Do You Believe in God?

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1:20:14
January 7, 2023
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Santiago introduces himself and the podcast. Abby and Ami discuss their plans for the podcast, their backgrounds, why they left the church, and ask their friends the question: When did you know that god wasn't real?

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Credits: Abby and Ami, creators of the Seventh-day Atheist Podcast • Music: Hall of the Mountain King Kevin MacLeod (incompetech.com) • Licensed under Creative Commons: By Attribution 3.0 License

Episode Transcript

Haystacks & Hell Intro

[00:00:00] Santiago: Welcome to Haystacks and Hell, an ex-Adventist podcast where we tell stories about growing up Seventh-day Adventist, leaving faith behind, and building new, fulfilling lives.

Interview Previews

[00:00:17] Abby: Okay, the question is: When did you realize that you did not believe in God?

[00:00:22] Guest 1: After our daughter was born there was a line in the sand that was drawn, that was a definitive, I do not believe this and I will not teach it to my daughter.

[00:00:33] Guest 4: I still kind of subscribe to a general, maybe there's something out there, but I don't see it as this strict rules, and... There's this supreme being saying, 'You go to heaven, you go to hell.'

[00:00:49] Guest 2: I was in high school and I was starting the process of coming out and coming to terms with who I was and all that jazz. Regardless of whether or not he's legit or anything like that, I was like, he's still not a very good person.

About the Podcast

[00:01:14] Santiago: Welcome to the very first episode of the Haystacks and Hell podcast. If you're looking for a podcast that unpacks being a Seventh-day Adventist and then leaving the church, you're in the right place. The name Haystacks and Hell is referring to both the unique subculture and religious beliefs that many Adventists hold.

[00:01:33] Santiago: Where I grew up, haystacks are a food that's pretty common in SDA churches, especially for potluck and other get-togethers. And I might be committing Adventist heresy very early on in this episode, but for anyone who doesn't know what haystacks are, you could kind of think of them like taco salad.

[00:01:51] Santiago: Of course, one of the biggest things about Seventh-day Adventism is in the name. Adventists go to church on Saturday instead of Sunday, but there's also plenty of other very unique doctrines to this denomination, like their beliefs on the state of the dead or the idea that people won't continuously suffer in hell for eternity.

[00:02:11] Santiago: So, if you can't tell already, there are tons of topics for us to explore including SDA prophet Ellen White, sex, dating, and purity culture, and the end of the world. But it's not going to be all doom and gloom. There will be plenty of laughs along the way and most importantly, we're going to talk about building new and fulfilling lives outside of the church.

[00:02:35] Santiago: This podcast is for you if you're an Adventist and starting to question the church, maybe you left a while ago but are still processing, or anywhere in between. And I know there's also large communities of ex-Jehovah's Witnesses, ex-Mormons, and other people who left fundamentalist faiths. If you find yourself in any one of those categories, or you're just curious to know more about Adventism, you're absolutely welcome here as well. This is going to be a space for open, critical, and honest discussion without any of the religious shaming or guilt tripping you may have experienced.

[00:03:11] Santiago: Before I forget, make sure to follow the show by subscribing on YouTube or your favorite podcast app. Links to this and more are in the show notes. And while you're there, check out our website at hell.bio (that's H E L L dot B I O) for resources, full episode transcripts, and links to ex-Adventist communities.

Meet Santiago

[00:03:32] Santiago: So you might be wondering who I am and why I'm even working on this project. My name is Santiago, or at least that's the name I'm choosing to share on this podcast. I've decided to keep my real name private to protect myself, but also because I still have family that's involved in the church and in some cases have leadership positions. So for their sake and for mine, I figured it's just easier if I don't share my real name.

[00:03:58] Santiago: The main thing you should know about me is that I grew up in a conservative Adventist family and church on the West Coast of the United States, and I was a Seventh-day Adventist for about 25 years. I'm technically still a member because I haven't asked them to remove my name yet. But I'll eventually get around to doing that. What I'm about to share are many of the things I believed and did while I was in the church. And to be clear, I'm not proud of these things, at least not anymore, but I'm sharing them because they're part of my story and I think they'll help explain why I'm motivated to do this podcast.

[00:04:34] Santiago: I was one of the quote unquote good kids growing up. My parents raised me as an Adventist and a strict vegetarian from birth, and I was also homeschooled for a while. After that, I attended an Adventist K-12 school and eventually went to a public high school and college. Now, before you start thinking that going to "worldly schools" caused me to leave, that's not exactly true. I remained a committed Adventist and even a young earth creationist during and after my college years.

[00:05:04] Santiago: And I decided on my own to get baptized as a teenager. My parents didn't pressure me at all, the church didn't... It was truly my own decision and I really believed all the way up until my mid twenties. And I served my local church for many years in different roles as a deacon, musician, youth leader, and Pathfinder staff. I also sat on the church board, the nominating committee a couple of times, and even some of the search committees to find new pastors.

[00:05:33] Santiago: I was one of the few young adults that stayed behind in my aging conservative church, and I think part of why I stayed so long is because I had a good relationship with many of the members there. I felt valued, I felt like I was part of something bigger than me, and I felt like we had a true purpose and mission. I went door to door to promote evangelistic series, I raised money to go on international mission trips, and I was truly convinced that the National Sunday Law would be a real thing. For anyone who's not an Adventist or doesn't know what that is, see the show notes for details on that.

[00:06:09] Santiago: I truly believed that Ellen White was a true prophet, and I also experienced end times paranoia in my local church and my immediate family. Now, despite being very involved in my church, I wasn't always the most spiritual person, but I fully believed in Adventism and I did experience things that I believed were truly spiritual and from God.

Deconstruction and Deconversion

[00:06:32] Santiago: So when I started questioning, I leaned in even more into the imperfect but sincere relationship that I tried to have with Jesus. Then for the last three or so years of my faith journey, I went through deconstruction and then deconversion. Real quick for those of you who might not be familiar with these terms, faith deconstruction isn't really a new thing, but it's a somewhat new term. So when I say deconstruction, I'm talking about thinking more critically about the religious beliefs you were taught.

[00:07:04] Santiago: If you haven't gone through deconstruction yourself, you really need to understand that people don't do this on purpose. It's not because they're looking for some excuse to sin as many Christians and many Adventists have said. The other day, I read a tweet thread from Zach Lambert who's a pastor in Austin, Texas and a lot of what he wrote resonated with some of the things I was thinking leading up to, and during my deconstruction.

[00:07:33] Santiago: He wrote: "I've talked to hundreds of people about this and never met a single person who chose to start deconstructing, myself included. Deconstruction is involuntary; it happens when something we've been told to believe comes into conflict with something we experience. For example, we were told Christians value ethics and morals, but then we watched them give full throated support to Donald Trump.

[00:08:02] Santiago: We were told Christians welcome everyone into God's family, but then we saw LGBTQ+ folks diligently following Jesus, be kicked out of the church. We were told Christians fight against abuse, but then we watched church leaders at the highest level cover up abuse and enable abusers time and time again. We were told Christians are called to be generous, but then we saw pastor after pastor get caught embezzling money.

[00:08:34] Santiago: We were told Christians believe everyone bears the image of God, but then we saw historically marginalized groups being further oppressed in the church. We were told Christians hate racism, but then we watched them post 'all lives matter' after George Floyd's murder. We were told Christians abhor violence, but then we read polls showing they support war and torture at higher rates than any other group.

[00:09:06] Santiago: We were told Christians strive for peace, but then we watched an insurrection led by people carrying signs bearing the name of Jesus. We were told Christians care for the vulnerable, but then we heard pastors teach that people experiencing homelessness are just lazy addicts. We were told Christians take care of the sick, but then watched prominent pastors call COVID fake news and host super spreader events. After seeing all of that and much more, we were left with two options: blind loyalty to a broken and oppressive system or deconstruction."

[00:09:49] Santiago: End quote.

[00:09:50] Santiago: Now, deconstruction doesn't necessarily mean leaving faith behind, but as Zach's thread points out, it often means rejecting harmful beliefs that you were taught and rejecting blind loyalty to the religion or church you were raised in.

[00:10:06] Santiago: And I would argue that some of the most famous examples of Christians who deconstructed their faith are people who are often associated with the Protestant Reformation. People like John Wycliffe, who was a priest and ended up criticizing many of the church's teachings, as well as inspiring the first fully translated English Bible. And people like Martin Luther who nailed the 95 theses to the church door.

[00:10:32] Santiago: In any case, deconstruction is a new term, but an old practice and many people who deconstruct their faith will reconstruct it. Today, for many Christians, reconstruction often looks like forming a faith that's healthier, more inclusive, and not controlling and legalistic.

[00:10:53] Santiago: Deconversion is related to, but different from deconstruction. Deconversion is basically the opposite of converting to a religion. In some cases you might deconvert from one religion and convert to another, but in many cases deconversion means leaving religion and faith behind completely.

[00:11:12] Santiago: Deconstruction doesn't always lead to deconversion, but it did for me. Some of the most transformative years for me were between 2018 and 2019, and eventually, I stopped attending church sometime in 2020. During this time, I really searched for answers to my questions. I prayed a lot, asking God for guidance and wisdom and for his will to be done in my life. I read the Bible and Ellen White's writings, especially the book Messages to Young People.

[00:11:44] Santiago: And in spite of all of this searching, all I got in return was silence. I genuinely tried keeping a relationship with Jesus, but for me, it was really hard and ultimately impossible to have a relationship with an invisible, silent being. So as I was going through this process, I'll admit I did experience some depression during and shortly after my deconversion for several reasons. Like many Adventists, I grew up believing that humans are inherently sinful and that definitely didn't help my sense of self-worth.

Nervousness, Naivete, and Personal Growth

[00:12:20] Santiago: And after I left the church, I realized just how naive I was about many things that most people find totally normal like having a beer with your coworker. The first time I ever had alcohol, I was in my mid to late twenties, and again, something that's totally harmless when done responsibly, but I was genuinely nervous and had to do all of this research in advance to feel like I wasn't going to make a mistake of some kind.

[00:12:48] Santiago: And unfortunately that's the reality of being raised in a bubble in many cases. There are things that you can do in a safe and responsible manner but you're often not taught about how to be safe and responsible because the assumption is you're never, ever, ever going to do that. But that's not how life works. So when it came time for me to start dating, I also felt very nervous and naive about that. If you're anything like me, you didn't have a proper sex education growing up and that's something that we are definitely going to cover in a future episode.

[00:13:26] Santiago: Thankfully after lots of reading, therapy, and encouragement from my best friend, I started really dating for the first time as an adult in my late twenties. I eventually found my lovely partner and we now live together. Unlike me, she didn't grow up Adventist, she went to Sunday school instead, and she was a total skeptic from the start. So it's been interesting having conversations with her about Adventism and we'll probably do some episodes together in the future. Bottom line, I'm so happy to share that today, my mental health is in a much better place. I've learned to truly love myself, and I'm not paranoid about things like the Sunday Law or the end times anymore.

[00:14:08] Santiago: In my experience, you can have a healthy and fulfilling life outside the church and even outside of faith. But no matter where your journey takes you, I hope that you'll find peace and freedom from the fundamentalist worldview that many of us were raised in. But let's be honest. When you leave the church, in many cases, that means that you're losing a big part of your community. Even if you don't really identify as an Adventist, if you grew up in it, or if you've been in it long enough, it's sort of a part of you that doesn't ever really go away, at least that's how it felt for me. And so when I was leaving the church, I was looking for a sense of community.

[00:14:49] Santiago: Even though I had a support system, I didn't feel like I had someone who fully understood my upbringing as an Adventist and then leaving it all behind as an adult. And then one day, after a bunch of different searches, I happened to stumble across the Seventh-day Atheist Podcast by two ex-Adventist women named Abby and Ami. Their podcast was so refreshing to listen to. A lot of it was serious and talked about real grief and childhood trauma, but there were also plenty of laughs and jokes about veggie meat and the many quirks of Adventism.

[00:15:24] Santiago: It was such a healing experience and had such an impact on me that I reached out to thank them and they actually replied, even though the podcast ended several years ago. Today, it's hosted on the Internet Archive site and unless if you already know it exists, it's not super easy to find and it's not on any of the major podcast apps. So I asked them for permission to republish and make edits to their podcast. And they were so kind and gave me a license to do exactly that.

[00:15:53] Santiago: So the Haystacks and Hell podcast is going to be a mix of my own original content, like what you're hearing now, but a lot of it's also going to come from Abby and Ami's original work. And I can't say thank you enough to them for the really important work they did and for allowing me to use it in this new project.

Agnostic Atheist

[00:16:11] Santiago: I also want to be upfront about the fact that this podcast is mostly going to be presented from an agnostic atheist perspective. And I know those terms might immediately turn some of you off, but I hope you'll stick around and listen. Many people think that being agnostic and atheist are two totally different things, but that's not true. You can be both. Theism is the belief that one or more gods exist, and I call myself an atheist because I don't believe in higher powers anymore. But I'm also agnostic because I don't have any proof or claim to have proof that higher powers do not exist, and I don't really think that humans can really prove it either way.

[00:16:54] Santiago: Honestly, I never thought I'd call myself agnostic or especially atheist. Like I said, I was the quote unquote good kid growing up. And another thing to know about me is that my younger brother actually deconverted before I did. I still remember feeling so heartbroken and scared for him and his salvation when he told me and my family that he no longer believed in God. We were all in the living room together and I saw my parents genuinely grieve for him, and cry, and so did I. I cried with them, I prayed with them, and I wondered, 'What could we have done better? How did we all fail my little brother?'

[00:17:38] Santiago: And that's why it took a while for me to get the courage to tell my parents. Because I was thinking, 'How could I put them through that pain again?' I ultimately decided to tell them because I figured it's better to be honest than live with a lie. And to prepare for that, I read a book called Coming Out Atheist by Greta Christina. And if you consider yourself agnostic or atheist, and for one reason or another you want to share that with friends, family, or anyone else in your life, this book is a great resource for how to prepare to do that.

[00:18:14] Santiago: To be clear, I didn't leave the church and religion because of my younger brother. And I also didn't leave because somebody hurt me at church, or peer pressure, or even as my mom told me, because I was supposedly "angry with God." I left years later and one of the biggest things for me was really exploring the problem of evil, which asks, how can we live in such a broken world when we supposedly have an all powerful, loving god?

[00:18:46] Santiago: Something that's kind of interesting and also funny to me is that my missionary experiences and time spent in SDA churches outside the U.S. also led to my deconversion. Local cultures seemed to influence religious beliefs, practices, and worship styles more than anything else, even among Christians and Adventists. And that planted the seed that maybe this was all man-made.

[00:19:11] Santiago: And the last big question I had to wrestle with at the end of my deconversion was the nature of Jesus. You've probably heard pastors say that Jesus was either lying, crazy, or actually the son of God. But what if there's another option? What if Jesus never claimed to be divine and his followers invented that myth over time? The book How Jesus Became God by Bart D. Ehrman was so eyeopening and I highly recommend reading it. We don't have time in this episode to cover the details, but we will definitely revisit it in the future.

Fighting Theocracy Together

[00:19:49] Santiago: With all of that said, I still want this podcast to hold space for people of faith who reject the fundamentalist version of Christianity, or whatever religion they were taught, but want to keep an open, progressive faith that is anti-theocratic and doesn't seek to marginalize or control others. Unfortunately, politicians around the world are taking advantage of religious extremism and people are suffering and dying as a result. And it's going to take all of us, religious and non-religious, to fight against the real threat of theocracy not just in the U.S., but in other countries as well.

[00:20:27] Santiago: Now I'm not going to get very political on this podcast. That's not my goal, but I do want to make sure we touch on separation of church and state because it's so important and it affects all of us, no matter what our religious or political views are. Right now I'm recording this at the very start of 2023 and if you're in the United States, or if you follow politics at all, you've probably heard that the U.S. Supreme court is becoming more and more radical, and they're stripping critical rights away. But there's also so many races at the local level to control school boards, city councils, and state legislatures with the goal of imposing quote unquote Christian values.

[00:21:11] Santiago: This ideology, Christian Nationalism, is dangerous to all of us, religious or not. Just look at the January 6 insurrection in the United States. Aside from all the political propaganda and signs, some people carried crosses, the Christian flag, and even prayed loudly in Jesus' name as they stormed the U.S. Capitol. One of the things I appreciated about growing up Adventist was that they talked about separation of church and state. But sadly, this value seems to be disappearing in many of the more conservative Adventist churches, and it's been completely thrown out the window by most evangelical Christians in the U.S.

[00:21:54] Santiago: One of the saddest things I've seen recently is that some of the youth that were in my old church have been radicalized by the Christian Right. One of them even told me that he looked forward to the Sunday Law. This is a quote from a message he sent me: "I personally look forward to the Sunday Law and the end of this sinful world. If some good can be accomplished on that slippery slope toward theocracy and oppression of freedom of religion, I'll vote in favor."

[00:22:24] Santiago: I was stunned and so disappointed when I read that. And his reasoning for all of this is that Jesus quote "wins in the end so I have no problem standing up for a religious society." Just think about that for a second. As far as I know, this self-destructive support for theocracy is not a popular position among Adventists and it goes directly against the movement's roots. But this is how far many Christians and even some Adventists have gone and we really need to take this threat seriously. You bet we're going to cover this more in future episodes.

[00:23:05] Santiago: But for now, I just want to thank you for being here and I hope you'll listen all the way through. Coming up, Abby and Ami will introduce themselves, talk about their backgrounds and motivations for the podcast, and at the end, they'll ask their friends when they stopped believing in God. And I want to pose a similar question to you. Do you still believe in God? If not, what led you to that conclusion? And if you still believe, what has helped you maintain your faith? And has your faith changed over time?

[00:23:35] Santiago: You can see the show notes for instructions on how to send in answers through our website or voicemail and you can also share any story you might have about your experiences with Adventism. And even if you were a Jehovah's Witness, Mormon, or some other denomination or fundamentalist faith, you're absolutely welcome to join the conversation. With that, we'll play the original intro from the Seventh-day Atheist Podcast, just for this first episode, and you'll get to meet Abby and Ami in a second.

Meet Abby and Ami

[00:24:06] Abby: You are listening to the Seventh Day Atheist Podcast where two women and their friends talk about growing up Adventist and leaving the church.

[00:24:27] Abby: Hello, my name is Abby and

[00:24:31] Ami: My name is Ami,

[00:24:32] Abby: And you're listening to the first episode of the Adventist Atheist Podcast.

[00:24:38] Ami: Yay!

[00:24:38] Abby: [Laughing] We've planned this for a while and for the first episode, we thought we would just tell you who we are and why we're doing this. And it may be a little awkward because while we have worked together a lot, we have not recorded this podcast before. Ami, do you wanna go first?

[00:24:59] Ami: I can go first. My name is Ami. I was a Seventh-day Adventist for 25 years and I would say that I've comfortably and confidently called myself an atheist for about five years. Although, really, I was an atheist for longer than that. I think it was a slow process for me leaving Adventism behind, and I think that some of what we want to talk about in this podcast is the funny stuff about that, and some of what we want to talk about is the very real grief that was part of that process for both of us at least. And I think probably for a lot of other people who were part of a really close-knit faith community and then eventually outgrew it. So a little bit of background I guess? I was raised Adventist with the interesting distinction that my mom was very devout, but my dad, although he was raised Adventist,

[00:26:10] Abby: Was going to hell.

[00:26:12] Ami: [Laughing] Was going straight to hell. He didn't go to church.

[00:26:16] Abby: And smoked pot, which was particularly hellish.

[00:26:18] Ami: That's also extremely evil, kids. Never... No one should ever do drugs of any kind. Especially, not...

[00:26:25] Abby: Especially religion, don't do that drug.

[00:26:27] Ami: [Laughing] Especially not if they want to go to heaven. But he was a little bit quietly hostile towards, not necessarily God and not necessarily religion, but towards Adventism. I think he had some very negative experiences. And so I grew up very firmly in the church, but with a lot of the people that I loved most being outside of it. And with a really clear concept, sometimes used very unkindly, uh, you know, directed at me, that they were not going to be saved.

[00:27:07] Ami: But in a lot of ways, I had a good experience in the church. I mean, it's definitely a mixed bag. So I think that for me, what I would most want this podcast to be is honest, which means that it's likely to sting a little bit both for people who are maybe still involved and are still Adventists who might listen, and it's probably gonna sting a little bit for me too at times. But I think it's also likely to be funny because some of these things that you encounter in Adventism, if you're being really honest, even if you believe it, are laugh out loud stupid.

[00:27:50] Abby: [Laughing]

[00:27:51] Ami: So I think, uh, I think it's likely to be both funny and um, maybe sometimes a little bit painful. But I hope that it's always honest and I definitely... it's definitely not my goal for it to be mean spirited, but just to, I don't know, talk about some of the things that I had questions about way before I ever left the church and nobody really talked about them with me.

[00:28:20] Abby: So yeah, Ami is a teacher. Am I allowed to say that?

[00:28:22] Ami: Yeah. I'm a teacher. I teach college, not at an Adventist school, obviously. I should make that distinction before somebody else named Ami gets fired or something.

[00:28:33] Abby: [Laughing] So yeah, I think, uh, you summed that up really well.

[00:28:37] Ami: I guess I didn't talk much about myself currently. But we could come back around.

[00:28:42] Abby: We'll, we'll come back, we'll come back around to most of this stuff. Pretty much everything Ami said triggered like 20 topics in my head. So, obviously we can't talk about everything that we wanna talk about on the first episode, but, yeah, I was raised also... gosh, I guess, I guess I really became... I stopped being an Adventist when I was 30. I'm 37 now, so I've been out of it for seven years. And I remember very clearly, uh, with great horror, thinking C.S. Lewis became a Christian when he was 30, and I always wanted to be just like him.

[00:29:19] Abby: And I became an atheist when I was 30. I left the church or stopped believing in it very unwillingly. I was kind of intellectually dragged. And it was very unpleasant, and it was like someone dying. Ami I think kind of read her way out with a lot of fairly positive atheist literature. I didn't do any of that. I, I read my way out by reading a lot of Adventist literature and concluding that it was simply not true, even though I wanted it to be. And so I left the church staring into a black abyss and not knowing what was gonna happen to me.

[00:29:49] Ami: You did it kinda on your own a lot more than I did too, though. I...

[00:29:53] Abby: Completely alone!

[00:29:54] Ami: I went through that and I feel very fortunate that I went through that experience with a group of very supportive friends and with my husband, who's also a former Adventist, and we kind of went through it together. And if I had been going through it all by myself with all of my support system and all of my people around me still being in the church, I think that it would've been really, really difficult.

[00:30:23] Abby: Yeah.

[00:30:23] Ami: And I know that that was closer to your experience.

[00:30:25] Abby: Yeah, it was... it was pretty, it was pretty awful. And I, I read, um, well, I decided that I needed to read everything Ellen White had ever written, and I didn't get all the way through it. I got through quite a bit of it and just concluded that this was not real. I didn't have a concept of a, of a good or fulfilling life outside of Christianity. And so I just knew that I couldn't make myself believe something that wasn't true. And I also knew that the God of the Bible was, you know, if he was real, was abusive. And so for a long time, well, for a, for a year or so, my conclusion was that the all-powerful being of the universe is basically an abusive father, but that he's the best that we've got. And so the, the realization that this is all made up was a little bit of a relief, but also its own kind of black hole.

[00:31:14] Abby: I mean, I felt at first like I didn't really need to read Christopher Hitchens or Richard Dawkins or any of these people because I already, I already knew I agreed with them. I didn't think it was good or comforting, but I know that I can't make myself believe something just because I think it's a better story. But in the last few years I have started to read more atheist literature and, and, um actually concluded there's a, you know, a happy and fulfilling world beyond religion. But I kind of went through it backwards and upside down. I have several kind of circles and groups of friends, but Ami is part of my oldest group of friends and a lot of them went through this process within five to 10 years of each other. And so we get together most Friday nights and for probably first...

[00:31:56] Ami: AYA

[00:31:57] Abby and Ami: [Laughing]

[00:31:58] Abby: AYA. Yep. And for probably five solid years, almost every Friday night was essentially a group therapy session for ex-Adventists. And we never, like, I'm sure other people must have gotten frustrated with us because...

[00:32:10] Ami: I'm sure they did.

[00:32:11] Abby: Even without meaning to, every conversation ended up discussing religion, Adventism, agnosticism, atheism, and often the ways in which it is damaging and how we were dealing with that [laughing]. So I feel better about it now. I can talk about it now. I couldn't the first year after I stopped believing in it, I couldn't talk to anyone. I didn't talk to anyone for a whole year. I basically was in mourning and then I slowly started talking to people. So anyway, it, it's a, it's something that I think, um, I, I wish that other people did not have to go through alone. And I think part of what I want for this podcast is for people who are in the church but have doubts about it, to know that there is a happy and fulfilling life beyond that community. And also to know that you can in fact be kind of a cultural Adventist without believing in it. Like Ami ate meat for a while, now she's vegetarian again.

[00:33:07] Abby and Ami: [Laughing]

[00:33:09] Abby: I tend to clean my house on Friday afternoon. Like there are some, there are many positive things that I feel I took from Adventism that don't need to be completely abandoned. I'm a writer. I write fiction and the mythology that I know best is the Christian mythology. And it still is kind of my language for talking about morality and right and wrong, even though the God of the Bible is not particularly moral. But there are like bits and pieces of that that I still feel strongly attached to and that when I first left the church, I felt like I was required to give up all of that. And I had spent so much time thinking about it and studying it that the feeling that it was all being ripped away from me was, was really traumatic. And I have come to the conclusion that, you know, the mythology that you're raised with is still something that's part of you, even if you don't believe it actually happened, or if you believe elements of it are morally questionable, um, you know, it's still, still yours. You can still use it in art and literature.

[00:34:12] Ami: Sure.

[00:34:13] Abby: So I think there's other people that also think about these things and go through this process and who don't have a community like I did to talk about it with, or maybe are alone like I was for the first year and I wanted to make something to share with people. When I was actually in Adventism, I, I felt very frustrated by the lack of real scholarship. I understand now that the reason there's not a lot of real scholarship in Adventism is that it is a fundamentalist religion. I'll see if I can say it the way Richard Dawkins, no, it wasn't, it wasn't Dawkins. It was, um, the guy who wrote Sex, Mom, and God, Francis Schaeffer. He says something like, 'The definition of fundamentalism is that you can't bring real questions to the text and answer them honestly. The text already has all the answers, and you must construct a thought process that will arrive at them.' And that's how he differentiates fundamentalism from other forms of religion in which someone is allowed to question the text and come to maybe a different conclusion than the main faith has come to.

[00:35:17] Abby: And there is... obviously Catholicism is a huge sprawling sort of thing that has changed over time. Like you can actually read actual scholarship from the Episcopal Church and the Catholic Church, and there's this huge differentiations of belief within those systems. And one of my frustrations with Adventism was that you didn't see that kind of scholarship. We already had all the answers and you had to construct a thought process that would arrive at the answers that we already had, and I found that very frustrating from within the church. Now that I've left the church, I find it equally frustrating that among ex-Adventists, I don't see the kind of thought processes and scholarships and ways of talking and thinking about it that I consider truly thoughtful and intellectual.

[00:36:02] Ami: There's a lot of like, making jokes about FriChik and Ellen White.

[00:36:05] Abby: Which is funny.

[00:36:06] Ami: Which is fine.

[00:36:07] Abby: We're gonna do some of that.

[00:36:07] Ami: We're gonna do some FriChik jokes.

[00:36:09] Abby: Yeah.

[00:36:09] Ami: Don't worry. And we're gonna have someday like a big haystack meetup.

[00:36:13] Abby: Yeah. Yeah. We're gonna mention haystacks, but we wanted to talk about some more, some serious... We wanted to dig a little bit. And I see, so much of what I see from ex-Adventists is just bitching about the stuff that they're not allowed to do and that they're now allowed to do, but they don't know how to do very well, or making fun of kind of the shallow surface elements of Adventism. And we wanna dig down into the meat of the fucked up elements of Adventism.

[00:36:37] Abby and Ami: [Laughing]

[00:36:39] Ami: Shit's gonna get real.

[00:36:41] Abby: Um, so I am a fourth generation... was a fourth generation Seventh-day Adventist. My great grandmother became an Adventist somewhere around the time of the Civil War. So, um, that goes way back on my mom's side and on my dad's side, it's like my grandmother I think converted. So I've got deep roots. I also wanted to talk some about dealing with family, and that's one of the hardest things about leaving a fundamentalist faith is that you... It's not just a thought process or a way of looking at the world that you're leaving. You're also... You, you, you never get to stop dealing with it. That's the problem, is you never get to be done.

[00:37:31] Ami: Well, that's the thing about, when you were saying that that mythology is always a part of you. That upbringing is always a part of you. But if you want to remain connected to a lot of the people in your life, you are going to have to find a way to manage your interactions there. I also went through a serious mourning period where I was very sad about leaving Adventism.

[00:37:57] Abby: It's like someone died.

[00:37:58] Ami: It felt, it felt like Jesus died.

[00:38:00] Abby: That's exactly what it feels like.

[00:38:01] Ami: Um, it felt like there was this figure who was very real in my childhood.

[00:38:05] Abby: Aslan died.

[00:38:06] Ami: Yeah! It really felt like that.

[00:38:08] Abby: And didn't come back to life. It was very depressing.

[00:38:10] Ami: And even though I sort of learned more about this character that I admired and discovered that maybe he was not so admirable, maybe this relationship was not really healthy for me... I still was sad

[00:38:24] Abby: Yeah.

[00:38:24] Ami: that he was gone.

[00:38:26] Abby: Yeah.

[00:38:26] Ami: And that was sort of the feeling that I went through. And for a long time I didn't quite know how to talk about it and I didn't feel super confident. Like I said, I've probably been an atheist for 10 years, but I probably have called myself one for five years. And I think that I wasn't comfortable talking about those things earlier because I was still figuring them out for myself and still sad about them.

[00:38:53] Abby: Mm-hmm.

[00:38:54] Ami: And now I'm not really that sad about it anymore.

[00:38:58] Abby: Yeah.

[00:38:58] Ami: I mean, like, it's lost it's immediacy. I don't think about it all the time.

[00:39:02] Abby: Mm-hmm.

[00:39:02] Ami: It's not what we talk about every Friday night anymore.

[00:39:04] Abby: Yeah. We still talk about it, probably...

[00:39:06] Ami: It still comes up on occasion because we all share this, this thing.

[00:39:10] Abby: Yeah.

[00:39:11] Ami: But what comes up more often now are... the lawnmowers

[00:39:16] Abby and Ami: [Laughing]

[00:39:17] Ami: in the background.

[00:39:18] Abby: The weed eaters in the background. I, I'm gonna interrupt just a second guys to say, both Ami and I have done podcasts before, so this is not our first rodeo. I want this to be really, uh, raw and... dear god, the weed eaters. Um, I want this to be, to be pretty, pretty honest and raw and we're gonna do it kind of kitchen table style. I hope you can hear me. I think you probably can, probably better than I think you can. So I'm not gonna do a lot of editing on these shows. We're gonna do this around the dining room table sometime there's gonna be background noise and, and I, I most chat podcasts, uh, have a little of that. Um, unfortunately they have chosen to, uh, do the lawn today and they keep making passes by the window. So...

[00:40:05] Ami: You would think that you have the most gigantic lawn in America.

[00:40:08] Abby: [Laughing]

[00:40:08] Ami: It's really a small patch of grass. How much mowing does it need?

[00:40:13] Abby: Yeah. So I'll, I will do a, a brief polish edit for these episodes, but I do want them to feel honest and real, so hopefully, if it's like most chat podcasts, I don't think this will damage you guys' listening experience. I want, I want you to just, I want you to just feel like you sat down at the kitchen table with us while they were mowing the grass. Anyway, uh, go ahead Ami.

[00:40:37] Ami: Well, hopefully there won't be lawn mowers in the background of all the episodes, but you know, you might hear the cat or something.

[00:40:43] Abby: There you go.

[00:40:44] Ami: What comes up now has more to do with the way that it reasserts itself back into our lives, through our relationships with the people

[00:40:53] Abby: Yeah.

[00:40:53] Ami: that are still obviously important to us.

[00:40:56] Abby: You are never done, you are never done with it. And I know that those of... any of you who came out of the Mormon religion can probably relate to, to this. People that were really strict Catholics might be able to, but Adventism is kind of unique in that it tends to, because most of your schooling will have been at Adventist schools, like a lot of...

[00:41:15] Ami: So many of your friends are likely to be involved.

[00:41:18] Abby: Yeah.

[00:41:18] Ami: So many of your...

[00:41:19] Abby: And then we put them to work in Adventist institutions. So even if they change their minds later, some of them get stuck. Um, so it really just kind of, it stays in your life and of course if you, you know, your parents and um, people that were influential in your past, your teachers that you, you mentioned that you're fond of are still in this kooky religion.

[00:41:38] Ami: It's gonna keep coming up again and again. And so, I don't know. Like I said, I'm not sad about leaving Adventism now. I am very happy and I think that it's only been good for me in the long run, but, my mom's pretty sad about it. And so that has a way of coming up from time to time. And because I love my mother, it makes me sad that she's sad. You know? And so anyway, those are the ways...

[00:42:07] Abby: And your dad has found...

[00:42:08] Ami: And my dad has found his way back just as I found my way out.

[00:42:12] Abby: [Laughing]

[00:42:13] Ami: So that's a, anyway, like we said, we probably briefly touched on the subjects of 50 episodes for this podcast. So I hope you guys are gonna want to listen for a while.

[00:42:27] Abby: [Laughing] Uh, some of you who are just curious about Adventism, we hope to share some interesting things with you. I have been listening to a podcast called Thank God I'm an Atheist that is by a couple of Mormons that I find absolutely fascinating. Partially because of the elements of fundamentalist upbringing that we share, and partially because I am learning a number of fascinating things about Mormonism that I didn't know before. And it's just, it's like discovering a strange and foreign world.

[00:42:55] Abby: So anyway, if you have no experience with any of this at all, I hope we at least amuse you by our stories of childhood trauma. So one of the things I wanted to do with this podcast is also show the patchwork of the Adventist experience because I think especially if you were not brought up in a fundamentalist faith, at least I have noticed that when people, people who were raised secular talk about fundamentalist faiths, they seem to misapprehend the degree of variety, even within a very strict fundamentalist space.

[00:43:22] Ami: Even people sometimes who were brought up in a different fundamentalist faith

[00:43:27] Abby: Mm-hmm.

[00:43:28] Ami: tend to think that everyone within a different group is exactly the same, even though they know that everyone within their group is different.

[00:43:34] Abby: Is different, yeah.

[00:43:35] Ami: Alex got that a lot when going to Baptist school.

[00:43:38] Abby: Mm-hmm, mm-hmm.

[00:43:38] Ami: And they were like, 'Don't all you Adventists do this?'

[00:43:41] Abby: Yeah.

[00:43:42] Ami: Well, no. You know?

[00:43:44] Abby: No.

[00:43:44] Ami: Aren't all you... you guys are the vegetarians, right?

[00:43:47] Abby: Yeah.

[00:43:48] Ami: Well, some of us are.

[00:43:48] Abby: Some of us sort of, sometimes. It's, it's, it's quite complicated.

[00:43:52] Ami: If other Adventists are around.

[00:43:52] Abby: [Laughing] If other Adventists are around, yeah. Um, it's pretty complicated and I wanted to show the patchwork of experience and the way that people, even, even like... teaching 'fiction is wrong' can be interpreted in different ways by, it can affect different kids different ways. So anyway, one of the things I wanted to do was take a microphone to our Friday night get togethers and ask a question of everyone there. Including, we have a friend that was raised Catholic, one of our friends was raised Adventist, but never really believed it, and then we've got people like me, who completely bought it.

[00:44:30] Ami: We have a couple of friends who were raised in a completely secular...

[00:44:35] Abby: Secular environment, yeah. Which is... we've got Ami's child who was raised in a secular environment. Um, so I wanted to kind of, uh, to, to take a question each Friday night and have everybody answer it like in a, in a room by themselves without reference to other people's answers. Or maybe we'll also have some group things, but I, I'm going to drop those into this feed because I, I think it would be interesting to see how different people respond to some of these questions and these elements. So we'll have some sound bites that'll come from like a dozen or half a dozen different people.

[00:45:08] Abby: We also are going to have a call in number and I would love to hear from listeners of the podcast. I wanna have a dialogue. I wanna have a place where people can have a conversation. I know that some of you, especially if you're still in Adventism or if you're like us and you have parents or friends or teachers or colleagues or bosses who would be horrified to hear you participating in this, we're going to try to keep some degree of anonymity. And I realize that Adventism is one of these things where there's probably like two degrees of separation between any two Adventists. So people will probably figure out who we are, but we don't want people searching for our names on the internet to immediately stumble upon this podcast. If you want to participate, make comments, whatever, and you don't want your name to be known, we will completely honor that.

[00:46:01] Santiago: I just wanted to jump in really quick and echo what Abby just mentioned. Even though their podcast has ended and this is a separate project, I share the same commitment to protecting people's privacy that they did. So if you have any questions or concerns around that, there's a link to our privacy policy in the show notes and on our website as well. I want you to feel comfortable and confident that if you reach out and you have a story to share, your privacy will be protected.

[00:46:30] Abby: I'm not so concerned about people knowing who I am, but I really don't want people who like, you know, 'cause all churches are gossipy places, all churches have politics and like, I don't want someone humiliating my parents because of something I said on a podcast. And, and so I...

[00:46:45] Ami: Wouldn't it be easier if we didn't care? I, I think that sometimes, like I know people who obviously I don't want that and obviously I just...

[00:46:54] Abby: Mm-hmm.

[00:46:54] Ami: You know, it's hard because I love them and because I want them in my life.

[00:46:58] Abby: Exactly.

[00:46:59] Ami: And obviously having your family disown you or being completely cut off from them is horrible and traumatic and not something I would ever wish for...

[00:47:08] Abby: But it would be easier.

[00:47:09] Ami: But would simplify things in the moment if I didn't have to worry about hurting them. Because there's little that can be done to hurt me, I feel.

[00:47:19] Abby: Yeah, I don't have a job that's dependent upon me being an Adventist. I actually have a job that people expect people in my profession to be a little bit quirky. It's kind of like a really common trait with people in my profession to be just a little bit odd. I'm lucky in that respect.

[00:47:37] Ami: Yeah.

[00:47:37] Abby: Like I can, I can be a little bit strange and it doesn't really impact my job prospects, but I know that's not true for everyone. I mean, even just outside of Adventism, just saying you're an atheist, uh, will make some people not hire you. If you're in a custody battle for a child, don't ever say you're an atheist.

[00:47:55] Ami: Nope.

[00:47:56] Abby: It's, it's a real problem.

[00:47:58] Ami: So we take it seriously and we will joke about it, but we will not be flippant about it when it comes to protecting a listener's identity.

[00:48:08] Abby: Even if you're like, 'Well, I don't care if anyone knows who I am,' you can immediately connect me via two jumps to a major Adventist... let's see, I'm trying to think of a way to say it. A major leader in the church, just two leaps by marriage and you're there. I don't want to endanger or humiliate other people. It's, it's, it's a tricky and difficult thing and I, as you have said before, I feel like I own my own experiences and I have the right to talk about them. But I don't want to trample on other people's rights to their privacy.

[00:48:41] Ami: We're mindful of how that affects the other people in our lives and...

[00:48:47] Abby: And the weed eaters and the lawn mowers...

[00:48:49] Ami: [Laughing] So we are trying to be honest, but we may not always be able to be a hundred percent forthcoming.

[00:48:57] Abby: Yeah, yeah. Um, I was trying to decide whether to... I guess I'll say this: I went to Adventist schools up through my first degree in college. My alma mater is Southern, so I'm sure I will talk about them.

[00:49:12] Ami: That is a good thing to mention.

[00:49:14] Abby: Mm-hmm.

[00:49:14] Ami: I was a crazy enough Adventist to be homeschooled until fifth grade.

[00:49:18] Abby: [Laughing]

[00:49:18] Ami: So that's a fun topic of conversation.

[00:49:20] Abby: But your parents couldn't afford to send...

[00:49:22] Ami: Because my parents couldn't afford to. Well, I was also homeschooled 'cause they couldn't afford to send me to crazy Adventist elementary school. Um, but they were crazy enough to think that going to public school was entirely out of the question. But then I went to Adventist school through high school and then... bailed.

[00:49:39] Abby: [Laughing]

[00:49:39] Ami: Ran screaming.

[00:49:41] Abby: And Ami and I went through Adventist school up through Junior High together.

[00:49:46] Ami: Yeah. We've known each other for a long time.

[00:49:49] Abby: We have known each other for... Ami is my closest...

[00:49:52] Ami: These are all hints for people to figure out who we are.

[00:49:55] Abby: If you, if you know us in real life, you already know who we are. There's no way you don't already.

[00:49:59] Ami: That's true.

[00:50:00] Abby: Just our first names and our voices will tell you. Anyway. I don't wanna belabor the anonymity thing. But I also am very conscious of it. And I'm probably unreasonably afraid about this, I, I, I have fiction that's got some very questionable elements in it that I was terrified of my parents finding. I come to find out, my parents don't wanna find it. They actively avoid my fiction because they don't wanna know. And I don't think they would wanna know about this either, but I'm just afraid that other people...

[00:50:24] Ami: That someone else would find it and then throw it in their face.

[00:50:27] Abby: Exactly. That is exactly what I'm afraid of.

[00:50:28] Ami: Bitchy church board meeting.

[00:50:30] Abby: Horrible sort of way. So yeah, Adventist university, since then I have gone to four major non-Adventist universities. Is that right? Veterinary school, lit grad school, anesthesia school. Yes. So I've, I've definitely had some non-Adventist, higher education. I've had a lot of school. But my experience at Southern was largely positive. I mean, that was probably the best of my Adventist school experiences in some ways. And yet some of it was very scarring, too. So I... [Laughing]

[00:51:03] Ami: Well, some of it was not um... Seemed very positive at the time, and then I look back on it and go, 'What the fuck?'

[00:51:09] Abby: Yeah.

[00:51:10] Ami: Like, that was weirder than I knew it was.

[00:51:12] Abby: Oh, so true. I'm still having those moments. I'm still having those moments where I look back and like, 'Oh my God, we, we did that. That happened.' And at the time it just seemed so normal.

[00:51:23] Ami: I don't have a lot of resentment towards anyone, you know?

[00:51:26] Abby: No, it's...

[00:51:27] Ami: There are specific things that I think, 'Wow, you sure screwed the pooch on that one.'

[00:51:32] Abby: [Laughing]

[00:51:32] Ami: But I don't have... I don't know. There's nobody, I hate, for example. I don't sit up at night reciting my list of...

[00:51:40] Abby and Ami: [Laughing]

[00:51:42] Ami: you know, people in church that I hate. Yeah. I don't have, I don't have any particular animosity towards anyone and mostly I find a lot of it really funny, but when I think about being in it and really believing it, it's not funny anymore.

[00:51:59] Abby: This was another myth that we wanted to kind of burst, is this idea that people leave Adventism because they're hurt or angry. That's not a good reason to leave, in my opinion. I do know there are people that leave for that reason. I think that's a terrible reason to leave.

[00:52:12] Ami: I think that was my dad, for example.

[00:52:14] Abby: Yeah. And then you end up coming back is the problem. If you think it's true, but you just can't keep the rules, then you just feel horribly, horribly guilty all the time.

[00:52:22] Ami: Yeah.

[00:52:22] Abby: And often in your old age you come back and that's...

[00:52:24] Ami: Or you have a baby and you no longer can go out clubbing every night anyway, and you don't know how to raise your kid without this myth to teach them

[00:52:34] Abby: Mm-hmm.

[00:52:34] Ami: how to be a human.

[00:52:35] Abby: Mm-hmm.

[00:52:36] Ami: And so you fall back on it because you are overwhelmed.

[00:52:40] Abby: And it's still got its hooks in you. And I think that's almost the worst way. To, to go around feeling guilty because you just can't live up to the standard that you think is correct is the worst sort of unpleasant... like that's worse than being a staunch Adventist in my opinion, because you think you're going to hell and you like feel bad, so that, that's a terrible reason to...

[00:52:56] Ami: Neither of us left angry. Neither of us left because somebody hurt our feelings.

[00:53:01] Abby: Mm-hmm. And there wasn't even anything that I really wanted to do that I couldn't do. Once I got out I realized that that wasn't quite true, but at the time I didn't leave because I just really wanted to go drink. Like, I didn't, I didn't even leave...

[00:53:15] Ami: Bacon, I'd heard so much about it...

[00:53:16] Abby: so many good things about it. Just crunchy, smells delicious...

[00:53:18] Ami: There are all these memes and I felt like...

[00:53:20] Abby: [Laughing] I saw bacon on a cat and I wanted to eat it so badly, and I just had to leave it on the cat. That idea, that that is why anyone who leaves, leaves is a very, very common idea in Adventism. You know, it can't possibly be because they saw it was ridiculous and untrue and couldn't bring themselves to keep believing such ridiculous things!

[00:53:43] Ami: At some point, I'll have to tell the story of the last time I went to an Adventist church.

[00:53:49] Abby: You should, I think I know which story that is.

[00:53:52] Ami: So we left for not so bad reasons, I guess.

[00:53:56] Abby: Yeah, and I even tried for a very brief time. I was like, well, when I was still in Adventism, I said several times to people that if I ever didn't believe it, that leaving it would be the bravest thing I could do. And that I wasn't sure I would be brave enough to do it. Because, you know, even when I was an Adventist, I was a very thoughtful Adventist. I tried very hard to integrate my religion and not just, you know, parrot what other people had said, but really make it my own. And I was very aware that it was my subculture and that being an Adventist was the easiest thing. It was what my family was, it was what I was raised as, it was what all my ingrained habits had been tailored to.

[00:54:35] Abby: And I was very aware that what I was doing as an Adventist was not the hard thing. It wasn't the narrow road that was really difficult to walk. It was the easy thing. It was the effortless thing. And that if I was ever convicted that it wasn't true... of course, at the time, in my mind, that meant being convicted of another Christian religion, not being convicted of being an atheist. But I knew even then, I had said to people, you know, if I was ever convicted that this wasn't the truth, leaving it would be the hardest thing I could ever do. It would be really, really difficult. And I was honestly scared that I would study other religions.

[00:55:05] Ami: Turns out you were right.

[00:55:06] Abby: Yeah, and be convicted... and, and it was, it was, it was really, really hard. But when you're raised an Adventist, staying in the church is not the difficult, brave thing to do. It's the easy thing to do. And I tried for a limited time to just go through the motions. I thought, 'Well, maybe Adventism isn't true, but maybe Christianity is still true. And so maybe it doesn't matter what kind of Christian you are. And so maybe I can just kind of go through the motions. And I think I went to church, gosh, I think I only went to church once or twice after I came to that conviction. I maintained the myth in my head for longer than that, but I couldn't go to church because I would sit there and listen to the sermon and it would just be downright disturbing.

[00:55:51] Abby: I would listen to the words of the songs that I was singing and it was really, really disturbing. And I would look around at everyone else and think, 'Are you guys hearing this? Did you hear what he just said? Cause that's crazy! Like, that's really, really crazy and sort of morally reprehensible! Are you listening to what we're singing?' Once my eyes were opened, I, [laughing] I couldn't... I couldn't keep doing it even though it was hard to walk away. It was just too intellectually dishonest and disturbing and unpleasant. Anyway, I'm rambling.

[00:56:28] Ami: Well, this is a rambly episode.

[00:56:31] Abby: [Laughing]

[00:56:31] Ami: We've introduced ourselves and we've made it clear that we ramble a little bit.

[00:56:37] Abby: Yeah, I think that's long enough for our first episode. I was going to say the date at the beginning and I forgot to, so it is April 3rd, 2014 and I'll try to say the date at the beginning of each episode because we may occasionally talk about something that just happened or something in the news or like dated content. But, uh, welcome and...

[00:57:00] Ami: Talk to us.

[00:57:01] Abby: Yeah, share. Be involved. And we'll talk to you later. Goodbye!

[00:57:07] Ami: Bye!

Guest Interviews

[00:57:13] Abby: Okay. The question is when did you realize that you did not believe in God?

[00:57:18] Guest 1: I don't think I ever truly believed that God was real. I think I very strongly believed that I should believe it. So, you know, there was a lot of going through motions and assuming that at some point all would be revealed as absolute truth to me. I think it was after our daughter was born there was a line in the sand that was drawn, that was a definitive, I do not believe this and I will not teach it to my daughter.

[00:57:49] Guest 2: Yeah I don't know when I knew that God wasn't real. I know when I knew that I didn't give a shit anymore though, was when I was in high school and I was starting the process of coming out and coming to terms with who I was and all that jazz. I started to legitimately look at everything that God said 'Don't do.' And everything that was expected of you as a person and nothing that you got in return.

[00:58:20] Guest 2: And I started to realize that if God were real, he was a dick and there was no reason whatsoever for you to give a shit and for you to live your life for this entity that really didn't care about you. That was where it started for me, where I was like, regardless of whether or not he's legit or anything like that, I was like, he's still not a very good person. And I couldn't understand for the life of me why someone would want to devote their entire life to this really, really uninterested entity.

[00:58:57] Guest 3: I would say that that's a tough question because I wasn't raised with religion, but being raised as a middle class white person in the U.S., I've been inundated with the idea that I should believe there's a God. So I probably decided that there really wasn't, maybe when I was about 12 or 13.

[00:59:17] Ami: Did you have an epiphany or a reason that you...

[00:59:21] Guest 3: I went through, you know, the normal tween... I'm gonna look at Wicca and [laughing] crystals, and I had been to youth group with neighborhood kids before and had gone to church, like, 'cause I spent the night at people's houses before. And nothing... I never felt anything. So I do remember distinctly like, being by myself outside thinking, 'Okay, I'm going to open myself up to whatever could... might be out there, and try to be open about it.'

[00:59:56] Guest 3: And I just remember sitting there thinking, this is really nice and I feel nature and it's a nice day, but I don't... I don't feel a higher power, nothing's speaking to me. There... It's just nature. It just is what it is. And, and not even, I don't even think of nature spiritually. It's just there, there was no feeling of there being anything. And that didn't upset me. It just more upset me that it, that I was forced to feel like I needed to feel that there was something.

[01:00:27] Guest 4: I still kind of subscribe to a general, maybe there's something out there, but I don't see it as this strict rules, and... you have to do this or you have to do that. And there's this supreme being saying, 'You go to heaven, you go to hell.' But [sigh] it's still hard to let go of wonderment and mysticism and just something out there that I can't quite explain. That's my general feeling of it.

[01:01:02] Guest 4: But the more and more... the older and older I get, the less and less, I think there's this guy floating around in the clouds kind of thing. But I still hold onto the hope that maybe I get to float around and meet lots of cool, famous old people when I die. You know? I mean, that's just kind of, that'd be kind of fun, you know? So, I mean, that's kind of childish and silly, but it's something, you know, it's, it's weird to lose people and think that they're absolutely gone forever.

[01:01:35] Guest 5: I was actually an agnostic for many, many years without even realizing it. I just hadn't thought about these things for a long time. And I remember when it kind of hit me was watching a nature program or something, which I, I had for a long time just understood evolution to be a fact. And then in the same night, watching something about the cosmos and the Big Bang, and also thinking of history actually at the same time.

[01:01:56] Guest 5: So all these things coming together in my brain: the biological history of the planet and our species, the origin of the cosmos, and then the historical origins of religions and so on and so forth. It all became just in a flash of light, abundantly clear. I'm like, oh, that's all bullshit. That's all total nonsense. It's all completely made up. I, I see that now. It's so clear, 'cause for me, when you removed the questions of why you would even need a deity to exist, and there was no answer for that. And then you understand the history of the species, of us. What we know about the history of our species, like, okay, yeah, totally. It's all absolute nonsense.

[01:02:30] Guest 6: It was gradual for me. For a really long time, I felt like the church was not good. Like the more I learned about the world, the more I felt like there were all of these side effects of my religion that I didn't like. But my senior year of high school, a friend of our mom's got really, really sick and she was raising her granddaughter because her granddaughter's mother and father were both drug addicts and she got cancer and she was going to die.

[01:03:02] Guest 6: And this little girl who had never, literally the only person in her life is her grandmother, came to live with us. And it was awful. She hated it. And my mom felt like she had to do this because it was her duty. But my mom was sick still. And it was just, it was awful. And I remember laying in bed one night looking up at these fake stars that had half fallen down. And I came to the realization that God was either not there and didn't exist, or he was there, but he didn't care about any of us, or he was there and he couldn't do anything about any of it.

[01:03:46] Guest 6: And in all honesty, the least scary one was that he just wasn't there, was that he just didn't exist. And that was... the real beginning of the end for me, was this moment that we either have this ineffectual being, or we have this selfish maker, or we just didn't have one. And then I read a lot of scientific things that said we just didn't have one.

[01:04:13] Guest 7: I was a, an oddball little kid skeptic. So I remember being a kid and they were like, 'And then the ax had floated, and there were talking animals and all this magical stuff.' And I was like, 'Nu-uh, that's not real. You guys are making it up as you go!' But I still was a, you know, I was a kid and so I, I wanted to believe and I was like, 'Oh man, this has gotta be true.'

[01:04:38] Guest 7: I, I can remember being a mid-level teenager and some friend being like, 'I'm an atheist.' And I was like, 'No man, 'cause we got like rivers and the moon. How do you explain that?' For sure, by the time I was a senior in high school, I was like, this is not real, because every time you guys get up in front of us at this private school and talk, it's like you made it up. And it's like, you made it up this week and it's different than it was last week. It just always felt like you were making it up.

[01:05:11] Guest 7: I was confidently an atheist by the time I was in college and I took World Religion classes and they described how everybody around the globe made it up in a different way. And I was like, yeah, that settles it. There's no God.

[01:05:24] Ami: When did you know that God wasn't real?

[01:05:26] Guest 8: Okay. Um, well, I mean, I compartmentalized it, so it's, for me, he isn't real. I don't really, you know, try to tell people what...

[01:05:35] Ami: You don't have the definitive answer on that.

[01:05:37] Guest 8: No. Um, man, I guess it was, it started maybe five years ago. You know when, when you look at the world and you see like, 'Oh, okay, so good things happen to good and bad people, and bad things happen to good and bad people no matter what they do.' And it's just like, so what's the point? And then looking at, you know, the Bible and stuff was like, why do we believe it? Because someone told us, you know, someone we trusted. And why did they believe it? Because someone told them. I was like, okay, well this is like a bunch of traditions. Like, well, you know, why is the Bible so special?

[01:06:06] Guest 8: And then I learned that it was made by committee. It's like, well what about all those other books that were left out? Aren't they holy as well? You know, it's like, well, 'cause humans threw them out, you know? So it just, it all just started piling up. And then I guess, um, maybe three years ago I was looking at the, um, the Battle of Jericho, you know, where they were walking around and, oh, what a miracle that the walls fell. They went in and slaughtered everybody.

[01:06:28] Guest 8: And then I remembered, um, that little story with Jesus bringing the children. It's like, 'even these,' you know, 'are sinless come to me.' Like, wait a minute. So the God at Jericho commanded them to wipe out sinless children. It's like, how does that fit anything other than, oh, it's a convenient excuse. And then, you know, it just switched over to, okay, so it's being used by people, this tradition to control. And at that point I said, okay, 'Even if there is a God, I really, I wouldn't wanna join him.' [Background conversation] I just, you know, who cares? I'd rather go to hell.

[01:07:03] Guest 9: Well, for me, it was back in 1989 and my wife and I wanted to get married in this one beautiful Presbyterian church overlooking the ocean. It was absolutely gorgeous. So we met with the pastor and he was curious about what Adventists believe compared to Presbyterian. And so we were gonna just touch bases on that. So he was asking me, you know, what my beliefs were, and...

[01:07:29] Guest 9: And so I was very proud to announce that, uh, at that time, that uh, 'You know, at the second coming, the ones that had accepted the plan of salvation would bodily rise up off the planet.' And I was imagining my feet leaving the ground physically, not spiritually ascending, but leaving the ground. And, but I was serious at the time 'cause I was still kind of in it, but kind of not in it. And so I was imagining all these people leaving and then traveling through space, um, to, uh, this place with twelve foundations.

[01:08:05] Guest 9: So we would be space traveling without a spaceship. And then we would go to a heaven with 12 foundations and then review the books of why our loved ones weren't there, and things like this. And, and the more I talk, the more I'm like, 'Is this coming out of my mouth?' You know, like really actually saying this?

[01:08:26] Guest 9: And then, uh, then of course, uh, the third coming where the people that were, uh, unsavable would be, you know, destroyed and, and burned and things like this. And then the earth would be destroyed. Maybe the moon, but who, who cares? And, uh, so the, uh, then the planet would be made new and we would then, after a millennia living in heaven, come back to the earth and then we would be placed back on the planet again.

[01:08:57] Guest 9: And it sounds just like some really bad science fiction movie when you're looking at it in a new perspective. And I'm just watching my mouth moving and hearing myself talking and thinking, 'Wow, you know, I've got the, I got the paragraphs well rehearsed. I know what I should say' uh, but then I've gotta like rethink this. And that was a turning point where I was listening to myself doing this and uh, it was very eye-opening to hear it through other people's ears of what I'm actually saying.

[01:09:30] Ami: So when did you know that God wasn't real?

[01:09:34] Guest 10: Well, I remember that I had to put him to the test. I was being sent to baptismal class, like when you're 12 or something, and it was just assumed that you were gonna do this, not like you're just gonna decide and volunteer yourself. And so I started getting really uncomfortable with it. Like when we were doing the study things.

[01:09:59] Guest 10: So I had all these tests I was doing, like, 'I'm gonna pray for this and if it doesn't turn out...' And they were just stupid things. I don't even remember what they were. But that was probably my first questioning. And then interestingly enough, losing a pet was like, this startling thing to me. It was related to the other thing because, I was inconsolable 'cause this was a dog that we'd had since I could remember.

[01:10:29] Guest 10: So when we lost Lassie, I needed to be assured that Lassie's gonna go to heaven or like, there isn't any going to heaven in the meantime, with Adventism. So she was not there. My mom was like, you know, 'No, they don't.' And I was just like, I don't wanna be there if, I mean, what kind of a God would let a kid not have their dog in heaven if they're all powerful? So that was kind of an awakening, like how can you believe in somebody like that?

[01:11:02] Guest 10: And then I think that those were things that planted questions in my head, but then having the loss of my brother and my dad, that was the final thing because I felt like there was no comfort in the belief system of the state of the dead, and that it just, it just seemed like random and senseless that you would just... the whole state of God and, and the dealing it with it through grief was just like the big eye opener for me that this is like, there, there's nothing there.

[01:11:42] Ami: Yeah.

[01:11:43] Guest 10: It was a scary thought cuz I'm like, 'We are totally on our own,' you know? And then I was like, no we're not. 'Cause I have all these people, I have my siblings that I adore. I have people that I care about. And then when I met Jim, it was like, no, 'You're making this life for yourself on Earth.' It's, this is what it is.

[01:12:03] Ami: I find that much more comforting.

[01:12:05] Guest 10: Yes. Much more comforting. People.

[01:12:08] Guest 11: I mean, I always, I always felt like church was... shit.

[01:12:13] Abby: Mm-hmm, mm-hmm.

[01:12:15] Guest 11: Even when I was a kid, like my father was a pastor, like going to church felt...

[01:12:19] Abby: Oh, well that, that ruins... That's, that's the equivalent of working in the Harry Potter theme park and not being able to appreciate the rides.

[01:12:25] Guest 11: Well, I mean, it's show. It's a show, it's a show, because you're the pastor's son.

[01:12:29] Abby: Yeah, yeah.

[01:12:30] Guest 11: So you have to like, play this role where you have to be like, this angel.

[01:12:34] Abby: But you see behind all the cardboards.

[01:12:35] Guest 11: Yeah. And you're like, oh, these people are just as lost as any other motherfucker on the street.

[01:12:40] Abby: Mm-hmm.

[01:12:40] Guest 11: And they're looking to a pastor who doesn't know what's up

[01:12:43] Abby: Uhhuh.

[01:12:44] Guest 11: Except his faith. And that's kind of super relative.

[01:12:51] Guest 12: There wasn't any defining moment for me. Like I couldn't tell you the day. I know that it was simply the scariest [laughing] most horrific time of my life.

[01:13:03] Abby: Yeah.

[01:13:04] Guest 12: I felt... like I was dragged kicking and screaming and also, it really challenged my identity as a person. And that it marginalized me within my family structure. Not that my parents are terribly religious. My mom goes to church on like holidays. I was raised Catholic. My mom goes to church on like major holidays. We went every Sunday when I was growing up. And I was also part of continuing Catholic education 'cause I didn't go to Catholic school. So I went every Wednesday for that. And then I went on Sundays.

[01:13:36] Guest 12: But once we moved out of the house, my mom largely stopped attending church. Although when I got married she did tell me, 'You know, I've been donating to the church in your name this whole time. So if you wanna get married in a Catholic church, you're on the books and you have that option.' And I was like, no, we're not... religion will not factor into our ceremony at all.

[01:13:58] Abby: So this was a while...

[01:14:00] Guest 12: This was a while back, yeah.

[01:14:01] Abby: Was there a trigger event?

[01:14:04] Guest 12: I think it was triggered by my own battle with depression. And the nihilism that sort of was born out of my hereditary chemical imbalance. Like, everybody in my family has a history of depression. And so I was kind of saddled with that. But when I began to struggle with this, especially once I had moved out of the house, I struggled with it when I was living in the house in high school and stuff. But when I moved out of the house and I was struggling on my own, these questions, when they came up, there was nobody there to like refute them. And I really had the freedom to like, go there with those thoughts of 'What if there's nothing?' What if... It's very death centric for me, and that's kind of where it started because I have a lot of anxiety around death.

[01:14:49] Abby: Mm-hmm, mm-hmm.

[01:14:50] Guest 12: And so I would think, gosh, what if it is just , cut feed when you die? What if it is just dead, over? And to me, that was so scary. Because when I was going to church, when I was religious, that was something that there was this given set of rules, and if you would adhere to them, you had nothing to fear. And so I also, like you, did not feel like coming to atheism was a freeing experience because there was no structure, and I felt very adrift.

[01:15:23] Abby: Yeah and, I, I've said this before on Friday nights, but, like, I — I really do feel like what religion does for people is alleviate the fear of death.

[01:15:32] Guest 12: Sure.

[01:15:33] Abby: And the fear of never seeing loved ones again. And I, I know other people think there's other reasons for it, but at least to me, it seems like... I don't think it will ever cease to exist until science can offer us the possibility of immortality. Like, I, I don't think that... because it's so powerful.

[01:15:52] Guest 12: Which, you know, transhumanism, now you're getting into something that is also terrifying, right? [laughing]

[01:15:57] Abby: It's true, it's true. I like existing, and also the idea of my closest friends and family dying is... like, the idea of saying goodbye forever is, is really, really horrifying to me.

[01:16:11] Guest 12: I mean, just the idea of forever not existing... there's no concept of forever because everybody just gets their lifetime.

[01:16:19] Abby: Yeah, and I... right before I left religion, there was a period when I thought about death almost every day for like, several years and I think part of the problem was that I couldn't... I couldn't completely convince myself heaven was real. Because as I think now, it's not real, and my logical mind knew that. But I just kept thrashing, you know, I just kept thrashing it over and over and over and over.

[01:16:45] Abby: And once I finally admitted to myself that I didn't believe in it, like, I actually eventually, stopped thinking about it all the time, but I didn't know that was what was gonna happen. Like, I, I just, I couldn't keep pretending, like, I couldn't keep believing it. Like it was just, you know, I can't make myself believe in unicorns and I couldn't make myself believe in that.

[01:17:05] Guest 12: Yeah. And I think that, um, you know, we were talking earlier about how I, in a lot of ways, still carry this like, torch of hope.

[01:17:16] Abby: Yeah, and I didn't mean to—that's—I was worried about that question for you because I didn't wanna, um, make you feel like you were like uncool or like an outcast or something if you didn't.

[01:17:25] Guest 12: But the thing is...

[01:17:25] Abby: If you're like, I don't agree with your question.

[01:17:27] Guest 12: No, no, no, no. The thing about it is, is like, since I have come to atheism, I remain an atheist because I have not found evidence.

[01:17:35] Abby: Yeah.

[01:17:35] Guest 12: I remain open to evidence.

[01:17:36] Abby: Sure, sure.

[01:17:37] Guest 12: And hopeful of evidence, but evidence just doesn't exist. It's not, it has never been presented to me.

[01:17:43] Abby: Mm-hmm.

[01:17:44] Guest 12: And until it is, which, part of me remains so hopeful that it will be, which I think is... when I think about that logically, I can recognize that as my anxiety about death. Yeah, so often people will say, 'Oh, you're an atheist. You know, the thing I hate about atheists is they're so militant and they're kind of like proselytizing like, you know, atheism. It's the same thing where you have this message and you're trying to like convert people to atheism.'

[01:18:10] Abby: Have you ever met that person though? 'Cause that is a straw man.

[01:18:14] Guest 12: I never have. But it is oftentimes an argument that I will hear from friends and acquaintances who are religious.

[01:18:20] Abby: 'That's just another kind of religion' they'll say.

[01:18:24] Guest 12: I wanna say to them, "Do you know me?"

[01:18:25] Abby: Yeah, yeah!

[01:18:26] Guest 12: I am the most hopeful, open...

[01:18:29] Abby: "Here's what an atheist looks like."

[01:18:30] Guest 12: I want this to be true so desperately. And it's just not true. And until I'm presented with proof, I cannot believe it. You know, but I'm not closed off.

[01:18:40] Abby: Mm-hmm.

[01:18:41] Guest 12: I don't feel like atheism has closed me off.

[01:18:43] Abby: Yeah.

[01:18:44] Guest 12: At all. If anything, I think that it has made me more open to a world of possibilities. The problem is, is that none of those possibilities have been proven,

[01:18:55] Abby: Appear to be real [laughing]

[01:18:56] Guest 12: or appear to be real. So I just have to, you know, slog on, with this sort of anxiety. And I'm working that out every day. Like every year it kind of gets a little bit better. It's not a hopeless existence.

[01:19:08] Abby: Yeah.

[01:19:08] Guest 12: Certainly not.

[01:19:08] Abby: Mm-hmm.

[01:19:09] Guest 12: And if anything, it has made me really treasure and like count on the people in my life that much more. Because everything becomes more precious.

[01:19:17] Abby: Yeah. And that's...

[01:19:19] Guest 12: An impetus to be good isn't because there's a reward. It's because, as a human, that's what you should do.

[01:19:27] Abby: Which seems much more honorable than being good because god will beat you

[01:19:31] Guest 12: Sure.

[01:19:32] Abby: if you are not good.

[01:19:33] Guest 12: Right.

Haystacks & Hell Outro

[01:19:34] Santiago: Thanks for listening. If you have a story to share about your Adventist or fundamentalist experience, we'd love to hear it. You can submit stories on our website at hell.bio (that's H E L L dot B I O) or leave us a voicemail at 301-750-8648 and we might feature it in a future episode. Thanks to Abby and Ami for their original podcast audio, and thanks again for listening. We'll see you on the next one!

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