Draws


NOTE: This transcript is AI produced ( and likely has many mistakes. It is provided as rough guide to the audio conversation.

0:11 Welcome to the show.
2:31 Growing up in the “Bible Belt of Europe”.
5:26 In Ireland, there is a long history of protestants and catholics.
10:40 If God is all powerful, it either means he created evil and allows it because he’s awful, or he’s powerless.
15:34 The best of both worlds at university.
20:28 The transition from open atheism to agnosticism.
25:36 Another reason why autistic people are less likely to be conventionally religious is that they don’t tend to see an overarching meaning.
31:07 How do you interpret the good parts of Christianity without having supernaturalism?
35:32 What is Erin’s idea of what a chaplain does?
41:10 My final thoughts on the episode.
David Ames  0:11  
This is the graceful atheist podcast. Welcome, welcome to the graceful atheist podcast. My name is David, and I am trying to be the graceful atheist. I'm not going to make any comments about the news. I've had to record this intro a few days earlier and who knows the world could be upside down by the time you're hearing this. I do want to thank a new writer and reviewer par job P AR jop. Thank you for rating and reviewing the podcast on Apple podcasts. You can also rate and review the podcast on Apple podcasts or on pod Special thanks to Mike T for editing this episode. On today's show, my guest today is Erin. Erin is working towards her chaplaincy. She describes herself as religious but not spiritual. And she is on the autism spectrum. Erin also has a number of accomplishments already at a young age. She wrote a book during her high school years. She is working on a master's degree in practical theology. And she's working towards chaplaincy. Her joy at life, hers. Raviv is obvious as soon as you hear her. And I think her story is really important. I think her perspective coming from the autism spectrum is really significant. And she is ultimately doing good in the world. Here's my conversation with Eric.

Erin, welcome to the graceful atheist podcast. Hello, thank you for having me. I'm very excited to have you, you reached out and mentioned that you have a really interesting story to tell. And it's in line with some of the previous guests that we've had where you kind of described yourself as religious but not spiritual, the inversion of the typical spiritual but not religious. You're also amazingly accomplished at very young age, you've written a book, you've got a theology degree, you're working on a master's, if I'm not mistaken. So you've done quite a bit already. But let's start with what was your religious experience growing up?

Erin  2:31  
So as you can possibly tell from my accent, I was born and raised in Northern Ireland, which I like to describe it as the Bible Belt of Europe, because, okay, by demographics, I think it is the most evangelical part, certainly in Western Europe. Although my my parents, they were they were the good sorts of Christians, like, I don't think but good things to say about them in that, you know, we went to church every Sunday. They were decent people. But they didn't shove it down people's throats. So that was fine. Yeah. So in those early days, I have nothing but positive memories attached to the church. It wasn't until I got a bit older, that things started to change. So in Northern Ireland, this gives you an idea of how Evangelica is, whenever you start high school, everybody gets a Bible, you know, even though it's just you know, a government school, everyone gets a Bible Society. I mean, you can refuse it if you want. So we all got our Bibles. And it was also in secondary school, where my life started to go downhill. So I'm autistic, but I, I wasn't diagnosed until I was an adult. So school in general was just awful. Not because it was not because it was a bad school, just because I had no social ability whatsoever. So I was just dreadfully lonely. Oh, no. Okay. And, as I'm sure many people have told you, that is when you are a prime target for religious fundamentalism.

David Ames  4:05  
Yes. Yes, it is. Yeah.

Erin  4:08  
Yeah. Okay. So I have my Bible that would have been handed so I thought, you know, what? May as well read it. It's not like I've got anything else to do.

David Ames  4:15  
Okay. Yeah.

Erin  4:18  
And of course, you autistic. I took it all. Extremely literally. So then I decided, well, I guess I'm gonna have to find a church that takes it as literally as I do. Yes, guess. So. Whereas most teenagers would do. I don't know, sex and drugs or their rebellion. I decided to do fundamentalism. Is that Yes.

David Ames  4:41  
I hear. Yeah. Okay.

Erin  4:42  
So the church I joined. It's called the free Presbyterian Church. Its founder is Ian Paisley. Not sure if you've heard of him. I have not. Don't think he's particularly well known outside of Ireland, but he did have a degree from Bob Jones University. So he's that. Got it out sort of Chris.

David Ames  5:00  
And that tells us listeners exactly what type of Yes, yeah. The church

Erin  5:05  
itself. The people were fine. And they were mostly retirees, and I actually found that easier socially. Okay. So, in that regard, it was actually quite good for me. But unfortunately, as I got more into it, I think the negatives started to outweigh the positives. All right? Yes. I think I just turned into a rather unpleasant person. So, in Ireland, there's a very long, bloody history of Protestants and Catholics hating each other. And, you know, I was raised to not buy into that, until, of course, I started attending this church, where we're told that Catholics are awful, hellbound, false teaching antichrist, etcetera, etcetera. Oh, wow.

David Ames  5:52  
At a distance, you know, I'm aware of some of the history there, but it's really interesting to hear, you describe that just, you know, beginning to go to a Presbyterian Church, which I don't particularly think of usually as super evangelical. So it's really interesting to hear.

Erin  6:09  
I have been to a PCUSA church, and they, other than the fact that they share the same word and their title, they're just totally different. Okay. Yes, my poor parents, you know, they raised me to be a decent person, and then suddenly, what have I become? But at the same time, they were also happy that I finally had something. Okay. Yeah. In my life, that I'm not sure they quite knew what to make of it. There's quite a push in a lot of youth groups that, you know, you should use whatever talents God has given you, and give them back to God. So I was trying to think, well, what am I good art? I like writing. Okay, how can I give this back to God? So, because at school, I didn't have anything to do at break and lunch, because it's not like I was talking to anyone. I just decided to stay in the computer room. And I think, yeah, when I was 13, I wrote my novel.

David Ames  7:07  
Wow. me look bad here, Erin. That's amazing.

Erin  7:15  
Yes. So I voted when I was 13. And then it was published when I was 16. So it takes quite a while to turn a first draft into something that's yeah, readable. So because I loved CS Lewis, on the Chronicles of Narnia, I tried to do something similar. Okay, it's a fantasy story with a Christian message. And interestingly, my first draft was actually quite metaphorical with the religious stuff. It wasn't too heavy handed, but because my publisher was an American Evangelical company, you were very good to me. As part of the editing process, they basically made it much more explicitly Christian. of the American variety.

David Ames  7:59  
This is way too subtle for Americans era. Yes,

Erin  8:05  
yes. Which is why I, you know, obviously, I still advertise the book on my website. I kind of have a love hate relationship with it. Now.

David Ames  8:13  
I can imagine. Yeah.

Erin  8:16  
Same time, I don't want to cancel my former self. So it's still there. And of course, because there's practically no separation of church and state, I was able to go and sell it in primary schools across the country.

David Ames  8:29  
Wow. Okay. You know, you talked about, in your words, becoming a kind of a terrible person. I think that for those of us who take the Bible seriously, just the fact that you read it. And taking it literally, those are the people who take it very seriously. And I find that many times the people who have some kind of deconstruction or deconversion experience later on in life, it's because they took it seriously. It's it wasn't a surface level thing for you. It was it was real. And so I wouldn't say that that makes you a terrible person. I would say that that makes you someone who cares, right. You cared about your religious experience, your and what you were reading?

Erin  9:14  
Yes. And I think like a lot of people I was quite surprised that the Jesus of the New Testament is very different from the fluffy, Lovely Jesus of mainline Protestantism. Yes. Yeah. And I think towards the end of school doubt started creeping in for a few reasons. So Well, firstly, our minister changed. The one that they had when I joined, was relatively moderate for that denomination, okay, but the one who replaced him was very much fire and brimstone. And I just remember thinking every sermon was about what we are not. So we are absolutely not Catholics. We don't like the gays. basically don't like anyone. I just sort of sitting there feeling really frustrated, like, what are you for? We all know what you're against.

David Ames  10:07  
Yeah. That's the exact thing that I'm doing on the other side of the fence, right? Atheism is so much about, wow, we're down with Christianity. But I'm like, well, actually, what's important is what are we? What are we for? We're for loving people actually connecting with one another.

Erin  10:24  
So yes, that definitely frustrated me. Also, the their version of God was extremely Calvinist, I think I began to see some of the logical flaws in that. Okay, because, you know, it's the classic was it, Epicurus? Yes. The Triad. Yes. So if God is all powerful, knowing, as we were taught, It either means he created evil and allows it because he's awful. Or he's powerless to stop it, and therefore, not all powerful. So yeah, I couldn't quite square that circle. Yeah, classical theism.

David Ames  11:01  
It amazed me. I think, as soon as I got my head above the surface, as it were, and began to look at the history of these deep questions. It amazed me that Epicurious had formalized that problem so long ago, and we're still having the same argument today. It just amazes me. Because I mean, you know, it's, it's over, right? I mean, there's logically impossible.

Erin  11:27  
It's such a powerfully simple argument. Yes. And, of course, the standard responses, God's ways are higher than our ways. And we just have to trust the plan. If I actually remember being told that by one of the ministers because he knew I was reading a lot. I think he actually said to me, sometimes it's good, just to trust and stop looking into it.

David Ames  11:50  
You're thinking too much, Erin.

Erin  11:53  
Yeah, I ended up doing the opposite. So I knew my faith was going downhill. So I thought, You know what, I'll go to Theological College, and then I will be super Christian. All my questions will go away, and it will be fine.

David Ames  12:08  
Oh, my God, I feel for you.

Erin  12:11  
Did you go to seminary, or anything like that,

David Ames  12:14  
I went to a very small, very Evangelical, Christian private college, which is to say, not a terribly good education. But I studied church leadership, quote, unquote, which is basically how to be a pastor. However, I really had very lovely professors. I often say that they did too good a job. They taught me critical thinking they taught me, you know, exegesis hermeneutics, you know, actually looking at what the text says, and what the original author and the original hearers understood it to mean. And anyway, a lot of that I still value greatly today, and yet also lead towards really seeking truth wherever it could be found, and ultimately to deconversion.

Erin  13:02  
So it was also at this point, so when I was 18, that I got formally diagnosed as autistic, which was extremely positive for me. Okay, bad things make sense.

David Ames  13:13  
Can you describe a little bit about how that happened? Like, did you go seek out testing? Or did someone suggested,

Erin  13:19  
I mean, I'd been in therapy, basically all of school because we knew something was wrong, but never quite never quite got to the bottom of it. You know, I had various different levels, like anxiety, or obsessive compulsive disorder, which weren't necessarily incorrect. They just didn't get the full picture. And it wasn't until I saw a different psychiatrist. And really within about one session, she she suggested going for an autism assessment, which isn't something that actually crossed my mind before,

David Ames  13:52  
right? Do you find that having the diagnosis was very helpful, or did you feel burdened by that label? I found it

Erin  14:00  
immensely helpful. But unfortunately, in the UK, the waiting list for an autism diagnosis, particularly for an adult is approximately three years. Oh, wow. And if I hadn't waited three years, I would have been graduated by then. I had I'm extremely privileged in that I had relatives rich enough just to buy me a private assessment, which I don't think there's anywhere near as much as it would be in the US like it was about 1000 pounds. But still, that's a lot of money. Sure. Yeah. Yeah, that came back. Well, back then we called it high functioning autism. I don't think we use that term anymore. But I do find it hard to keep keep up with the language because it changes so much.

David Ames  14:44  
We mentioned off Mike the labels or the language sometimes can be complicated.

Erin  14:48  
Yeah. So I am what they used to call Asperger's Syndrome. But we don't use Asperger's Syndrome anymore, because Asperger was a Nazi.

David Ames  14:56  
Okay. That's See, I was even unaware of that fact. So I'm learning something here.

Erin  15:04  
Yeah, I don't know an awful lot about it. But I know he has extremely questionable eugenics history and experimentation on children.

David Ames  15:12  
Wow. Okay. Is there a terminology that you prefer for yourself?

Erin  15:18  
I think just bog standard autism is the easiest thing. Yeah. And when it comes to, you know, is an autistic person or person with autism? I really don't mind. Like, as long as you say it nicely, I really don't mind. Okay.

David Ames  15:41  
So I completely interrupted you. So you, you had your assessment, which it sounds like was a good thing. And then what happens next?

Erin  15:48  
Yeah. So then I went off to university, the University I went to, it was only three miles from my house, but I moved I anyway, because I wanted to try and get that independence. Yeah, it was like the best of both worlds really? Right. So the theological college I went to, it was a funny setup in that it was a Presbyterian, Ron college and all the professors were Presbyterian ministers, but it was sponsored by, you know, the normal state university. Okay. Proper University. Okay. So I do have a proper degree. Yeah. So socially, it was excellent. Because well, I had the support in place. And I think just people are more mature when you get to university. You can find people who match your interests. And so yeah, so socially, it was a very good three years. Our degrees are only three years.

David Ames  16:40  
Okay? That doesn't surprise me. You guys are smarter over there.

Erin  16:45  
Although, in Northern Ireland anyway, we do 14 years at school, whereas I think in America, it's 12. Grades, we, we do four to 18. I think we just succeed anyway. So socially, it was excellent. And, you know, I came out of my shell, I learned more about myself. But I felt like, the more I became confident in myself as a person, the less competent I was, in my faith, as it were.

David Ames  17:13  
Okay. Yeah. The

Erin  17:14  
opposite reason why I went to college. And it was just the same problem I'd had before and that I couldn't just accept it. I had to think, which is the point of university. But yeah, I, I felt like, it's almost like we started with our conclusion, and then worked backwards to try and find the evidence for it. And surely, you're supposed to do the opposite. Yes.

David Ames  17:41  
I think that is a deeply insightful observation. I think that's what you see from apologetics in particular, but yes, and Christian schools as well.

Erin  17:51  
And I remember one thing in particular, that was said in a lecture, where was it? The professor said, the Bible is the Word of God, because it's self attesting, which means the Bible is the Word of God, because it says so. Right. It's just sitting there like, I am paying money for this. I got on a personal level with every professor Barwon because we fell out over disability adjustments, because he was very much of the opinion that pull yourself up by the bootstraps, you don't need any help. And then he said, If you don't come to my class, you won't do well. So I refused on to his class turned up to the final exam and got the highest score just to spite him.

David Ames  18:36  
I love it. I love it. I think had we been at the same university at the same time, we would have been great friends.

Erin  18:44  
Yeah, so yeah, part of it was, you know, the intellectual side, it wasn't quite holding up, there was also undeniably an emotional element. I remember at one point, I didn't know this person, personally, but they're quite well known within like Irish church circles. Okay. Their child had horrific brain tumor. And I remember, practically every church in the country was praying for them week on week. And whenever they showed improvement, it was praise God, whatever they didn't. We just had to pray harder. And the whole thing just made me profoundly uncomfortable. I can imagine. Yeah. And that it just drove me to the classic questions about prayer. You know, the New Testament is really clear. There's a lot of verses that say, Whatever you ask for my name, I will give it to you. And you can do the mental gymnastics to try and explain that away. But, you know, yeah, when there's a kid deteriorating, despite practically an entire country praying for him. Yeah, I just, it almost seemed the most logical explanation was that we were talking to thin hair.

David Ames  19:56  
So again, you were taking it very seriously, huh? The reasonable expectation after reading the New Testament, and then the reality of the world don't match up.

Erin  20:08  
Yeah. And also on a personal level. So I have arthritis as well as autism. I'm a disaster. There's a few rather embarrassing times where people tried to kill me of my arthritis. Guess what? It didn't work? Yeah. And again, that just, it causes you to question why. Yeah. So as often happens, my view of God got more and more liberal, until it practically wasn't there anymore. So I went from Calvinist, to have anyone to open theist to the point where it's like, I'm basically a functionally atheist. Alright, you know, God, for me had lost so many attributes that I eventually got to the point like, what am I even clinging on?

David Ames  20:56  
Did you go through a more of an agnostic phase of just I don't know, or did you really go from open theism to? I don't think God exists?

Erin  21:05  
Well, I think that's where I've landed agnosticism, I think that's just the most honest position, I think. So I don't know if there's a God. And I think the term functional atheist is probably quite fitting.

David Ames  21:19  
That makes sense to me, than it seems honest. And I think that is a perfectly reasonable position to hold.

Erin  21:27  
So then from my final year dissertation, I decided to do my research on autistic adults in the church, for obvious reasons, and also because everything that had been written was about children. So I thought, let's write something about adults, specifically. And how did that go? Yeah, it went really well. I really enjoyed the project. It sort of gave me a taste for independent research, which I quite liked. But my findings were particularly interesting. There's quite a few studies that prove that autistic people are way more likely on average to be atheist or agnostic. Again, probably because we do think so logically, and straightforward. God, I can't bring myself to do the mental gymnastics required. Sorry, that sounds terribly condescending.

David Ames  22:19  
What is interesting, I think about D conversions like so in my case, I very much did believe I very much was doing those mental gymnastics until you have this moment of clarity where you recognize I'm doing math, mental gymnastics. And if I just stopped making those assumptions, what does it look like? Yes, it's the opposite of born again. But the scales fall from your eyes. And you realize, I have been taking things on given or taking things on somebody else's word, without really investigating and really questioning myself.

Erin  22:56  
And you know, emotionally, it was very, very difficult. Because I did live in a Christian bubble. Yeah. And I, it's, I don't think it's overdramatic to say it did feel like my life was falling apart, because I just managed to build a nice social life for myself. Right? And then suddenly, I was worried that that was all gonna go away. So that yeah, it was a very unpleasant time in general. Okay. But the degree itself, it went, it went very well, I was the highest scoring student in the college, which probably annoyed some professors.

David Ames  23:37  
That's awesome.

Erin  23:37  
Because all our work had to be double marked by the proper University. So that's why yes. It also actually, while I was there, that state university decided to sever funding for the theological college, because for a variety of reasons, but I think, basically, their teaching wasn't good enough for them. So those of us who had started, were able to finish with our proper degrees, but I think from now onwards, I don't know what they'll do, but they're certainly not part of that university anymore.

David Ames  24:13  
Okay. Can I ask you one more question about the research? And correct me if this is a simplistic understanding of autism, my observation of Christianity is you just mentioned the word bubble, is that it is kind of socially enforced. You learn what the group what the community believes is true. And you learn where the unwritten boundaries are. And when you cross them, you are corrected, right? You get a sense of, I can question this far, and then that's too much, or I can look at these resources, but outside this, you know, outside of Christianity, those don't quite work. So my question to you is, my simplistic understanding of autism is that it's sometimes Missing social cues or missing the implicit information within a community? And does that correlate to why maybe autistic people are more likely to be agnostic or atheist?

Erin  25:14  
I think that's definitely part of it. I think that's also part of why I ended up doing so well, because I didn't realize this this doctrinal line you're not supposed to cross. I was drawing at all sorts of sources, you know, John Shelby Spong to all these heretics that would not normally be cited in such a college. Another reason that some research suggests is that we don't tend to think Tellier logically, which means we don't tend to see an overarching meaning. So say, for example, that kid with a brain tumor I mentioned, all those tele illogical explanations, like for the glory of God, Satan's doing it, something like that. None of them were satisfying, because I don't think that way, I just think, in the here and now, I was like, the kids cells are multiplying irregularly. He needs chemotherapy. That's it. I don't see any supernatural component to this. Right. Exactly. So yeah, that's another reason why I think autistic people are less likely to be conventionally religious. Which I suppose brings us to why I am still calling myself religious but not spiritual.

David Ames  26:34  
Yeah, so that definitely begs that question. Yes.

Erin  26:37  
Towards the end of college. And this was like the beginning of time, because I graduated online. I think that's when I started to, quote unquote, come out as agnostic slash, whatever I was, okay. In fact, the first time it was even by accident, because I remember, me and my friends, we were talking about existentialism, because good grief, we were nerds,

David Ames  27:03  
as you do as you do.

Erin  27:07  
And I think I was basically just saying how much I loved the idea of existential that things just are on that we just have to make the most of it. There is no meaning other than the meaning that we create for ourselves, etcetera, etcetera. Yeah. And then I think one of my friends was like, but where does God fit into that? I think at that point, I was just like, he doesn't. Yeah, I'm not sorry, to interesting conversation. But compared to what I hear from a lot of people, I'm extremely lucky. I didn't lose any friends over it. Because I think we were friends for the right reasons, not just because we thought the same way. Likewise with my parents. I mean, I think there was a little bit of abusement with them, because you know, I'd been fundamentalist before. Now I'm coming home saying I'm an agnostic. I think they were just like, right, you're being Muslim in two weeks? Yes.

David Ames  28:01  
They sound like wonderful parents, I got it. That's good to hear. I'm really glad to hear that your friends stuck with you. Because I do feel like this process. You learn who your friends are? And who, maybe some people who are not your friends that you thought were

Erin  28:18  
Yeah, and I think what a lot of people said very well meaning is that, you know, doubt is normal. But I think I beyond doubt, I don't think doubt is sufficient.

David Ames  28:30  
Yeah. So I think we've covered the non spiritual part fairly well, what is it about the Christian tradition, then that you find useful or compelling,

Erin  28:41  
I still think Christianity and church communities can still be a useful part of someone's life, they can be seen as part of our culture, or kind of like an art form, without necessarily having to take it. Absolutely, literally. An example I like to give is secular Judaism. So Jews are way ahead of us in this regard. Because I mean, particularly in Europe, quite a high proportion of Jews are functionally atheist, but they keep the rituals and the sense of community. So basically, they keep all the good bits of the religion and managed to dispense with the bad bits. Yeah. people accuse me of cherry picking, and I say, Yes, that is exactly what I am doing.

David Ames  29:27  
Exactly. I'm going to have Matt from two Christians in a Jew, which is their title, not mine. And he's an Orthodox Jewish person, and we're going to chat and one of the questions I'll ask him is about secular Judaism, right? And the secular humanism that I think is very influenced by Judaism. And the reason I bring this up is, I often hear from Christian apologists that humanism gets all of its ideas from Christianity. And I want to say first Well, I think these ideas long predates Christianity. But beyond that, if anything, modern secular humanism is mostly influenced by secular Judaism. Right? Yes. Yeah, this idea of, hey, we're a community, we still need to have rituals in which we connect with one another and find purpose and meaning. And we don't need anything else beyond that.

Erin  30:20  
Yes, so the Bible has some truly horrendous bits. It also has some bits that are quite decent. And it really is just, you know, trying to apply a utilitarian lens. So anything which we can use to create more happiness for the greatest among people should be kept anything else? We can appreciate it in a literary sense or historical sense, without needing to take it. So literally, right. And I think to a lot of Americans in particular, I don't think this form of Christianity is quite as popular as it is in Europe. To give you an idea in, in the Protestant Church of the Netherlands, one in six of their pastors are open atheists. Oh, wow. Okay. Because Europe, in Scotland, where I live now, my theological hero is a bishop called Richard Holloway, and he was an agnostic. Okay. So yeah, I'm certainly not the only one who is attempting to keep the traditions and the community of Christianity without the harmful doctrine,

David Ames  31:31  
right. I do want to just say here that I do think the community aspect, that connection between human beings is the good part of Christianity. And if you can salvage that, then wonderful, that's fantastic. I have one question for you. I've often said that the most dangerous word in English is God. Oh, yes. And what I mean by that is that you could ask 1000 Different people what or who God is, and you would get 1000 different answers. Exactly. So how do you interpret the good parts of Christianity that community parts, the ritual parts, without having supernaturalism kind of sneak in accidentally?

Erin  32:15  
Yeah, that there was an Anglican bishop called John Robinson. Last century, he argued that because of what you said that God has been redefined into oblivion, that we should just dispense with the word altogether. Obviously, that's not going to happen. I quite liked his idea. So looking at it from a purely psychological or anthropological point of view. I quite like what Don Cupid says that God is essentially just an anthropomorphize version of our highest ideals. Yeah. So you can tell a lot about a person based on the God they worship. Yeah. So when I talk about God, if I must, yes, it is basically just an anthropomorphized form of my highest ideals, which is things like love to be cliche, kindness, cooperation, beauty, progress, et cetera, et cetera, all of these things. That is what I am thinking of, whenever I say prayers, God, I am well aware that the person sitting next to me in the Pew has a completely different interpretation. And I think that is fine, as long as we both respect each other. And that's actually something I really like about the Scottish church. It's a very broad church in that, you know, you've got everything from evangelicals, to agnostic atheists, all using the same liturgy, but interpreting it very differently. Right. But we're all sharing cups of tea together. Yeah. For the pandemic.

David Ames  33:51  
Yes. Back when we can be fully human. Yeah, yes.

Erin  33:57  
I don't think I could ever go back to an evangelical church. I mean, well, who knows? But certainly at the minute, I don't think I could, but I'm quite happy in the tradition I'm in at the minute because there was room for a very wide variety of opinions.

David Ames  34:17  
And what do you see your role in the church as you see it?

Erin  34:21  
So right now I'm studying a master's degree in chaplaincy, because I really liked chaplaincy. I did a bit art just in a voluntary basis when I was at college, and I feel like a lot of the people who are to theologically left field to be priests end up as chaplains. Okay. I don't know if they'd appreciate me saying that. I think it's a much more practical form of having fear. So it takes the best bits of what Jesus was doing. So he hung out with people who were ostracized from normal society, and that is quite often what a chaplain does, whether they're in a home hospital or prison or wherever. It's almost like a combination between a priest and a social worker. And in terms of the spirituality of it, it's very much driven by the person. So if they have a very strong faith and a supernatural God, then that's what we go with. Because it's all about helping them not imposing my views. Likewise, quite a lot of our clients end up being atheists, and they don't want to talk about God, they just want to talk about I'd know their children. Yeah, yeah, we're here for that.

David Ames  35:32  
I think you've just described, the thing that I found, as a teenager, so compelling about Jesus is that in his time, he was calling out the hypocrisy of the religious leaders. And he was spending time with the people who were rejected, who were isolated. He was actually caring for people, literally, you know, if you take the story, literally feeding people. And it sounds like that is your idea of what a chaplain does, right? Did you do the gospel?

Erin  36:04  
Yeah. So my full degree title is a master of practical theology. It's that practical focus that I really like. Yeah, the way of Christ can still have potential in the modern world. If we can somehow detach it from this idea of Jesus being the second person of the Trinity hypostatic union pre existing eminent the father, blah, blah, blah.

David Ames  36:30  
You got to throw it in hypostatic. Union. Yeah. I love it.

Erin  36:36  
So I would very much love to be a chaplain, but I'm also realistic in that I am well aware of that I might have a chance with, particularly the Scottish church, they may well turn around and say you're a bit too Orthodox, which would be fair enough. Okay. So I think my plan B would probably be just going into secular counseling, because I think you can achieve some of the same aims. But right now, I'm still on the chaplaincy path, and we'll see where it goes.

David Ames  37:06  
I don't want to oversimplify what you do or what you see as kind of mission for you. But have you worked with other people on the autism spectrum?

Erin  37:15  
Not directly, actually. But my most favorite form of chaplaincy ever was maritime chaplaincy? So that is working with, like the crews of cargo ships. Okay. And I found that immensely interesting. Because these people, they live on a confined ship for months of the year, very little company. It's like living in their own world within a world. And that's how I felt like I was prior to my diagnosis, you know, interested trapped in my own world. I know how meaningful it can be if someone breaks into that world, and just makes you feel seen, like an actual person. Yeah. And I feel like that's, that's what we were doing when we visited ships. Okay, it could be something simple, like just bringing phone cards or tacky Irish souvenirs? Yes, you know, it just meant an awful lot to the people that we visited. And I thought this is the gospel, like, yes, I would happily do this for the rest of my life. If I could.

David Ames  38:15  
Yeah, that's awesome. So Erin, let me ask you, what are some resources that you suggest, let's say somebody who is either questioning their faith or someone who has discovered they're on the spectrum? What are some resources that you found useful?

Erin  38:32  
My most favorite theology book is doubts and loves by Richard Holloway. He's an agnostic Bishop I mentioned. Okay, because I just think that it's not a very long book. But I think it does a fantastic job of laying out how some of the tenants of Judaism and Christianity can still be carried forward into a secular world. So I like that a lot. And as for someone who's newly diagnosed, I think one of the great things of the internet years is that there's so many resources out there. And the autism faith network, I will always recommend, I love them. Okay, I interviewed the lady who founded founded it for my dissertation. So yeah, if you're still attending church, and you have got a diagnosis, I definitely recommend getting in touch with them. There's also a guy called Lamar Hardwick. I am probably mispronouncing his name, but he calls himself the autism pastor, because, as the name suggests, he is a pastor with autism. His books are very good.

David Ames  39:38  
Excellent. So we're doing this episode as more of a deconversion anonymous episode, so I'm not going to ask you to give information about how to contact you but if people are interested, is it okay if I forward like emails that come to me to you?

Erin  39:53  
Yes, yes. Okay. I mean, I'm sure if people are able to put the pieces together they could probably find me but yeah,

David Ames  40:00  
Honestly, that's how I am to right. It's like I just yeah, it's 95% Anonymous. Yeah, a dedicated person can figure this out. It's not going yeah.

Erin  40:10  
But no, I love talking to people. And in fact, I've found quite often that people say to me that I'm saying out loud what their voice thought, or too scared to say

David Ames  40:19  
yes. So Erin, I really appreciate what you are about what you are doing in the world, I think, you know, to use my terminology that you are expressing secular Grace within this religious but not spiritual framework. And I wish you all the best, I hope that you become a chaplain and get to do everything that you've described here.

Erin  40:44  
Thank you. And thank you so much for this podcast. I think I've listened to it for a long time. And I think if we had more atheists like you, maybe Christians would realize that they're not the scary monsters that we think.

David Ames  40:58  
Well, thank you for being a listener. I appreciate it. Erin, thank you so much for being on the podcast. Thank you.

Final thoughts on the episode. Like I said, she has an infectious joy about her. Erin is so accomplished at such a young age. She's making us all look bad. But I just love her desire to do good in the world to reach people where they're at regardless of their metaphysical beliefs. Erin has gone the gamut of speaking and publicizing her book within the Christian world, to seminary and exploring liberal theologies, and ultimately to religious but not spiritual, still maintaining the traditions of Christianity without the supernatural beliefs. I was particularly affected by her research into adults with autism, and how that affects matters of faith. What we discussed in the episode, I think, was really important that so much of faith is the community expressing what to believe. And for someone who is less prone to receive those implicit signals, it's harder for them to take that leap. I just found that really interesting to hear from Erin's perspective. Beyond just the autism spectrum, is Erin's obvious intelligence and as a young person in school, not being able to accept pat answers. I think that is a challenge that many bright young people face when they're confronted with things they must accept by faith. When they are looking for evidence or looking for logical reasons, and can't find them. That is a hard place to be. I expect to hear great things about the impact that Erin makes on the world. I want to thank Erin for being on the podcast for sharing her story sharing her joy for life. I wish her all the best in her endeavors. And I hope that someday she can be a chaplain. You may have noticed that we have been doing an episode per week lately. As I have reflected on in previous episodes, I had a number of interviews in the can. Mike T has joined the team and is helping out with editing so we are able to go a little faster. I don't know that this is maintainable for the long run. But for as many weeks as we can do. We'll do one episode per week until either Mike or I runs out of energy or we run out of content one or the other. I have upcoming episodes with Logan, who calls himself beyond belief on Twitter and social media. I have Troy with y'all means all. I have mer Simka who is from the two Christians in a Jew podcast as well as several others. So keep coming back to hear these and other stories. Until then, my name is David and I am trying to be the graceful atheist. Join me and be graceful human.

Time for the footnotes. The beat is called waves from Akai 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 If you have audio engineering expertise and you'd be interested in participating in the graceful atheist podcast, 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 human minimum spaces, and you'd 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 secular grace. You can send me an email graceful or you can check out the website graceful My name is David and I am trying to be the graceful atheist. Join me and be graceful human beings

this has been the graceful atheist podcast

Transcribed by