Meet Kyle: Future Pastor turned Agnostic Atheist

S1:E14
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April 22, 2023
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Santiago interviews Adam Kyle Jones, an ex-Adventist who studied to become a Seventh-day Adventist pastor at the SDA school Oakwood University. Kyle went from being a lifelong fundamentalist, conservative Adventist to an agnostic atheist. We cover his upbringing, deconversion, depression, and how he came out stronger on the other side.

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Credits: 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.

Meet Kyle: Future SDA Pastor turned Agnostic Atheist

[00:00:16] Santiago: Hey everyone, welcome back to Haystacks and Hell. I'm your host Santiago and today, I'm very excited to speak with Adam Kyle Jones, a fellow millennial ex-Adventist. Kyle grew up as a fourth generation Seventh-day Adventist in the small town of Quinton New Jersey and attended an SDA church in the Allegheny East Conference.

[00:00:39] He started preaching by accident at the age of 14, taught Sabbath school classes, and was an ordained deacon in his church. Kyle's had a heart for theology, first studying philosophy at a community college and then transferring to the Adventist school Oakwood University in Huntsville, Alabama.

[00:00:59] Kyle's plan was to go into ministry, but he eventually let go of his faith after three years at Oakwood, and now identifies as an agnostic atheist. He's currently pursuing a bachelor's in education with the goal of getting his master's in philosophy and religion, and eventually becoming a college professor.

[00:01:19] He enjoys reading and painting, and has a deep love for the anime One Piece. In addition to enjoying discussions about science, history, and philosophy, Kyle's committed to promoting skepticism and critical thinking and talks about atheism, apologetics, and logical fallacies on TikTok and Instagram. So with that background, let's jump into our conversation. Kyle, thank you so much for your work and thanks for coming on the show.

[00:01:47] Kyle: Thank you for having me, it's a pleasure.

[00:01:49] Santiago: First I want to ask you about growing up in Quinton. I looked it up and apparently the town of Quinton has about 2,500 people according to a recent census. Does that sound about right?

[00:02:01] Kyle: Yeah, actually sounds more than I would think.

[00:02:03] Santiago: Really? Okay, so what was it like growing up in such a small town?

[00:02:09] Kyle: Well, I didn't like it growing up. I like people, I like to be around people, be around my friends. And so Quinton is a small town, like the type you'd see in a scary movie or something like, just very standard. I live at least five miles outside of the small town, in the country, where most of the people live, like out in the middle of nowhere.

[00:02:30] So growing up it was woods, trees, ponds, lakes, and, um, I kind of grew up in that type of atmosphere. And the reason we moved out there, um, when I was very young was my dad was very into Ellen G White and living inside of the wilderness and, you know, where it's quiet. And so we lived out there.

[00:02:49] My dad had gardens and, you know, I enjoyed the nature. I enjoyed having to use my imagination. Me and my brother would go outside and play and find animals, find bugs, and I enjoyed all of that growing up. But as I got older, I definitely started to really hate it and want to be around my friends and around human beings.

[00:03:09] Santiago: Mm-hmm, that's so interesting and it's funny you mentioned that because your parents were able to do what my parents weren't ever able or maybe quite willing to do. My mom, I think was as much as, if not a bigger reader of Ellen G White than my dad was. And my mom very much wanted us to move to the countryside.

[00:03:33] I've talked about before how we were homeschooled and how, she really bought into, you know, this idea that we need to remove ourselves from, [laughing] from the world. I think with time, she's realized maybe that's not as practical as it might sound when you read about that in some of those books. But that's so interesting. So your parents, was it before you were born that they had made that move or did they move there after you had already been born?

[00:03:59] Kyle: After I was born, pretty much. But before that, I don't remember, but I have seen our old house and I guess you could say it's a suburb, but there was like woods on the other side of the street. It was just like a few houses on a dead end road, and we lived there, so it was kind of country, but like, my dad, I think wanted to live more so secluded. Like where I live now, my only neighbors is my grandmother and my aunt. Their houses were built there. Other than that, you gotta drive to the next house, so...

[00:04:28] Santiago: Interesting, okay. I had an Adventist friend, or a friend who grew up Adventist, who lived in the middle of nowhere in Ohio. And their closest neighbor was, I wanna say, you know, like a couple miles away. Or at least, it would've taken you a, several minutes minimum, walking to get to the next house.

[00:04:51] They were very warm, very inviting people and I think, you know, some of that warmth that we hear about is something that I think is a nice thing and is, is missing from, you know, other parts of the States. But there's also, I think, a sense of isolation. You kind of touched on being, wanting to be more around your friends, and I imagine like, if you fall out with your family or other people in that community, being that isolated probably has its disadvantages as well, right?

[00:05:21] Kyle: Oh yeah, of course. Especially the older you get, if you don't have a car or a way to get away, you're just kind of stuck. And, and that was, I think, what I disliked most. I had a lot of falling out with my family growing up where we, our ideas just didn't match. And so it was just, you know, it's, it can be very lonely and almost like you're forced to like, get over it, whatever your problem is with whatever the culture your family has. And so that's something that really bothered me growing up.

[00:05:49] Santiago: Yeah, I can imagine. So speaking of that, I, I wanted to ask, what are some of the earliest memories that you have growing up Adventist? And since you mentioned falling out with your family, it sounds like you maybe openly questioned some of the church's teachings growing up. So what was that like?

[00:06:09] Kyle: It was definitely interesting um, because I didn't know what exactly I was doing wrong. And that's exactly what it was, you were right. I questioned things that I was taught. My earliest memory actually, I would say was at Sabbath school, and my aunt was the Sabbath school teacher. She was talking about Noah's Ark and I simply just asked a question of how they could fit all the animals in the world, like two of every animal in the world, on the boat.

[00:06:36] And it was a honest, genuine question. I can remember getting smacked in my mouth, like popped real quick. Yeah, because that was my aunt, you know, she can't hit the other kids, but you know, she can smack me. And she smacked me and she said I was being disrespectful, and I never asked a question again to her.

[00:06:53] I can remember asking my dad things when I was very young. One specific question I just asked him was, 'How do we actually know there's a God?' And as a kid you just wonder, you know? I remember he was very upset, very annoyed, very, like his face tightened. And, um, he told me that, you know, there's things that we have to believe and these are things that are true and that I need to get myself together.

[00:07:14] And I was just a kid. I was just questioning. I wanted to know why I'm doing anything that I'm doing. I would always ask, why, why, why? And I think that's kind of what caused problems growing up. But my earliest memories were probably those two. I always go back to those when I think of where I am now.

[00:07:30] Santiago: I still can't get over the fact that your aunt slapped you in, in Sabbath school. I don't blame you for not asking her, uh, questions after that. I don't think I would've either. So speaking of that, you know, you've talked about how your dad said there's certain things you just believe in, you know, I imagine they talked about faith.

[00:07:50] Did you ever hear people talk about having a relationship with Jesus? And since you had some of these questions from a young age, do you feel like you ever experienced any moments that felt spiritual or supernatural?

[00:08:03] Kyle: I did, but I would say those moments came closer to being a teenager. As a kid, I can remember distinctly being in church, in back of the church, um, working on the sound system. Me and my little brother used to do that all the time. And the preacher was talking about relationship with Jesus. And I remember thinking like, how can I have a relationship with this person?

[00:08:25] Like, to me, it felt like I believe Jesus exists because I was indoctrinated to believe it. So I believed it, but it still felt so foreign and weird and strange. And I remember making up my mind that I don't care. And, um, I said something like that to my brother. I said, 'You know, when I get older and I move out the house, I don't think Imma care about religion or God, or, you know. Not that I won't believe it, because at that time I believed it was true. I, I just wouldn't care because it's messing with my brain and the way I'm thinking. And it's troubling me to even try to wrap my head around it. And it just seems like something I just wanna leave alone.

[00:09:00] Santiago: Interesting, okay. And so you said you were about a teenager when you had that thought?

[00:09:04] Kyle: Yeah, I would say like maybe like 12 or 13.

[00:09:07] Santiago: Okay, hmm. So speaking of that, you know what, and especially given the fact that your parents intentionally moved closer to the countryside, I imagine they had some pretty strong thoughts about the end times. So did you grow up with any anxiety about death, or the afterlife, or end times?

[00:09:29] Kyle: Yeah, I would say a, a lot. My dad, more so than my mom, is very into Ellen White, into last day events. What he calls quote unquote "present truth." And that's being the most important thing that we need to talk about, the sanctuary in the last days. And so all my life, I've heard that type of stuff from my parents in our house. Every sermon my dad ever preached has something to do with Revelation, last days. That's like his go-to.

[00:09:57] So for me, I always thought about that I need to be perfect. I need to stop and be completely sinless because one day we won't have like an intercessor. And we'll have to stand on our own.

[00:10:08] And, and I used to be so afraid and they'd say, you know, anybody could, you know, have one sin and they'll be lost. I think what really got me as a kid though, is a small book. I forget the author, but the book's called Now, N O W. It's by an, an Adventist, I believe. And it's about the last day events coming true, and the Sunday law coming, and everything happening.

[00:10:31] And in this book, the uh, main character, she's the only faithful one in her family and her mom and dad, her brother, her older sister, they all are lost. They all don't care about the Sunday law. And she starts to realize the Holy Spirit left them. And she's running and they're being hunted down and tortured and shot at. And then she gets captured.

[00:10:49] And when she gets captured, she's so scared and they're about to kill everybody and then Jesus comes. You know, they'd see the small cloud, the size of a fist, and it's the end of the book. And my mom read that to us as if it's a happy story. And all it did was terrify me. I was like, it just sounded like science fiction, kind of?

[00:11:09] Like everybody is like, uh, had their body snatched by aliens and they're the only human being left. Like that's what it felt like. Like everybody's taken over by Satan. And so all my life, until I got a little older and started reading last day events for myself, all my childhood, I would say, I was terrified of last days.

[00:11:26] Santiago: Wow yeah, it's interesting to hear people talk about that because even though I grew up in a conservative and fundamentalist church, I don't remember hearing too much about this idea that Jesus would stop being the intercessor and that you'd have to be perfect for a certain amount of time.

[00:11:46] And I imagine if there's any progressive or you know, liberal or moderate Adventists listening to this, they're probably like, 'Well, that's not what I hear in my church,' but I'm glad that you and others are speaking out about this. Somebody also submitted a story to the website using the pseudonym Faithless Fundie. I read her story a couple episodes back where she talks about that same thing.

[00:12:08] She thought that she would have to be perfect until, you know, between the time that Jesus left heaven and came back to Earth. It's so interesting to hear that people were traumatized, I think, and terrified from being taught that. I'm hearing you mention you believed in God, you believed that there was a God, but you also kind of had these questions. And you've talked about how you were an ordained deacon, so that must have meant you were a baptized member by that point, right?

[00:12:40] Kyle: Yes.

[00:12:41] Santiago: Okay, so how old were you when you got baptized and what made you decide to get baptized?

[00:12:47] Kyle: I think that I was maybe like nine or 10, I was young. And I wanted to get baptized because all the other kids in my church my age were getting baptized. I'll be honest, there was nothing behind it. My cousin got baptized. He stood up after a sermon and I, I was like, 'Oh, so I'm gonna stand up too.' And I went to get baptized. My dad didn't wanna let that slide with me just getting baptized without knowing anything, so he did give me bible studies, um, me and my little brother for about three months before we got baptized.

[00:13:17] Santiago: I do appreciate that at least, it sounds like a lot of Adventists wanted their kids to get baptized when they were old enough, or when they thought they might be old enough to make a decision. You know, at the age I got baptized in my teenage years, I still didn't fully know everything. I didn't have the full picture, I thought I did, and my decision was genuine and it was my own. But at the very least I do appreciate that there is an attempt usually with, with a lot of these baptismal stories to make sure that you know, more or less what you're signing up for. So you've talked about how your dad was preaching. He gave you the Bible studies before you got baptized, or when you made that decision. So was he a pastor or was he just like an active lay leader in the church?

[00:14:02] Kyle: I would say like an active lay leader. He was one of the elders and, uh, we had a very small church, so our pastor had like three different churches to attend to, so the elders would preach. And so my dad would typically, he'd preach, you know, every so often, at least twice a month. And so I would hear him preaching a lot. And he also was part of a, um, ministry outside of the church, and they did sermons and had their own like church outside of the conference. And so I would hear my dad do those types of things. He's a very active member of the church. .

[00:14:33] Santiago: Yeah, I've been to one of those independent churches outside of the official conference system. You've mentioned that you started preaching by accident at the age of 14. So this is after you got baptized. What's the story there?

[00:14:49] Kyle: It's actually hilarious, [laughing] I can remember before that, never knowing what I'd do for the rest of my life. For a long time I wanted to be some type of scientist. I love science, so that was what was in my head. And that night was actually the night that I decided to be a pastor. What happened was my church was doing a thing where for prayer meeting on Wednesday night, they would have some of the youth speak, like a five, 10 minute talk or a sermon.

[00:15:15] One of the boys name's Eric, he's a good friend of mine to this day. He was supposed to preach, but he somehow talked me into doing it instead. And I was like, 'Oh man, like, I don't wanna,' and he said like, you know, 'You should go ahead,' you know. And I, they pushed me to do it and I walked up there with nothing prepared.

[00:15:32] I can remember my dad looking so confused and I just had my Bible in my hand and I like opened it up and I stood there for like five minutes, flipping through the pages. I found a Bible verse just saying, it's like a terrible thing to fall into the hands of the living God. And I was just like, 'Whoa.' like I highlighted that verse my Bible at some point, I guess. And I said, 'I'll preach on that.'

[00:15:51] I basically preached that we need to be more careful in how we treat each other and how we act as a church, because God's watching and we need to just remember that we will be judged one day. So every time that you're rude to somebody, basically a, a, a message on just treating people better in the church.

[00:16:07] And I made it very personal, maybe a little too personal. I was like, you know, members doing, and I would like call out certain things that happened in our church. But I was a young, you know, young man. So to them, they were all listening. They're like, 'Wow, Iike, he's really saying it.' I got done preaching. Everybody was, they were excited, the way I spoke. I, I think I naturally was able to, do public speaking very well. And one of the older elders in my church told me that I should go to Oakwood and become a pastor, because I have a gift, and he believes God called me. And when he told me that, I believed God called me.

[00:16:38] Santiago: Interesting, okay, wow. It's interesting to me that you went from kind of having these questions and doubts and then getting baptized because you saw other people like your cousin getting baptized, but then you're all out of the sudden put into this position where, unexpectedly, you're preaching in front of the church on Wednesday night. And then you get told by an adult, a leader in the church, that you've been "called by God."

[00:17:05] I've heard other people who are now ex-Christians talk about how they were told that they were "called by God" or that they had a gift, and that they really genuinely believed that at the time because someone they trusted, or someone in a position of authority told them that. So it's very interesting to me, like when you heard that, in that moment, did some of the doubts you had previously just kind of go away, or was that not on your mind at the time? Like, what was the transition from the time you got baptized to the time you gave that sermon by accident, to where you're convicted and you're thinking, 'Okay, this is maybe my future.'

[00:17:40] Kyle: I would say it definitely was the Bible studies my dad gave me way back, for baptism.

[00:17:46] Santiago: Hmm.

[00:17:47] Kyle: One certain message or little study he did was how God loves us so much that he lavishes us with his love. And that's, that kind of was like the word. My dad was like, 'Do you know what the word lavish means?' And he talked about how much God loves us, and it was a good message and it was way different than the other Bible studies, which were about like, doctrine.

[00:18:06] And um, at the end of it, my dad gave us huge bowls of ice cream with all these different toppings on the table. And he set it all out for us. And he said, 'Now I'm going to show you how much God loves you by lavishing you with my love. And just like how I love you and I'm giving you all this ice cream tonight, is how God feels about you, and what more he wants to do for you.'

[00:18:23] I think that kind of broke my heart in a good way that night, because I can remember going to bed that night and like thinking about God and how much he loves me, and I was crying. I think since that point on and getting baptized, I felt a strong sense of conviction, and I kind of swallowed any doubts I had immediately. I used to say this all the time when I preached, but I would say 'Doubt your doubts before you doubt your beliefs.'

[00:18:46] Santiago: Hmm, interesting. That's a, that's a catchy saying, I can totally picture a pastor saying that from a pulpit. Not to put you on the spot or, or have people going and digging up old content, but were any of those sermons, like, are those still out there somewhere on the internet?

[00:19:04] Kyle: Yes there are, there is, uh about four sermons of mine on the internet, including my first actual sermon. Not the one from prayer meeting, but the first sermon I prepared and preached.

[00:19:14] Santiago: Interesting, okay. Well, if you don't mind, I, I won't link it if you don't want me to, but I'm personally interested in seeing that, if you'd be okay with me taking a look, you don't have to decide now. But, uh, I'm curious because you mentioned that you were interested in science and that you wanted to be a scientist. So were you taught about Young Earth creationism and, you know, what was that like, and how did you shift away from that worldview over time?

[00:19:44] Kyle: Oh yeah, definitely. Um, I would say that the Young Earth creationism thing was actually a term I didn't hear till after I was out of the church. Growing up, it just was a fact to me, like it was my world view. The earth is young, it's 6,000 years old and Jesus is coming back at 7,000, you know. Like there's a whole thing my dad used to teach about that, even though the Bible says not to find a day or a year, but they would always say that.

[00:20:07] I grew up listening to like Walter Veith, my dad loved watching Walter Veith, Doug Batchelor, very conservative Adventists that taught this type of thing. And so growing up, it was the worldview I had. And my dad, I went to camp meeting one year, my dad bought me this comic book by an Adventist named Jim Pinkowski. The comic book was "The Truth About Dinosaurs" and I would read it and it basically was teaching me creationism.

[00:20:33] But to me, not knowing any other science and already believing in God, I was like, 'This is common sense.' Like, the world must not understand this stuff. So, you know, that the world's 6,000 years old, that dinosaurs and humans coexisted, like it all made sense in this book. It was like the typical Kent Ham...

[00:20:49] Everyone: [Laughing]

[00:20:50] Kyle: Like, it was like the typical stuff like that. And um, it made so much sense to me. I think that got me interested in science along with my brother and I catching like, salamanders and lizards and frogs. Like I loved the animals, like seeing how they worked, and I was just like, wow, like 'I really love nature, I would love to study this type of stuff.' And so that was kind of my interest. But I would, at that time, I would've had no idea that evolution was ever actually really a thing. I don't think I even took it seriously.

[00:21:20] Santiago: So was that something that you then explored after entering college or after leaving college?

[00:21:28] Kyle: Yeah, I would say actually, um, in college. When I was in college, I fell asleep one night, and this will come up again, where I fall asleep and wake up [laughing]. But I fell asleep and I woke up to my laptop playing YouTube videos, cause I always leave it on YouTube. And it was playing a video by a YouTube channel called Viced Rhino. And he's an atheist YouTuber and he talks about creationism versus, you know, evolution and stuff like that.

[00:21:54] And he had a video on, and he was actually debunking, uh, Walter Veith. And I was like, 'Wow, that's very specific.' And I watched the video and, what was left of it, and I started watching all his videos. At the time I thought it was maybe Satan, causing me to doubt stuff. And so I, uh, I turned the videos off, but that's what started me looking into it. And it was mostly accident.

[00:22:18] Santiago: That's so interesting, wow. I love asking people this question because you know, you talk about not knowing the term Young Earth creationism until after you left the church. I think it wasn't until after I left the church, or after I started deconstructing that I realized that there were people who believed in theistic evolution.

[00:22:40] And I had never heard of that before until I became an adult, I know that much. So it's very, it's always interesting to me to ask people kind of, how they were raised, believing about the age of the earth, and creationism and evolution. There's just so much great information out there that I think many of us didn't, didn't grow up with.

[00:23:02] So I am personally still kind of learning more about evolution, but even though I wasn't raised with it, I can still appreciate all of the research that's out there. All of the people that are talking about it. I've talked before about how there is an evolutionary explanation for things like empathy and cooperation.

[00:23:21] And so some of these things that people just ascribe automatically to God or to a, you know, higher power of some sort, can actually be explained by evolutionary biology. And, uh, it's fascinating to me, and I, I just wish that more people can start kind of seeing resources like that, like what you accidentally came across.

[00:23:43] Kyle: Yeah, definitely. I would say too, just 'cause I thought it was a funny thing, when actually looking into evolution, I can remember way back, I remember when I was watching the video, I remembered way back my church put this Christian movie on where they were in one part of the movie trying to put evolution and creation together.

[00:24:01] And I was so upset by it that in my next sermon that I at the church, mentioned the movie and how if you do that, we have no reason to keep the Sabbath. And I was so upset by that and I preached that. The whole sermon was on like why evolu — mind you, I had no idea what evolution was, but I preached on why it's wrong and it has to be wrong because the Sabbath is true.

[00:24:22] A lot of people in my church actually were upset with me over that sermon, because they felt like I was attacking the person that put the movie on. And, um, I was like really upset. It was, that was when I was a little older though. I was in my twenties.

[00:24:32] Santiago: It's so fascinating that you mentioned that because Jeff, in an interview I did with him, talked about how yeah, if the literal seven day creation myth is just a myth, then yeah, why is the seventh day Sabbath that important? I personally never really thought about that connection growing up, but looking back, it makes a lot of sense how those things are very much linked.

[00:25:00] I wouldn't be surprised if there's some Adventists who maybe do believe in evolution of some sort and have managed in some way to kind of reconcile those two opposing ideas. I haven't really read too much about that yet, but I'm trying to kind of understand perspectives of people who didn't grow up as a fundamentalist Adventist or a fundamentalist Christian.

[00:25:22] Because progressive Christianity and fundamentalist Christianity can look pretty different, even though they have kind of some of the same core beliefs. So anyway, speaking of evolution, speaking of kind of being out in the countryside and your dad's views on the end time, a lot of this comes from Ellen White and kind of, you know, the church founders. And I've had a couple guests like Jeff, like Melissa, talk about how their families avoided mustard and spices in line with Ellen White's writings. But I know that's not universal to the Adventist experience. So I'm curious, did your family also avoid things like that, or did you know any families that did?

[00:26:05] Kyle: I did know people who did, yes. One of my dad's best friends and a, a mentor to me when I was trying to preach, I'm not gonna put his name out there, but he, uh, was bigger than anybody I've ever known until I went to Oakwood, about Ellen White and being strict. I mean, Ellen White says something about wearing long sleeve shirts so that you don't get sick, and they do that. Even in the summertime, they'll wear pants and long sleeves because their extremities can't be exposed. They didn't eat anything that, you know, had to be, they didn't even cook their vegetables. And so they were all vegetables, raw fruit.

[00:26:39] Santiago: Like raw vegan?

[00:26:40] Kyle: Yeah, and, um, it was, it was really, really, really insane to me. At the time, I thought it was admirable and that I had to get to where they're at. But now looking back, definitely gave off like a cult-like vibe. [Laughing] My family, we kind of more so struggled with the diet thing. We ate dairy, ice cream. We didn't eat meat for a long time until we were a little order, and then my dad started buying chicken and stuff like that and fish.

[00:27:06] And I think he did that because he had lost his job and he was struggling, and it was cheaper to buy meat than to eat all these vegan Adventist foods. And so we started eating meat, and then we went back to being vegetarians, then back to being vegan, and back to little bit of meat. And, and so even to this day, I think it's something that my family goes back and forth with. I know you're a vegan, right, or vegetarian?

[00:27:30] Santiago: Vegetarian still, yeah.

[00:27:31] Kyle: I was a vegan till about sometime two years ago. Um, and after that I, I stopped and started tasting different things, and I fell in love with seafood. So, I do eat, um, meat and stuff nowadays, but certain things I don't really eat, like pork.

[00:27:49] Santiago: Yeah, I've heard that other ex-Adventists still, some of them still can't stand the taste of pork. I remember the first time I ever had some was, I think at an Italian restaurant. And I don't remember the name of the dish right now, but it was, it was pretty good, at least the way that they prepared it. But it's definitely not something that I eat regularly.

[00:28:09] Like I still consider myself a, a vegetarian or I guess you could say like a flexitarian, 'cause every now and then when I'm eating out with my partner, with, or with friends, every now and then I might have some meat or some seafood, but it's pretty rare. My partner is pescatarian, so every now and then we have some of that.

[00:28:30] I appreciate what you said about the Adventist veggie meat being expensive because yeah, that's not, that's not very accessible. Like people talk about how sometimes being vegetarian is cheaper than being a meat eater, and I think it really depends on what you're buying and, and where you live and how accessible some of these things are.

[00:28:49] Kyle: Oh yeah, definitely. And just from growing up, I could tell that when we were vegans or vegetarians, you have to buy a lot more groceries and eat them a lot faster than if you buy things that are in preservatives or, uh, meats that you can freeze. I think that's why it became more expensive. And we lived in the middle of nowhere.

[00:29:07] You had to drive to go get the food and come back. So, buying Adventist food for us, you had to pay shipping because we had to order it. So I think it definitely depends on where you live, whereas maybe if you're in the middle of a city, it might be a little easier. So for us, it was definitely hard for us to eat healthy and my dad was very guilty about it.

[00:29:26] I would hear him all the time say 'I gotta stop eating this ice cream' while he's eating the ice cream, you know, stuff like that. And I think that for me, it made the health message something that I cared a lot about, but I never really put my morality into it. Just because I felt like this is going to be something that I'm not going to do completely. Like I don't think I can see myself being like the man who was my mentor, I can't get there. And, it was guilt, a lot of guilt in it.

[00:29:53] Santiago: Yeah, I'm glad that even back then you were able to see that, you know, morality is not inherently tied to the SDA health message, [laughing] yeah, I, I would agree with that. So, I, I'm curious, like you've talked about how you had this interest in science, then you had this idea that you wanted to go into ministry.

[00:30:14] What made you want to study philosophy? And can you kind of walk me through the time between you're invested in your belief, you're preaching in church, then you go to community college. What was the transition between then and going to community college and pursuing philosophy?

[00:30:32] Kyle: Well, I wanted to go to Oakwood and I wasn't able to go right out of high school. That was on me. My parents never went to college, and no one in my family's finished college, or a lot of them haven't attended. So for me, trying to go right to Oakwood which was so far away, I didn't know what to do, so I did nothing.

[00:30:50] So I graduated, and I needed to go to school. I went to, uh, Cumberland Community College down the street from me, not really down the street, but the next town over. I applied and I told the people that help you get into your classes and stuff, I told him that I wanted to study theology to be a pastor. He thought it was funny, because this is a community college, they don't have, you know, theology classes. And the closest they could get was philosophy and religion.

[00:31:16] I took that for two years and I think that started the whole process of where I'm at now. During that time I was preaching and I think during that time is when my dad said to me that he feared that I was becoming more progressive or liberal when I was preaching. And that I'm not preaching present truth, I'm just preaching, you know, regular things that any Christian church, that you could hear anywhere, and you need to preach the Adventist message. And I had started to get away from that because of learning philosophy and learning different religions and different things. And I just realized the world was a lot bigger than I thought it was.

[00:31:53] Santiago: Huh, that's, that's such an important point, right? Realizing that the faith that we were raised in is just one of many. And even then, I'm amazed at kind of the variety that exists within the Adventist faith. There's a church that I stumbled across their YouTube channel a couple weeks ago out in Florida, and they're fully like LGBTQ affirming, I think they even have queer people on their pastoral staff.

[00:32:27] And it's like, I can't imagine ever seeing anything like that within the church I grew up in, or any of the churches that I visited, like any of them, at all, within my time as an Adventist. So it's interesting to, to hear your dad kind of have that fear about you becoming more liberal in your theology. Because yeah, there is this tension, right within the Adventist Church. If you grew up in a conservative, fundamentalist Adventist church, there is an emphasis on end times, and prophecy, and like you said, "present truth."

[00:33:00] And I remember that our church had the best attendance when we had a pastor who didn't focus as much on that. He still, I think, quoted from Ellen White every now and then, but probably like you did, he focused more on, I think, the core gospel message. What your dad said 'Oh, you can get that at any other Christian church. And it's interesting to me to see this tension between the Adventist message and the more, I guess, generic gospel message.

[00:33:33] Melissa, the person I interviewed, talked about how she didn't really hear much about having a relationship with Jesus, my brother did as he was growing up. I think it's really shifted over the last couple of decades though, like I think some Adventist churches are starting to realize you can't just focus on end times prophecy only and keep a congregation.

[00:33:55] Kyle: No, we will leave as we get older.

[00:33:58] Santiago: [Laughing] Yeah, you and I are, are evidence of that. Can you talk to me a little bit about the process of transitioning from community college to going to Oakwood, and what were some of the differences you noticed? Was that the first Adventist school you had attended?

[00:34:15] Kyle: Yes actually, my oldest sister, she attended Pine Forge Academy, which was a, a boarding high school, over in Allegheny East. She went there and she would come home and tell stories about being in Adventist communities, everybody's Adventist, and it sounded terrible. So I was thinking that it would be the same, just like really bad and terrible.

[00:34:34] But then everybody that went to Oakwood from my church that were like around my age, talked about it as if it was amazing and so beautiful, and everything. You know, everybody was just like, 'Oh, it's great.' So my, my expectations became like, 'This will be like heaven.' And I used to think that all the time 'It'll be like heaven.'

[00:34:50] I was raised in like a more White area, so it'll be nice to be around like all Black people. And there's a culture shock when I got there because there's no such thing as a, a type of Black people. Like everybody's different and it was so many different types of things. But I can say when I first got there my first day, I was like, I was like an old man in the sense that I heard like them playing rap music and people cussing.

[00:35:14] And I was like so appalled. And I called my dad, I was complaining. I had a girlfriend at the time when I first went to Oakwood, who I actually brought into the Seventh-day Adventist Church, and she went to Oakwood with me. For her, she, she completely loved it. She thought it was amazing, she had a great time, she made friends.

[00:35:30] For me my entire first year, it was very tense. I hated, I hated my classes. I felt like the professors were all wrong. They're just saying the wrong things, and this is not Adventism. The kids, they have their pants sagging, the girls are dressed inappropriately, and I was just like an old man walking through the campus.

[00:35:47] Everyone: [Laughing]

[00:35:47] Kyle: I literally used to wear suits and like dress shirts and ties to my classes and stuff. Like I looked like I'd be a pastor one day. And um, and yeah, it was just that first year I was in my dorm a lot, and reading a lot and studying a lot on the phone with my dad as much as I could be, and I think just trying to maintain my belief. I went from leaning liberal to being as conservative as I've ever been when I first got to Oakwood.

[00:36:13] Santiago: Hmm, so that was kind of your reaction, I guess, to the culture shock you experienced going there.

[00:36:19] Kyle: Absolutely.

[00:36:20] Santiago: Okay, well for anyone listening who isn't familiar, I want to touch on something you just mentioned, which is that basically all or most of the students who were at Oakwood were Black people. And for anyone outside the US, or who's not really familiar, Oakwood is a Historically Black College and University.

[00:36:40] And that term exists in the US because schools, just like society in general, was racially segregated in the US. And so there were colleges that existed specifically for Black people because they were excluded from basically every other institute of higher education. And I also appreciate that you mentioned that, yeah, any group of people, it's, it's not a monolith, right? You're gonna see people from all sorts of different walks of life, and belief, and dress and culture.

[00:37:11] So it's, it's interesting for me to hear that you, you know, coming from the family that you did and the community you grew up in, that you yourself experienced culture shock going there. You know, my experience was obviously pretty different 'cause I didn't go to an HBCU or an Adventist university in general, but I remember experiencing a little bit of culture shock going to the Adventist school that I went to.

[00:37:36] Because I had been homeschooled before. And so like you, I had this very kind of conservative, kind of like adult mentality about how the people around me were maybe too liberal and maybe too kind of just not following the way, you know, not following the things that they should be following.

[00:37:55] So it's interesting to hear that you also experienced that. So you're at Oakwood for about three years and you're talking about how you didn't agree with what some of what your professors were saying. What were some of the things they were saying in the classes that you disagreed with?

[00:38:13] Kyle: Oh, I can remember it being so much. One class I dreaded, now that I look back on it, I appreciate it. But one class I dreaded was with Dr Kwesi, one of the first Black women in our conference to really push to be ordained. I don't think she ever was ordained, but she pushed for it. She's an older woman and she taught contemplative prayer.

[00:38:35] And um, that was like a boogieman thing in my church growing up. Like, oh, that 'They're teaching meditation and Buddhism, and it's from the Catholics,' and all these types of things. And, um, so I went into the class, I was like, I have to take this. And she taught us, uh, a book. I forget the, I forget the author, but it was The Purpose Driven Church.

[00:38:54] My parents, they hated that book. My church preached against it and that type of gospel. And we read it. Um, I can't say he said anything that I didn't like, but he did say things that I felt were not biblical, based on Adventism. And so I definitely had cognitive dissonance cause I was like, 'Dang, that makes a lot of sense.' Or that, you know, like that makes sense if I'm speaking like just humanly, but that's not what God wants.

[00:39:18] And so in that class, certain things like closing your eyes and meditating instead of praying with words, like just letting yourself feel and hear God. I felt like that is a way for the devil to get into you. And so I would raise my hand and say that, they would laugh at me, but I'd be so serious. And the teacher had a lot of grace.

[00:39:37] She told me after class that she could tell I grew up very conservatively and I'm in a box, and she said she'll try my best to get me outta that box, to see like there's a bigger world in Adventism. And the other thing was nitpicking ideas, like my teachers saying that Jesus had a, a, a human nature like Adam before the fall.

[00:39:58] And I was always taught, and preached, that he didn't, he had one like Adam after the fall. That he's just like us, and so nitpicky. But I would pull out the Ellen White quotes and stay after class to like show him where he's wrong. My one teacher taught us all the fundamental beliefs, and he skipped the judgment and the sanctuary thing, he skipped that. And I was so upset and I asked him about it. And uh, he told me right to my face, a lot of the professors aren't sure that that's a belief that's backed up biblically.

[00:40:25] Santiago: Oh wow.

[00:40:26] Kyle: And um, yeah, and I was like, 'Wow, what? Well, you're not Adventist then.' And I remember getting so upset with him, we were going back and forth. That first year, it was a lot of questioning of the core beliefs. And I did come to an epiphany near the end of the year and it was, 'These guys are smarter than me. They've been teaching and reading the Bible and studying these things longer than I have.' And I thought, 'What if I'm wrong?'

[00:40:50] Santiago: Wow, okay. It's so interesting to kind of hear your journey from being this like inquisitive kid, right? Where you're asking these questions in Sabbath school, to then you get baptized and then you have this conviction, right? After having that Bible study and that lesson with your dad. And then you experience this culture shock and you're kind of reacting to perceived kind of liberal theology at your university. And then kind of being able to recognize, 'Okay, maybe the world is wider and the theology is wider than what I've been taught.'

[00:41:27] Kyle: Oh yeah, def, definitely. I would say that definitely was a chaos from the day I first started preaching, until recently.

[00:41:34] Santiago: Yeah, wow, okay. Well, yeah, it's funny you mentioned contemplative prayer because I remember at my church over on the West Coast, that people were scared about that and they were preaching against that as well. I'm pretty sure we had a guest speaker who was like, his whole thing was specifically, at least he had one sermon specifically talking about that. And I remember also hearing the arguments that it was introducing like Eastern religion, and it was kind of this Trojan horse to get us to kind of veer away from the truth.

[00:42:08] So yeah, it's so interesting to hear, it's so interesting to hear you had that experience too. So, okay, so you're in Oakwood. You're having these discussions, you're experiencing kind of cognitive dissonance. Can you tell me the story and how it felt like to go from wanting to be in ministry to then losing your faith?

[00:42:31] Kyle: Oh yeah, it definitely was, like groundbreaking for me I guess I could say. I wasn't hurt or upset because my experience within the faith was good. Other than not being able to question certain things, I enjoyed being Seventh-day Adventist. I enjoyed the teaching and preaching. I enjoyed the community. The day where I was just like, 'I don't know if I can do this, or I can be Adventist' was in my second year.

[00:42:54] And what we had to do was we had to have a verse in the Bible and everybody had a verse. And what we had to do was take this verse and basically exegete it. So give all the context, go into like the history. And so I did that with the chapter in, I think it is Matthew 14, I'm, I'm guessing, but it was about 'I'm the branch, you're the vines.'

[00:43:16] And I'm like, 'Okay, this is easy.' So I start going into it, I'm doing really well. And we were told not to use Ellen White because that's cheating. So they're like, 'Use other commentaries, use history books, but don't use Ellen White.' I decided to use her first because I felt like she's a prophet, why wouldn't I use her?

[00:43:30] So I used her first and I saw that in the Greek, in the Bible when Jesus said any branch that is like, has no fruit, to lift it up. Now in English it says to cut it off, but in the Greek it's saying lift it up, so that it can bear fruit. And I said, 'Wow, it's so weird that they translated it that way.' But some Bibles, they switched it.

[00:43:54] But Ellen White in talking about this verse, translated it to what the King James said, not the Greek. And I just thought that was puzzling because she's a prophet and God's talking to her, why would she get it wrong? And it's such a little detail, but it like really bothered me. I walked to my hermeneutics professor and I showed it to him. I showed him, and he said, oh yeah. He said, 'Well, you know, just 'cause she's a prophet doesn't mean everything's right.'

[00:44:16] And then it just went into a whole thing where I was just like, well, if I don't know that if she's right on this, how do I know when she's wrong somewhere else? Or if that's right or this is wrong, and I just started like having a whole crisis. That led me to a person that the church had told me about, my dad had mentioned to me, which was a pastor named Walter Rea.

[00:44:36] And he wrote a book called The White Lie. I remember my dad had a copy of the book and my dad preached about it one time talking about 'He's attacking our church, him and someone named Desmond Ford.' And I said, 'I want to hear what these guys that don't agree with Ellen White said about her.'

[00:44:50] So I went to my library and I said, I asked the person, do they have a book called The White Lie? And they had it at the Adventist library. And I said, 'Wow.' So I read the book and I saw the plagiarism things, I saw the copying, I saw that she didn't really write a lot of her books, she had people write them for her. And she kind of like ghost wrote by speaking to them and giving them like scribbles.

[00:45:10] And I just, I saw all this stuff and I think that that led me to saying, 'Well, if I don't trust Ellen G White based off what she says, which is that she's a prophet, and that's just her claim, and I can't trust what she's saying, I think that moved — I skipped a step where some Adventists that stopped believing Ellen White will still stick to the Bible.

[00:45:31] I skipped that step and said, 'Well, if they are claiming to be prophets, how do I know that they actually are? Like, how do I know if they're actually getting stuff from God? How do I know if that's from God or if they just made that part up, and then this part's true?' And that kind of led me into looking up apologetics, and I didn't buy any of it.

[00:45:51] Looking more into philosophy, learning how logic works, learning the arguments, and, uh, all this took about two years. But I started like really investigating the foundation. Instead of the little things, like instead of looking into is the Bible true, I looked up more into like, how can we tell if a claim is true or false, any claim, or how does logic work? Or is this a circular argument? Like logical fallacies and stuff like that.

[00:46:17] I started getting really into like the, the foundation of logic and the arguments and beliefs. I think that skipped a lot of steps that I see a lot of other people take, and just got me to, 'I don't have a good reason to believe in a god, but I still do.' And I think the day that I no longer, I don't know when I became an atheist, but I think the day that I no longer believed, I was in church and the pastor was preaching about the, um, calves or sheep or something, and they looked at like speckled, like dots on wood. And so when they had a baby, the baby would be speckled. So it was like a story in the Bible.

[00:46:54] Santiago: Yeah, I think that's the, that's the story... Is it Jacob? It's, it's the guy who worked for Laban for seven years, right? Because he wanted to marry, he got cheated right Laban, and Laban married off the daughter that he wasn't interested in?

[00:47:10] Kyle: Yeah, yep, that was Jacob, yep. And it was, it is a, it's an interesting story. I, I don't think I've ever, I, I know I read it cause I read the Bible, but at that time in the sermon, I was like, I don't think I've ever thought about this story before, but that's not how biology works [laughing]. I was like, at this time I had studied some science. I had read some Richard Dawkins books and Carl Sagan.

[00:47:29] And so when, um, when he preached that, I was like, 'I don't believe that.' I said, 'That makes no sense. That's, that, that can't happen.' Then my brain said, 'Well, it could happen if a god exists, because God could make anything happen.' And then my brain said, 'But what, why would you believe that? Like, why would you believe that, like, that there is a god?'

[00:47:48] At the time I wouldn't say that there's no god, but at the time, and even to this day, I would say, 'I don't, I don't believe it.' And it became obvious in my mind at that point, I was unable to actually believe it. I just didn't. And I had a, a different girlfriend at this time, and uh, I went home that day and we got home from church. And I told her, and we were in my apartment and I let her know, 'I don't think I believe in God.'

[00:48:11] And I remember I started crying and she got, she started crying too. And then she, like hit me with so many questions asking me, 'Well, what about this and what about this?' And it was so many things that I've already studied on my own, and arguments I've already studied that I ignored, and I had an answer for everything. And we ended up breaking up because of that. So yeah, I lost that relationship and um, and I was just like, you know, it's fine. Um, how I felt was 'I don't believe it and I can't make myself not believe it.' Like, it didn't feel like a choice to me.

[00:48:42] Santiago: I'm glad you mentioned that because I think that's such an important thing that I think many people don't realize. Deconstruction, deconversion, they're not necessarily things that people choose to do voluntarily, right? It's like you come across information that conflicts with this worldview you've been raised with, in many cases. And so when you find evidence that contradicts what you believe in, that cognitive dissonance happens.

[00:49:12] And some people are able to kind of dig their heels in further and make up excuses for it, and rationalize it away, but people like you and me, for whatever reason, we went the other direction and we were like, 'Okay, no, I have new information, my beliefs have changed based on this new information, and I can't rationalize it away anymore.

[00:49:34] Kyle: Yeah, I definitely, I definitely had a burden to know what's true. A person I really look up to during this time that helped me was, um, he has a YouTube channel, his name is Matt Dillahunty. He's an atheist activist, he's really famous within atheist circles. And, um, accidentally, again, I was sleeping, watching, uh, Viced Rhino's YouTube channel.

[00:49:53] And, um, I woke up and the Atheist Experience call-in show was on. And I watched that during those two years. And a lot of times I disagreed with Matt. I disagreed, but then what he said, his logic, breaking things down, making you prove what you're saying, I couldn't deny that it was true. What he's saying is true, I can't deny that he's logical, that I'm being illogical, but I couldn't accept it.

[00:50:19] But hearing every argument that I would have, dismantled, pulled apart, sometimes very, um, angrily [laughing] but also sometimes very, uh, nicely if it's like a different co-host or something. And I would be like, oh man, like, at the end of the day, I don't, I can't think of an argument that hasn't been addressed. I read the Case for Christ, I read William Lane Craig, and different, different apologists. And I don't think any of them made me say, 'Oh, okay, that makes sense now.' I just could see through the arguments because, it's like once you learn how to, you can't unlearn that.

[00:50:52] I described it to my parents when I came out to them, I explained it to them, 'It's like knowing the magic trick and how it works. It will never amaze you again. You can be amazed by how it's done, but not amazed by the trick itself.'

[00:51:07] Santiago: Yeah, no, that's such a great analogy. I hadn't thought of it that way, but, it makes a, it makes a lot of sense to me. I'm glad you mentioned Matt because I have seen some of his show. I haven't followed his work too closely, but I know what you're talking about where he can come off as very forceful and antagonistic.

[00:51:27] My brother and I talked about how he doesn't believe in the Christian God, he identifies more as a, maybe like an agnostic deist, where he doesn't really know one way or the other, but he doesn't believe in the Christian God. He talked about how he read, it was either Dawkins or Hitchens, and how he thought they came off as a bit of an asshole.

[00:51:46] And it's interesting to see how some of these atheists who are out there, and I even mentioned it during our interview myself, I feel like in some cases when they come in guns blazing, it can be a turnoff to some people who don't want to hear that message in such a forceful way. But I also recognize and have to appreciate their work for what it is, and that it does work for some people, right?

[00:52:10] I've had this thought in the back of my head where I'm like, 'Well, my brother and I are kind of bashing some of the biggest atheist names out there.' Not that people are immune to criticism, right? I think everybody should be open to criticism, but I also wanna acknowledge that they have done work that has had an impact on people in a positive way.

[00:52:29] Kyle: Yeah, definitely, I would definitely agree. I have a different way of approaching it when I talk to people, which is I like to have conversations, be chill. I do get upset sometimes, but I try to like swallow that and just smile. I think that for me to take that final step out of religion and just kind of just get out of that cognitive dissonance, for me personally, I needed to be yelled at.

[00:52:53] I needed to be called an idiot sometimes, stuff like that. I, I don't ever, if someone tells me they're questioning stuff, I won't ever say, 'Oh, here read Charles Dawkins' book on The God Delusion or something, you know, I wouldn't ever do that, just cause I personally don't think that's the best way, just 'cause it worked on me.

[00:53:09] It's the same, I think as someone's coming to your door and knocking and wanting you to be a Jehovah's Witness, they're not gonna call you an idiot and, you know, yell at you. They'll be nice and that, that'll get you. So I definitely agree, I definitely agree. I have my criticisms, but I just couldn't argue with the actual logic or the facts behind what they're saying.

[00:53:26] Santiago: Right, yeah, I think it's important, right? Different styles work with different people and I think in different stages of their life. I think if I had been a caller on Matt's show, I probably would've come away a bit salty [laughing] if I got yelled at. But for me, I've talked before about how the book How Jesus Became God by Bart D Ehrman, who is a New Testament scholar, he used to be a fundamentalist Christian and is now an agnostic. I've talked about how that book was instrumental for me personally being comfortable with identifying as an agnostic atheist.

[00:54:04] Because up until that point, I hadn't really identified with a particular label, I just knew that I was slowly kind of, you know, leaving my faith behind. I don't think I even had the term deconstruction within my vocabulary back then when it was happening to me. That book was instrumental and I had also read before that book, I had read God is Not Great by Hitchens. And I remember feeling attacked when I read that book because it was an audio book.

[00:54:33] And I just remember feeling like there was this like condescending tone and I was kind of being lectured at, and kind of being made to feel a bit stupid I guess? And so it's interesting, you know, again, that might work with some people. I've heard people say that those were really helpful and that's great, right?

[00:54:51] I don't want to take anything away from that, but I'm thankful to see that people like you and me who grew up in this maybe have a little bit more empathy, or at least a little bit of a softer tone in our presentation when we're talking to people about it, because we know what it was like to really grow up within this.

[00:55:12] Kyle: Yeah definitely, I actually was thinking about that today when I was looking at some of my TikTok comments. Some people are saying things that I can remember saying myself, and it's interesting cause I can't put myself back in that same state of mind again. Like even when I try to imagine it, like really believing these things, it's like I, I can't, but I understand why they do. And to them, anything else is, you know, insane to think that God might not exist or that the Bible is not true.

[00:55:41] Like, for an Adventist, just believing simply that evolution could be true, it's like an insane thought. I can understand that, and so, especially when it comes to like Adventists, and I have a soft spot for like, Black people who are religious, trying to come out of it, too. Because we are a very religious group of people and I know, uh, Hispanic people are as well, very religious.

[00:56:03] It's just very hard to come out of that because that is part of your culture. And so I try to be, I try my best to be understanding, and just try to help people where they need help, or help them see like the logic in it, through questions, instead of just saying, you know, 'You're an idiot, or you're delusional, or you're just crazy.' I try to not do that if I can help it.

[00:56:21] Santiago: Yeah, even though I didn't grow up in a Spanish speaking church, I can relate to the aspect of people who are Latino or who are, you know, people of color who grew up in a very religious environment, with my mom being Latina. And you're right, I think we have to recognize that the experience is different for everyone, even within different families, even if you are within maybe the same kind of ethnic group, right?

[00:56:49] It's still a different experience for each family. But you're right, I think there is kind of a, a tendency for people of color to have grown up religious, at least from what I can see in the United States. And I'm glad you mentioned that because you were part of the Allegheny East Conference in New Jersey, which is specifically if I'm not mistaken, a Black conference within the Adventist church in the U.S. And for anyone who isn't familiar, how would you describe the separate conference systems?

[00:57:21] Kyle: Oh man, there's definitely a huge difference when it comes to like, style of music and dress and worship. I've been to like New Jersey conference churches, which is more of like a White conference and, then I've been in Allegheny East Conference all my life. I would say that we definitely have like that more traditional Black style of preaching.

[00:57:39] A lot of yelling, a lot of like very expressive, the music is very important, we have drum sets and things like that. Some people believe Ellen White says no drum sets, but in Allegheny East Conference it's, it's like a regular thing. The other conferences like New Jersey conference, I've been in some of their churches. It, it does seem very serious, very matter of fact. Just piano, just hymns. Some people like that. Yeah, my, my actual home church was very similar to that.

[00:58:06] Only on big, big events, but I think that's 'cause we were so small. Even my church, being very conservative and very small, and not having like a lot of members and a pastor that wasn't very expressive, was different than the New Jersey conference or other conferences that I've been to. Especially like going to Oshkosh when I was a Pathfinder and seeing different types of Pathfinders and how they drum and how they do like Pathfinder drills and, you know, we're, we're drumming and it's like off the movie Drum Line, like, we're having fun, we're dancing.

[00:58:36] And it's so different to see people that will actually look at that and I'm thinking, I'm conservative and they'll tell me stuff like, 'Oh, this is bad. You can't, I can't believe you guys are doing this. Ellen White said this and that.' And I definitely got that, um, growing up from other, you know, other people from other conferences where they, I see on their face, or I'll preach and I'll raise my voice, someone from another conference in the pews will look uncomfortable. I think that that's the difference, the worship style is what I would say, all of that is wrapped up in.

[00:59:08] Santiago: I grew up not too far from a Black church within my city, but I remember that my parents for just forever had gone to this other church which was a very multicultural church. But the culture and the tone, just the overall vibe of the church was predominantly White Protestant Christianity, even though there were people from, you know, a number of different countries and a number of different cultural backgrounds. And I do remember a couple of times visiting, you know, as we would refer to them, "the Black church," and seeing that, like you said, there were drums.

[00:59:46] And I never really thought too, too much about it. Even though within my own church we were very much against drums. I remember one of the youth in my youth group one time just brought a cajon, you know, just this box, which is not even like a full drum set. And somebody got upset at that. And I remember by that point, I think I had started deconstructing by that point. I'd definitely gotten more liberal in my own kind of theological views.

[01:00:14] And I kind of defended him and I remember speaking in our Sabbath school class about that. And that actually led me to write like this whole essay about music within Adventism and how like, I don't know if you knew this, but the early Adventists didn't use musical instruments of any kind. Yeah, I did this deep dive research and for, I think it's, if I'm remembering correctly, it was about the first 30 years of the movement or so where it was just acapella singing.

[01:00:44] Because Protestant Christians, especially John Calvin and after, John Calvin, who is this, you know, this reformer, um, Calvinists in my opinion are some of the most bitter Christians out there, but John Calvin talked about how the organ is literally like the instrument of the devil. And it's because as Protestant Christians were trying to distance themselves from the Catholic church, the organ was seen as a very Catholic thing.

[01:01:14] And it's so funny to me how centuries later, basically every Adventist church I've been to has instruments in general, but they also have an organ and how that is now seen as the conservative music. Whereas before in John Calvin's time, in his churches and in his part of the world, that would've been seen as, you know [laughing] devil music or something like that. So one of these days, I'm gonna put it up maybe on the Patreon, this whole essay I wrote up, because I was, I was very kind of annoyed that people were making such a big deal about that when I no longer saw it as, as a big deal.

[01:01:52] But I remember my parents played like a VHS tape, which some Adventist had given them. And it was all about how Satan was infiltrating the churches through drums [laughing] and uh, so yeah, I nev, but I never really put two and two together. I just thought, 'Oh, you know, when I visit a Black church, it's just a cultural difference.' And that's kind of, I didn't really think, you know, too much more about it. But growing up, you know, were the separate conference systems ever really talked about? And other than your own personal observations, did you hear other people talk about the quote unquote White church versus the Black church?

[01:02:31] Kyle: I did, being very young, my mom told stories about a White church that was down the street from her church that actually turned them away when they were younger. They went to go visit and they opened the door, they cracked it open. They told my, my mother's mother and father that the Black church was down the street.

[01:02:47] Santiago: Wow.

[01:02:48] Kyle: That story always stuck in my head because that church is around today. I actually visited it like last year. They told my mom that, and I thought that was crazy. Other than that, when I was at Oakwood, it was, they're very into social justice and stuff like that, so, and I am too. I think I got that way at Oakwood, to care more about the type of stuff. And they were very much into like Oakwood versus Southern, because Southern was very racist towards Oakwood students and towards their own students who are Black.

[01:03:16] A lot of that stuff would be talked about at Oakwood on the pulpit, between the students. And a big thing that Oakwood and a lot of the students at Oakwood pushed for is, 'Why do we have to have a separate conference? Why is it that, you know, we have separate conferences and then they have privileges that we don't have over here in this conference?' Um, or promotions that we're not getting over in these conferences. And so at Oakwood, I would say it became a big thing where I became aware. Before I went to Oakwood, I almost forgot other conferences that weren't Black even existed. It's 'cause we didn't mix at all.

[01:03:50] Santiago: Wow, that's interesting. Yeah, I, I still need to read more about this, but the little bit of research I did on this, my understanding is that the General Conference was the one to initially suggest having a separate conference. And I think some of the Black lay leaders at that time were maybe initially against it, but then they changed their minds and they thought, 'Okay, maybe this is something where we can kind of maybe have more control over our churches and how we worship. But it sounds like from what you're sharing, at least at Oakwood, it sounds like that mindset has kind of changed a bit since then.

[01:04:31] Kyle: Yes, yes it has. A lot of students are for coming back together. I personally am not, but it's, uh, for the reason you just said that, I feel as though if two conferences merge, who's now the president of that conference, you know? And so stuff like that makes me worry. And so I, I think that we're fine separate, but I think we should work together more. That's something that I used to preach, even at Oakwood I would say, you know, 'There's Southern, we need to get together and do stuff with them.' If there's a church down the street, like there's Huntsville, there's like so many Adventist churches in Huntsville, and some of them are Black, some of them are White, some are Latino.

[01:05:05] Like we should do things together. We just stay to ourselves so much, but we should invite them to Oakwood, we should go to their church. And, um, some of the people like those ideas. We actually got Oakwood's drum line to go to the other churches and stuff and perform for them and invite them to like big days when we have like, you know, Kirk Franklin or somebody coming to the church to like perform.

[01:05:25] We invite the other churches and stuff and, and so that's kind of what I, uh, was trying to push for at those days. Even when I wasn't Christian anymore or Adventist anymore, I still was like pushing for those types of things at Oakwood before I left. So, um, yeah, definitely, definitely is talked about a lot. Social justice, huge deal at Oakwood, talking about the racism in the country and within the Seventh-day Adventist church as well, things that I was completely unaware of until I got around other people.

[01:05:52] Santiago: Hmm, yeah it's something that has been talked about more, especially since I think 2020. And I know that there's some people, even within my own family and people that I grew up with around church who will talk about how, 'Oh, this was in the past and this was so many hundreds of years ago. Why are we still talking about it? Get over it.' But the fact that segregation literally still exists in some of our communities, and the fact that these disparities still exist, I think it's so important that we continue to talk about that and not let that fade into the background.

[01:06:30] Because you're right, like social justice in some circles has, just like with the term woke, has been given such a negative connotation. But when you look at what it's actually talking about, it's just recognizing that there are injustices, and that there are big problems that we have as a society that we need to address. When you look at the original definition, how could you be against that?

[01:06:55] Kyle: Right, exactly. And it, I've seen that type of conservativeness creeping into the church in my opinion, at least from what I'm seeing, with the more conservative, even Black people within the Adventist church. Where they are against, uh, you know, gay, trans people. They're against the new liberal wave in the church that's coming through, and the science and things, and people accepting these things. And I think they're afraid that they're losing so many members.

[01:07:21] And I see that, I see it happening where I'll have people in my church and people that I know, not be a Republican or a Trump supporter, but stand for all those same things. It's like their talking points and the conservative people on Fox News' talking points are the same thing. And I'm seeing that more and more. To the point during COVID, that I've seen a lot of Adventist conservatives against getting a vaccine. That I think really shocked me and like really pushed me away.

[01:07:51] So even my own, my own father was against the vaccine and was like vehemently against it and that it was bad. He preached about it and his friend who used to be my mentor, preached about it and he actually was upset with me when I got it. For me, it was very shocking to be out in the south in Huntsville and hear people rioting and getting upset over a vaccine. And then to come home to my house and then find out that my parents are feeling the same way, and that all of a sudden it's like bad, 'We're in the last days.'

[01:08:21] And when I say, 'Well, all these things are happening to Black people, we should care about these things,' what I got from a lot of people I know is that, 'Oh, Jesus is coming back. What we need to do is preach the gospel. Don't worry about the social justice. Don't worry about what happened with George Floyd.' And it was more so, 'Push that to the side, and all we need to care about is the gospel,' because Ellen White apparently said that Jesus did no social reforms.

[01:08:44] Santiago: Interesting.

[01:08:44] Kyle: Yeah, it was very disheartening. I already at this point, didn't believe anymore, but it was just very disheartening because, not saying they're bad people, but I thought that they would care about others more, being Christian.

[01:08:56] Santiago: You just touched on a really important point and I, I think I talked about this in an earlier episode. I think the one about whether you believe in an afterlife or not. And at the end of my section of that episode, I talked about how Christians, but in my own experience, 'cause I grew up around Adventists, I think especially Adventists, have this view of 'God's gonna come back at any moment, so why bother?' Like, exactly like you said, 'We should be preaching the gospel, that is the best thing that we can do for people.'

[01:09:31] And I know you've talked about how, at least I think you've mentioned in some of your videos that you consider yourself an anti theist, and I want to hear your thoughts about that in a second. I kind of take a more neutral stance where I appreciate the really progressive Christians out there who do talk about social justice and who have, in my opinion, a much healthier theology than the one that we were raised with. And they recognize that these things exist. But yeah, in my own experience, the Adventists I was around were not really interested in that.

[01:10:05] They didn't believe in some cases, like you mentioned in taking a vaccine. I remember one Adventist who I still have a special place in my heart for, talking about 5G and how [laughing] we need to be worried about 5G being rolled out. But yeah, there's this attitude I think with conservative Adventists specifically, that the whole world's gonna go away and be renewed, so why worry about the here and now?

[01:10:34] And it's so disappointing because people's lives, in my opinion, would be so much better if we cared more about them, if we took a hard look at the structural issues that we have, and did something to address those things. But instead, there's a whole bunch of people who are saying, 'Why bother? Because it's all gonna go away.' And you know, my answer to that is, well, where is your empathy for people?

[01:11:02] If I'm not mistaken, even Ellen White talked about how, or at least I remember hearing growing up, that we should live as if Jesus is coming back any day, but plan as if we don't know when he's coming back. And I think that that mentality is not emphasized enough. That even if you still maintain your faith, you should care about the people and the living things around you, and our planet, because we don't know what's going to happen, but we can see the things that are going around us today.

[01:11:34] Kyle: Right, I a hundred percent agree. I'm not a believer in Ellen White as a prophet, but I read so many beautiful things from her. Like, I can't deny that reading the Desire of Ages doesn't bring me to tears, you know? It's interesting when I'm reading it and, and I'm reading the things she says and like some chapters of Ministry of Healing about being a good person and how we should treat each other, and then I don't see that in the church from people that heavily read Ellen White.

[01:12:00] My last sermon ever was actually on that topic. It's actually, uh, on YouTube, my last sermon I preached, how Jesus treated people. And the whole sermon, I just read Ellen White quote after Ellen White quote. It had really not any Bible things, it was all Ellen White quotes about just treating people well. And that was on purpose that I read only Ellen White. At this point I was an atheist, but I read all these quotes and stuff, and about how we should treat others, treat people in the world, treat people in the church and your family.

[01:12:28] I can remember after preaching that sermon, I felt really good about myself. And you know how they, they have the members come, shake your hand as you leave the church, one lady told me, 'You need to preach the present truth.' And I was like, 'Oh, wow, well you didn't listen to nothing I said then, I guess.' And then someone else told me that next time I preach, 'Put a jacket on,' 'cause I was just wearing like my, uh, just like a shirt, button up shirt. 'Cause at this point I was more liberal, well, I wasn't liberal at all, I was more so not Christian. So I just wore like nice pair of slacks, some sneakers, and a shirt. And people had a lot of comments. Very few comments on the sermon.

[01:13:02] A lot of people had a lot of comments on myself, my appearance. I dyed my hair blonde at the time 'cause I always wanted to. So I think that that's all that they stared at the whole time. It was my appearance and they listened to nothing I said. And it, that just kind of, you know, draws back to what you were saying. Because they, I don't think that that's an important message enough for them, in some of their minds, the more conservative ones.

[01:13:25] They want to hear about the conspiracy theories, about the Sunday law, about, you know, Revelations and they don't wanna actually hear about what Jesus really, you know, wanted, you know, according to the Bible, at least, what he preached and the way he lived. And I just kind of gave up on that. I said, you know, 'I can't be a pastor if they're not going to even,' I thought I could be a pastor if I just preached the good stuff, even if I don't believe it. And I just realized I don't think I can, I can't be behind this.

[01:13:52] Santiago: Hmm, yeah, I've talked before about how there are so many good people out there, but their theology is holding them back. I've talked about how I love my mom so much and she's such a kind and giving person, but on certain issues like gay rights and just recognizing that it's not a choice, it's something that you're born with, the theology that so many of our family members and community members has, I think is holding them back.

[01:14:23] And if it weren't for that, they probably would be even more empathetic and even kinder to the people who are around them. And so, yeah, I'm with you. It's, it's sad that you could preach [laughing] to Adventists, an entire sermon of Ellen White quotes on treating people kinder, and the only takeaway was that you didn't have a jacket and that [laughing]...

[01:14:47] Kyle: It was a very interesting day.

[01:14:49] Santiago: Yeah, so you've talked about posting on Facebook that you didn't believe anymore. I think I saw a TikTok video where you talk about this. And the first response that you got was an animated gif of flames, and the comment said, "There's no reason for you to perish in hell." What did your original post say? If you can paraphrase what it said, and what made you decide to post it on Facebook?

[01:15:18] Kyle: I'll start with the second question first. I decided to post that I no longer believe on Facebook because I didn't want to continually be asked by everybody that knows I'm at Oakwood. Mind you, my church, my family, everybody's been sending so much money and help that put me through school, to clear me every semester.

[01:15:37] Financially, they were keeping me at Oakwood, paying for my books, and I, I felt bad about it. So I wanted everybody to know in one big swoop. I posted like an Ellen White quote every morning, and I got like hundreds of people that liked it, that were friends and family and church members. And so I decided to put it on Facebook so everybody could read it in one go and I wouldn't have to explain over and over again.

[01:16:00] And I just basically said, 'Through research and through study, I've realized that I no longer believe in God.' I didn't use the term atheist cause I don't really, I didn't really know what that was at the time, but I said 'I no longer believe in God. I don't want any questions. I don't want to be probed or picked at. I just want everybody to know that I no longer believe in God, but I'm still a good person. I still believe in the same morals and I don't think that I can continue to try to be a pastor,' blah, blah, blah.

[01:16:26] Like, I basically said, 'I'm not gonna be a pastor. I don't wanna preach this anymore.' And I said that I don't believe in it, but I also think it's wrong. That believing in what I believed in is harmful to me. I got a lot of comments. My mom told me I was going to hell. My dad said nothing. He actually didn't talk to me for about a year. I didn't reach out either, but he didn't reach out, he didn't text me, talk to me, comment.

[01:16:48] A lot of people said I was being silly, I was a fool, they'd post the Bible verse about "the fool says in his heart there's no God." I got a lot of messages. They're still here to this day. I didn't open a lot of them. So I have like a lot of unread messages on my, on my Facebook and um, like way down when I scroll. A lot of comments, a lot of debating happening.

[01:17:07] If I could go back, I wouldn't have did it that way. And I would recommend that if anybody's listening and deciding they wanna come out, to tell the people you care about, like you did in your other podcast, you told your mother and your father, to talk to the people that you care about the most first before you put something publicly out.

[01:17:26] 'Cause that can kind of embarrass everybody, and it's a shock. You didn't get it from me, you're getting it from a Facebook post. They're wondering if I'm okay, if I'm, if I'm maybe suicidal, if I'm depressed, why am I posting this? And it was just a big mess, which actually led me to actually spending some time in the hospital for my mental health.

[01:17:43] During that time I became very depressed, very suicidal, after coming out. I deactivated my Facebook. It was just really, it was a really hard time, but I, uh, I was happy that it was over with. But the next thing I had to contend with after that was that all the students from Oakwood, not all of 'em, but most of 'em, were my friends on Facebook too. And I became like the thing at campus.

[01:18:04] Everybody would see me and walk over and would start talking to me. They weren't necessarily mean or rude, everybody wanted a debate. And it became very overwhelming. It just kind of, I, I, I kind of snapped. I'm not gonna go into detail on that, but I kind of had a moment where I snapped and I had to spend a few weeks in the hospital. And I came back onto campus and because of that, everybody's eyes were on me as well. And that's when I kind of like stopped in the middle of the school year, got an apartment, and I didn't go back to school.

[01:18:32] Santiago: Wow, that is, that is definitely a much more dramatic [laughing] story than, than mine was. And I've gotta imagine it was probably especially difficult for you because you had people financially supporting you to go to an Adventist university, right? So was that part of the pressure you were feeling?

[01:18:54] Kyle: Yeah, definitely, definitely. I think the biggest pressure, that was maybe a close second. The biggest was that everybody expected me to be some great pastor. They're like, 'Oh, you preach and you read your Bible. You know so much Adventist doctrine like the back of your hand. You read and you study Ellen White.'

[01:19:10] And everybody would praise me when I come home. They'd call me professor and doctor and stuff like that, just to like hype me up. I preached outside of my conference even, to different churches and stuff, and I was preaching at Oakwood. And I think that people saw me a certain way, and I felt bad to let everybody down, I guess.

[01:19:29] Santiago: Hmm, I can't quite imagine what that would've been like because I wasn't as vocal, um, how can I put it? Yeah, I, I mean, I definitely wasn't planning on becoming a pastor. I remember growing up a couple people in my church every now and then, would tell me that I should become a pastor because I was so involved as a deacon and with music and, you know, the youth class and Pathfinders, all of those things.

[01:19:57] And so I distinctly remember people saying, 'Oh, you should be a musician or you should be a pastor.' And I never personally identified strongly with that. I thought, every now and then I thought maybe I would wanna pursue being a pastor, but then I saw all of the stuff that pastors have to deal with. And I was like, 'I like people, but I don't know if I like them that much to try and make that my entire career.'

[01:20:23] And not to say that I don't like people, right? But I'm an introvert. I could tell even, you know, before I started down that path that it might be a difficult career path for me. But wow, yeah, I can, I can only try to imagine what that was like for you, having people have such a specific view of you, like you said, right? They had this image in their mind that you're gonna be this great pastor. And you're already preaching and going to different churches and, and, and giving sermons, to then have this big revelation, wow.

[01:20:58] Kyle: Yes, I I think that the question I got the most is 'What happened?' That used to really annoy me because I would tell them 'Nothing happened, per se.' I didn't wanna sound rude, but I just started thinking about it deeper. I can remember now that we are speaking, it just came to my mind. My first thought that really sent me looking into the Bible in specific, right after that Ellen White thing happened where I didn't really believe Ellen White.

[01:21:23] My first thing that had me look into the Bible was that someone on campus was gay and they were arguing with somebody else about if it matters that the Bible says that it's a sin or not. And I remember walking up to them and I was saying, 'Well, the Bible says a lot of things.' Like I was debating for the guy, and he's like, 'Exactly, like the Bible says a lot of things,' blah, blah, blah.

[01:21:43] And then he said something that just made me think for like a week. He said, 'And what exactly is wrong with it? Like, what is immoral about it? Tell me like what is the evidence that it's wrong, that it's bad?' And at this time, I didn't agree. I felt, I always said I didn't agree with homosexuality, but if you want to be gay, you can be gay. But that, that thing about what is wrong with it made me start wondering why I follow some of these things.

[01:22:10] And I think that things like that caused — if people say 'What happened?' I think things like that, thinking about those types of things. And morality is hard and it shouldn't be black and white. It should be something you have to really struggle through, and figure it out, and continually talk about forever. Like we should always argue and debate these topics as a society, just 'cause context matters when it comes to morality.

[01:22:34] And I think that is what happened. I think that my morality and the Bible's morality didn't go together, and I think I started realizing it when people would ask me these particular questions, or when I would think of these particular Bible verses. And, um, I, I, to this day, people say 'What happened?' I would say that I just followed my conscience, and that's kind of what led me.

[01:22:57] Santiago: I'm so glad you touched on morality because that's something I've been trying to ask people about, views on morality now after you've left versus when you were in the church. Melissa talks about how when she left, she felt like she didn't have a, a very good grasp on morality based on her own personal upbringing within, within the Adventist church. And how since leaving, she has had to define it for herself, right?

[01:23:22] And she's had to kind of look at the experience she's had, the people she's interacted with since leaving Adventism. And it's interesting you mention a debate about somebody being gay at Oakwood kind of sending you on that path. Because yeah, I know that there is, I know that there is an effort among queer Adventists to talk about this and to really question the theology that really denies their existence, or at the very least, dehumanizes them.

[01:23:52] And I feel a lot of empathy for them. I think even if we have different beliefs, I think we have similar values. And personally, I hope that whatever path they go on, that they're able to find acceptance and love and that people can see that they're human beings just like the rest of us, and that they deserve every bit of respect and inclusion as, as the next person.

[01:24:20] Kyle: For sure, most definitely.

[01:24:22] Santiago: So you mentioned your morality kind of not lining up with the morality of the Bible. Once you started going down that path, were there any other things within the Bible? 'Cause you know, we, we read about slavery, we read about genocide. One example that I like to give is how, in Deuteronomy, if I'm not mistaken, 21 verses 10 to 14. I've said it already a couple of times on this podcast, how there's literally instructions on how to treat female captives in a war.

[01:24:53] And that the conquering army is, the men are permitted to take them as wives and to have sex with them. And in my view, that's rape. There's no consent happening there. So were there any things like that, that you had read or that you went back and read again that kind of made you question the Bible's morality even more?

[01:25:12] Kyle: Oh yeah, yeah. I had a notebook that when I went back to the Bible, I said I'm gonna read it through and anything that I don't agree with, or that's weird to me, or that's like something that I'm not sure about, I'm gonna write it down. And before I was finished Exodus, I remember I filled that notebook, it's like a composition book, and I filled it.

[01:25:29] I would say that I was shocked about the slavery stuff in the Bible. I knew it was there, because I've heard it be brought up as objections or the church explain it as indentured servitude, and 'Slaves are like the family and you treat them nice.' And that's how, and I think that for the first time I actually read it, not just skip through or find versus to like preach on.

[01:25:51] But I read the Bible and I was like, you know when I read a story and there's like incest in the story, I'm like, well, it's not God telling us to do incest, so I'm not going to write it. But when he gives like rules, like you can have a slave and this is how you treat your slave, I'm the type of person that I didn't even have to go into how you treat the slave. I stop at, 'You can have a slave? That's wrong. It's, you can't do that, it's not right.'

[01:26:14] That was actually something that I was, was a big issue. And I walked out of my dorm for the slavery thing in particular. I walked out of my dorm and I went down into like the little lobby area of my dorm. And I found one of my friends that was sitting there and we talked a little bit and he was like, 'What's on your mind?'

[01:26:29] And he knew that I wanted to come down there and tell him something. I brought up the slavery thing from the Bible. We debated it and then I actually opened up his Bible and I read it to him. And when I read it to him, he didn't have really an answer. He's like, 'Oh, I didn't know that said that.' And I was like, yeah. And he rationalized it as 'Well, that was back then.' But I, I just couldn't because I felt like if, I couldn't follow a God that they say is all good, that at one time wasn't, for one particular reason.

[01:26:56] And I think that that opened my eyes to a lot of other things, especially reading, um, Leviticus with rules on slavery and Leviticus 25 or rules on sexual assault, if they can hear you scream, if they can't. Different things about, yeah, and I think the one that, the most bizarre one is if you think your wife cheated on you, you can have her drink something and if she loses the baby, or, and I was like, 'This is insane. Like this is, if, if there's an all knowing God, he could be able, he could just tell you that, that she slept with somebody else or not. Why do you have to do, why do you have to poison her?'

[01:27:29] And it is, it just was, uh, for me, I didn't get through past Numbers, I don't believe, doing that little thing. Because I just found so many things that I kind of gave up on the book itself, the whole Bible. And I was like, you know, I'm not really, you know, I'm not really sure that this book and my morality go together.

[01:27:47] I didn't know where I get my morals from. I didn't understand how I could even say that. My friend asked me, he said, 'Well, if you're not getting your morality from God, where are you getting it?' And I didn't have a, an answer and I'm not the one for making up answers if I don't have one. So I just was like, 'I, I don't know.' I had to actually research and read into that and find out where morality comes from, how, why we have it, how we have it, and, uh, find my own basis for morality, which is, I would say, human happiness and wellbeing, and kind of branch off my morality from there. But it definitely, when it comes to morality, that was the thing that kept me a believer the longest.

[01:28:25] Santiago: Oh, interesting. Yeah, I think that is absolutely a very common argument people will give, right? Is, 'Oh, well if, if you don't believe in God or if there is no god, then where do you get your morality from and why is killing somebody wrong?' And whenever I hear questions like that, I'm just like, 'Do you have no empathy? Are you [laughing] a sociopath?'

[01:28:47] I still personally want to do more research into the philosophical arguments, the ethical arguments, and I know that there's this whole debate on, is there a basis for objective morality, or if you don't believe in a higher power, is all morality subjective? I still haven't done a ton of reading on that, but like I've said in my conversation with Melissa and with others, I think what you just described is very much aligned with how I look at it. Which is that morality rooted in empathy is a lot better than morality that you find in the Bible.

[01:29:24] And you know, somebody who is maybe a more middle of the road or more progressive Christian might say, 'Well, you can't look at the Old Testament and point to that as, as a failing of God. Because you know, that's the Old Testament and that was done away with,' or whatever. But whenever I hear arguments like that, I'm always like, God, supposedly according to the Bible, never changes, right? So if God never changes, that morality back then technically has not changed if it came from God. At least that's my own view.

[01:29:57] Kyle: No, I, I definitely feel the same way. I have a, um, for a little while I was, um, very progressive and I met a lot of people in and outside of my church that were as well. And I think that was my biggest question with them is, 'Okay, we, we're not gonna listen to Exodus 21, so why are we listening to Exodus? Why are we listening to like Exodus seven or Genesis chapter one, for example? Why do we think that that is true or from a god if, you know?'

[01:30:26] And so I, I, it would kind of fall into that type of category for me, where it's like, well, 'I, I feel like I'm having to pick and choose.' A friend of mine, he would always argue with me about the Bible. We'd go back and forth and, and I would always say, 'Well, how do you know what parts are true and what aren't? And he came to the conclusion later on that he's picking the parts that are true based off his own empathy, which comes from outside of the book.

[01:30:50] And so when it came to like morality, I would always be, you know, I, I agree with him is that most people, um the progressive Christians at least, I'm happy that they are, uh, they, they have empathy and that they try to make the world a better place while holding onto their beliefs. But they are picking based off a morality that's not from the book, at least.

[01:31:10] They can believe it's from God, but when you say this part of the book is, 'This is wrong and this is right morally,' it's your empathy, that's you. I think that's a beautiful thing to show that well, no matter what anybody says, you still have morality. And I told my dad once, if you, you know, uh, if you're getting your morality from a book or from a god, from some big objective ruler that tells you what to do, it's not morality, it's obedience.

[01:31:36] And, and I like to say that all the time now, I say it on TikTok all the time, but that's one thing I like to say, 'cause I think that there's more nuance in morality. Obedience is 'God said it, you have to do it, whether you think it's right or not.' Personally, if there is a god and he wants me to do something like murder someone, I just wouldn't do it.

[01:31:56] Santiago: Mm-hmm, yeah like with the story of Abraham and Isaac and thinking that he should sacrifice his own son. Yeah, no [laughing]. I remember hearing that story and I think I had a conversation with my dad or my mom or somebody, and I was a kid. And I remember kind of feeling scared or just confused. Like wondering, 'Hey, if my parents ever heard that, [laughing] would they feel like they had to as well?'

[01:32:28] And it's crazy to me that there's people on Twitter who will get asked that question, and I don't know if they're trolling or if they are just so deep in it that they truly believe it, but they're like, 'Yeah, I would do it.' And I was like, 'How do you know that that's from God?' Like that's one of the issues that I have with a lot of this is people who say that they've prophesied, people who say that they've performed miracles or that they've seen miracles. It's like, how do you really know where that came from, right?

[01:32:57] Kyle: Same here.

[01:32:59] Santiago: I'm wondering since, you know, it's been, it's been a couple years since you've publicly left Adventism and Christianity and belief in God. And I'm wondering, you talked about how your dad didn't reach out to you, you didn't reach out to him either, for about a year. Have any of your loved ones tried to convince you to come back?

[01:33:22] Kyle: Yes, I would say twice. Once was my dad and then the other was my younger brother, he's in the military. My younger brother, that was more of my fault. I was a new, angry, fired up atheist and, um, he, uh, was home from Japan for, I think for Thanksgiving. He knew that I didn't believe, and I started it off trying to make him prove that the Adam and Eve story makes any type of sense, that it was true.

[01:33:49] And we went back and forth. At the time, I didn't know how to even debate these types of things, so, I just was getting angrier and angrier while he was like, just like sitting there and chill. And, um, I stopped doing that with him because I felt like my, I don't like arguing or fighting with my little brother, we're like really close. I, I consider him my first friend.

[01:34:12] So we don't, we haven't done that. It was that same time period. My dad actually took me out to eat breakfast. I was home from school and he woke me up one morning and said, 'Come on.' We went to go out to a restaurant to eat. While we were eating, we were like talking about whatever, anything. It was a little awkward. And he immediately brought up that I was an atheist and that he understands that something must have happened where I'm upset with God or angry with God, or that I'm just trying to experience the world, but that he did it already.

[01:34:40] He went there already and that I don't need to, and that I need to just come down, come on back, because I know it's true deep down inside, and I'm just saying it's not. It was really, uh, annoying for me because he's my dad, so I can't speak the way I wanted to speak, even if I say it nicely, because I don't want him to feel as though I'm making him look stupid, if that makes sense.

[01:35:02] I don't know if you've experienced that when you're talking to your parents, but it's like you want to break down something about yourself to them. But in the same way, you don't want 'em to get offended. So he was telling me like, you know, 'You're saying there's no God and I don't get how you can say that.' And I wanted to correct him and say, 'Well, that's not what I'm saying. That's not what I believe. I, I don't believe in a God, it's not the same as saying there is no God.'

[01:35:22] And stuff like that, I didn't explain. Or he'll say, 'Well, have you looked at the trees? Look at your hands. Have you looked in the mirror? Like, that's evidence. You don't see the evidence all around you.' And to me it's just silly, but I didn't wanna, uh, I didn't say anything. So the whole time he convinced me for about an hour and a half. I just sat there at the table eating my food and shaking my head. And since then, I don't know what he thinks.

[01:35:44] He'll, when we, when we talk, he'll talk about the Sunday law and different events that are going on right now, as if I believe it too. I don't necessarily say I don't believe it. A great example was last time that I was at the house, maybe a month ago, I was at my parents' house. And I was just sitting with them for a little while and it was Friday night, so the Sabbath drew on. And I was about to go and, um, they were like, 'Oh, we made dinner.' So I was like, 'Okay, I'll stay and eat.' My dad put on a, a sermon, I think it was a, he's like an old man. It's very popular in the Adventist church. Mark something, Mark Finley, I think?

[01:36:18] Santiago: Yeah, I've been to a Mark Finley, uh, event before. I was a, I was a young kid, so that sounds about right.

[01:36:25] Kyle: Yeah uh, yeah, and it was, it was a regular sermon. It was nice, you know, nothing crazy and stuff. But he mentioned um, Bill Nye having a debate with Kent Ham at the, uh, Noah's Ark little museum thing. And um, I told my dad, I shouldn't have said it, but I mentioned it out loud, I said, 'Oh yeah, Bill Nye won that debate.'

[01:36:44] And my dad was like, 'Well, how did he win? How could he win when he's, you know, on the side of evolution, there's no evidence for it. Like how would he even win that one?' And he like chuckled to himself. And I sat there for like 30 seconds, and then I responded, 'He won because Kent Ham isn't a scientist, so he wouldn't know the first thing about evolution.'

[01:37:03] And my dad was like, yeah, 'Well he has God on his side.' And I said, 'Well, he has the Bible on his side. And he argued from the Bible, but there was no scientific evidence that anything in the Bible happened when it comes to creation.' And my dad looked at me in my eyes, [laughing] for like a long, uncomfortable minute.

[01:37:19] And then he turned back around and he said, 'Well, I think it's just stupid for anybody to believe in evolution. Like, what are people not as intelligent these days? I don't see how you would win that.' And I got really offended and my face, I felt like it turned red. And my mom knows how I am, that I get like really like fired up and I'm argumentative.

[01:37:37] And she looked uncomfortable, so I didn't say anything. I just got quiet. And then, um, then my dad, I dunno if he was picking at me or not, but he, um, turned back to me. He said, 'You wanna help me tomorrow? I'm passing out Great Controversies.' And I'm like, like, 'No!' So I made something up and said, 'I'm not gonna be able to, I gotta work.' And he said, and it was a bad thing to say, it was a terrible excuse because he's like, 'You gonna work on the Sabbath?'

[01:38:01] And it's like, 'It's not the Sabbath to me.' And he said, 'Oh, you're still going on with this?' And it's like it's, I think he thinks it's a phase or I'm just "upset with God," I wanna just have fun. And I think that is what's very irritating to me when it comes to debating my family, is that all of them, all of my family don't believe that I'm actually an atheist and I am not trying to convince them.

[01:38:25] Santiago: Yeah, no, I'm, I'm so glad you mentioned that because I'm sure there's people listening who have experienced that or can imagine experiencing that with their families. That's kind of what I've gone through. I don't really talk about it that much with my parents. Ever since reading that letter to them, we have not had a super deep and long conversation or a debate about it.

[01:38:52] I do remember speaking with my dad, we went on a walk sometime after that and we kind of talked about religion and belief in God a little bit, and my parents have been gracious. They've given me my space and we haven't debated about it too much. But I definitely believe that at least my mom is probably in denial about my brother and I. Because she's talked to us before about, and I've mentioned before on the podcast, how my grandfather supposedly, according to her, gave his life back to Jesus on his deathbed.

[01:39:32] He was, as my mom tells it, this kind of angry guy who grew up Irish Catholic and presumably saw or experienced some bad stuff growing up as an Irish Catholic. And that, uh, he just wasn't religious at all. My grandmother on my dad's side was, but he wasn't. And my mom helped care for him as his health condition was just deteriorating.

[01:40:02] And she had an Adventist pastor come by and anoint him and pray over him. And the way she tells it, he committed his life to Christ right before he died. And so I think in her mind, she's like, 'Oh, if my father-in-law who is this angry, you know, non-religious guy, could give his life to Jesus right at the last minute, then maybe my boys can too.'

[01:40:30] And I think she's in denial or, and or holding out hope that even if we continue down this path for the foreseeable future, that at the end of our lives, we will change our minds. Because there's that whole trope of, 'Oh, there's no atheists in foxholes,' and the way she tells it, atheists don't actually exist. We're "lying to ourselves," or deep down, "we truly do know there's a god."

[01:40:57] Kyle: Sounds very familiar.

[01:40:59] Santiago: Yeah, [laughing] yeah, exactly. So I can empathize with you on your family not understanding or truly believing what you have told them, even, even though you went a step further than I did, and you very clearly spelled it out on Facebook. I'm glad you've shared that experience because the chaotic side of me has been, I, I've, I've wondered what it would be like if I were to do a Facebook post like that.

[01:41:27] Because a lot of the, uh, a lot of the Adventists I know are still friends with me. I've actually unfriended, very intentionally, certain Adventists who are not really a part of my life anymore anyway. But for the ones that remain, I've, I've been tempted to just kind of do like a one and done, like you said, uh, [laughing] but now I'm starting to rethink that.

[01:41:52] Kyle: Yeah, I definitely would not recommend it, it was a zero out of 10 experience.

[01:41:58] Everyone: [Laughing]

[01:42:00] Santiago: Yeah, well, speaking of that, I want to ask you real briefly, because I'm sure some people listening might be able to relate. But I also wanna respect, you know, your privacy and, and kind of your boundaries on this subject. You mentioned that you went through depression when you shared about this, and that you even had to go to the hospital briefly.

[01:42:23] Without sharing anything you're uncomfortable talking about, is there any advice or anything you'd like to share with somebody who is going through deconstruction or deconversion who is also experiencing depression?

[01:42:36] Kyle: Yeah, I guess the two things that caused depression were losing that sense of community, having people see you differently. But the biggest part of it for me was also not knowing who I am without my religion. And I think that's where most of the depression came from. And my family and my friends knowing that I'm also an atheist was like the nail in the coffin.

[01:43:00] So I would say to people that are deconstructing, I hear a lot from different people that message me on Facebook or Instagram, and on TikTok, the same thing. That sense of identity being lost and that causing you to feel like, out there in the wind, or like you don't know who you are, what you like, without your religion.

[01:43:19] I would say while you're deconstructing, figure those things out. I deconstructed very quickly and I think that I, I never pulled away to say, 'What do I like? Who am I?' And that made me feel very nihilist afterward. I would say just figure out who you are. What do you like to do? What do you enjoy?

[01:43:38] Don't make deconstructing, or your atheism, or you figuring it out, your life. Don't make that your personality or your your identity, because it will always change. And one day you might not care to do that anymore. I may wake up tomorrow and not wanna make TikToks anymore, it can't be who I am. And so I would say figure out who you are, what you like to do, and, and also figure out what matters most to you.

[01:44:02] 'Does my parents knowing, the way they found out, helpful for my life and my mental health?' So if you're considering talking to somebody or telling people, consider how it'll reflect on you. Consider how you'll tell them. I think you told them, your parents, in a very, in a, in a way that I wish I would've told my parents. I would say ways like that, read them a letter, sit down with them one-on-one and talk to them and help them understand.

[01:44:26] I'd rather sit down with each person from my Facebook, all my friends and family, and speak to them one-on-one, than ever do it like that again. Because that, that, depression came from literally everybody is like being in high school and everybody's making fun of you. Um, it was that type of feeling. Almost like they're unintentionally bullying you, except instead of punching you in the face or throwing you on the floor, picking on you or joking with you, they're telling you that you'll die or go to hell. Or if you're an Adventist, you'll one day be annihilated.

[01:44:58] And it just doesn't feel very good to be told you're a bad person by so many people. So I would say be careful who you tell, and to be careful how you tell them. And just to figure yourself out in the process. Don't forget who you are. The essence of who you are is not your religion.

[01:45:17] Santiago: Yeah, absolutely. I think that's so well said, and I really appreciate your perspective on that. I think it's so important, like you said, to figure out what your interests are and recognize that deconstructing and theism or atheism is not everything that we are, right? There's so much more to life than just these debates and these questions.

[01:45:44] Obviously they're very important, right? And it's important enough to me to spend time and money doing this podcast, but there are things beyond that that are important to me in life. And I think that's so true, figuring out what you are.

[01:45:58] I think one thing that's maybe challenging for those of us who grew up as very conservative Adventists, is that so many of those things, so many of those interests were looked down upon, right? Certain types of music, certain professions, certain hobbies were really looked down upon. And so that may be challenging for somebody who grew up as a very strict conservative Adventist. And so it, it may be easier said than done, but it is doable and I think you and I are evidence of that.

[01:46:30] Kyle: Yes, of course.

[01:46:31] Santiago: So on that note, I'm, if you don't mind me asking, what were some of the things that you went through, did, experienced, read, that helped you come out of that depression? And what did you do to figure out your identity post Adventism?

[01:46:49] Kyle: Okay, so this is, uh, a fun, fun question for me 'cause um, all the things I love the most right now are some of the things I did. I got out of the dorm when I was in, you know, at Oakwood and I went to the gym. I worked out, and I did not like working out. I do work out just to stay alive, but I did not like working out and I saw guys playing basketball, never played basketball before.

[01:47:15] So I learned how to play basketball and got pretty good at it, I enjoyed running out there. It became a thing I did every day. I went and played basketball. I've always liked watching like cartoons and anime, so that's when I got really into like watching One Piece. I like, you know, uh, Naruto, I like Dragon Ball Z, all those animes, classic ones.

[01:47:36] And I, I started to rewatch some of them. And, um, One Piece in particular, um, not to fanboy on it, but One Piece in particular, I started watching when I was very young and then stopped watching it. And if anybody knows anything about One Piece, it's a very long show. So it's still on today, it's still coming out with new episodes.

[01:47:55] And so I caught up, I read the manga, I read, I read the anime. And I think what helped me mostly in that anime was the themes of freedom, of helping people that need help, of empathy, of found family, friendship. And reading that story, which is, you know, it's like, oh, it's just a little teenage story, you know, for kids, and, but reading that story, it really deepened my understanding of the world in that type of way.

[01:48:22] A lot of the story elements and characters I could relate to. And I think that was like good for me because I was reading the Bible every day and reading these characters and these stories, and I moved to something else, getting my mind into something, learning how to play chess, you know, just fun things.

[01:48:38] I started also reading a lot, and books I would recommend that really helped me out during this time, Carl Sagan, he's a astrophysicist, I believe, and he wrote a book called The Demon-Haunted World, and it's a great book. It's about basically how to know what pseudoscience is, understanding critical thinking, understanding logic, understanding skepticism.

[01:48:59] And that book got rid of my fears of God getting me or waking up in hell fire or something like that. It kind of got rid of those fears because I could like think my way out of it and make, make, you know, make sense of these fears. Like, okay, 'Do I have any reason to think that that could happen?' And, you know, go on like that.

[01:49:19] Another book is actually by an Adventist, it's called Saying No to God by Matthew Korpman. And he's an Adventist biblical scholar. He's very, very liberal and most Adventists probably would not even like the title of his book. But in this book, he basically pushes off the idea of biblical inerrancy, and that's what he's arguing, that the Bible is not inerrant, that it has mistakes.

[01:49:42] And that was a good book because throughout the book, while he's debunking these things, he's also making Christianity, if you're deconstructing, he's making Christianity what I think it was maybe meant to be, if there was a Jesus or he did exist, with this message, which is to love everybody, to be that peacekeeper, and stuff like that. It was a great book for me.

[01:50:02] And Sam Harris, The Moral Landscape, which is a book all about empathy, how it's developed, how morality developed, and how it evolves. And for me, it was a mix of all those things. Enjoying myself, learning new hobbies, that definitely helped me through that time period and got me outta that depression and, um, gave me the strength to say, 'I'm going to speak out against some of these beliefs.' Or I'm going to be that person if someone else is doubting, they could look at my channel or my accounts and be like, 'Okay, I have someone to relate to,' and it just really helped me out.

[01:50:39] Santiago: Mm-hmm, yeah wow, well, thank you for sharing that. I think that's so, that's so important to keep in mind is, there's a lot of other resources out there. And that reminder that yeah, you're not alone. If you're actively going through this, you are not alone. I think we really have no idea how many other people are actively going through this. And there is hope, and it does get better with time.

[01:51:05] Kyle: That's right.

[01:51:05] Santiago: Again, yeah, I, I really appreciate you touching on that 'cause it can seem pretty bleak right in the moment when you're, when you're in the midst of it. I haven't talked about it too much, but I also experienced some depression as I was deconstructing and shortly after I had deconverted. I think part of what you said was also what I experienced, that loss of identity, that loss of community, and feeling like I didn't know anybody other than maybe my brother who was an ex-Adventist.

[01:51:40] And his experience, even though we're, you know, even though we love each other, we get along really well. His experience was very different from mine because he left when he was in his teenage years, and he'd gone off to university and I stayed locally. So he had a whole new friend group and a whole new set of experiences and a new identity outside of Adventism.

[01:52:03] And for me, I had just been focused so much on the church and work, and I didn't have a strong friend group. My best friend was out of state, and I was just starting to, you know, so there was all these changes that that kind of happened. And so I felt pretty alone at the beginning. And that's partly what led me to find Abby and Ami's original podcast, and then what inspired me to start this, is because we don't hear enough of these voices and it can feel very lonely.

[01:52:37] And so that's part of what makes me so grateful for people like you, people like Melissa, people like Jeff who are willing to speak up and be open and honest about their experiences, and let people know you're not alone. You're not the first and you're not gonna be the last person to go through this.

[01:52:54] Kyle: Oh definitely, of course. And I'm actually very thankful that you revived the original podcast, Seventh-day Atheist, right?

[01:53:01] Santiago: Mhmm.

[01:53:02] Kyle: Because I've heard about it on Reddit, I've seen people talk about it, then I would look it up and it wouldn't be there and I'd be like, 'Aw, man.' And so when I seen your post actually on Reddit and you, um, said that you were, have a new podcast where you'll be reviving theirs, I was actually very happy.

[01:53:16] Because there's a lot of atheist content and you know, but it's different for us, you know? Like one, one example is we don't believe in like a ever-burning hell. So I never had that fear. So it's hard to relate to like an atheist that does. And so I was like, oh we need like Adventist stuff. I'm happy to have your podcast, I listen to it every new episode.

[01:53:37] Santiago: Oh, thank you, I appreciate that. And yeah, big shout out to Abby and Ami for the work they originally did, because I think that what they did is just an example of the ripple effect. That being willing to speak up and share your experiences with others, even if you think people might not be able to relate, you have no idea, right?

[01:54:01] They're women who grew up in the south. I'm a guy who grew up with a very multicultural church on the West Coast, and there are still things I was able to relate to that they experienced. And even the things that we didn't have in common, it was still very interesting for me to learn about that.

[01:54:20] So absolutely, if there's anyone listening who has a story that you're comfortable sharing, whether it's just something you write or whether it's doing an interview like this, absolutely get in touch. The social media links are all in the show notes. You can send me a direct message and I would love to hear your story.

[01:54:39] Well, I know we're way over what we had originally planned on chatting. I think I gotta just assume that we're gonna have like two hour conversations going forward, because that's kind of what I've been averaging with people. I'm gonna try and get through these last couple questions a bit quicker. And um, I want to ask you, because you regularly talk about atheism on TikTok and on Instagram. In your experience, what are some of the most common things people get wrong about atheists and atheism?

[01:55:11] Kyle: I would say definitely the belief that atheism means you don't believe in anything. We just don't believe in a god. The other one I would say is that atheism is a rejection that there is a god, that atheists say there is no god when it doesn't necessarily mean that. It's just a lack of belief. I would say those are the two things. And I would say a close runner up for third would be that we have no morals.

[01:55:35] Santiago: Yeah, I definitely heard that last one from my mom [laughing]. And then more specifically, you've talked about how you identify as an agnostic atheist. So what does that term mean to you?

[01:55:48] Kyle: I started actually just recently using that term within the last couple years, but I would say atheism, meaning that I don't believe in a god, and agnostic meaning I have no knowledge if one does exist or if one doesn't exist. So I, I am basically saying I don't believe in a god, but if there were to be a god, I would accept it. I'm not going to definitively say that there is no god.

[01:56:11] Santiago: Mm-hmm, yeah and I think that's an important distinction because I remember growing up thinking that those were two very different terms, and obviously everything I heard about that was kind of coming from a negative place. But I think it is important to recognize that, yeah, if compelling evidence were to come forward, irrefutable evidence, it's not like we're gonna bury our heads in the sand and say, 'Oh, well, I still don't believe.' It's just that that irrefutable evidence hasn't been presented to us.

[01:56:42] Kyle: Right, exactly.

[01:56:43] Santiago: Yeah, I've personally also gone as far as to say that even if the Abrahamic god happened to exist and the Bible as it is written by and large, the morality that we talked about earlier, was this god's morality, I wouldn't worship that god, even if, if it did exist. Because that morality does not line up with the morality that I think is, like you said, conducive to human wellbeing and happiness.

[01:57:11] Kyle: Oh yeah, def — I, I've asked that question a couple of times on TikTok and uh, and I have the same answer. I wouldn't worship, but I would accept that it exists. But worshiping is, I don't think anything, in my opinion, deserves worship, especially if it asks for it.

[01:57:24] Santiago: Hmm, yeah. One of the challenges that's going on right now within Evangelical Christianity in the US is this culture of celebrity. And I think some of the scandals they've had and some of the challenges they're having is that even in some cases, right, the Bible talks about not making images and idols for yourself.

[01:57:45] But in some cases, I think even within Adventism, sometimes we make celebrities and idols out of some of the people who are well loved and have this big, larger than life reputation. I don't know where I was going to go with that, but maybe just to say that even, even if that Abrahamic god existed, like you said, why would it have to demand worship from us?

[01:58:08] Kyle: It's a very, very curious thing.

[01:58:11] Santiago: Yeah, [laughing] yeah. So how else would you say that your life has changed since leaving Adventism?

[01:58:19] Kyle: I'm definitely freer. Freedom is like a big, a big thing for me. It's one of the things I like to push and I always talk about, and I, I think that being able to do something like, I'm going to go to a bar, you know, I would never think that I could do that, but I'm allowed. Not just being grown, but there's not someone over my shoulder that's invisible looking, getting upset with me. So being free to do that, being free to say, 'I'm going to eat this shrimp,' and not feel guilt. Just that freedom is definitely the biggest thing.

[01:58:52] And secondly, I would say just that I guess, having the new eyes to be able to see the world for what it really is, in a bad way, but also in a great way. There's so many different religions and cultures and beliefs and, and different people. And everything's much more interesting than it was within my bubble. I think that's the biggest change is that I'm just so curious. I explore, I read. You know, my partner right now always makes fun of me saying I'm a know it all 'cause I just know some of the infor — it's so random.

[01:59:22] And she said, 'How do you know that? Why are you even like, who reads that type of stuff?' And it's something that I would like look into. If someone says something, I immediately fact check it and like look into it and read into it. And I think that that's where my, the biggest way my life has changed since leaving is that I don't have the answers and I'm so happy and excited that I don't have the answers, 'cause I can find out.

[01:59:44] Santiago: Hmm, yeah, no, I think that's so important, right? Coming from a place where we were taught that we had the answers. That term you used, present truth, right? I remember hearing that as well growing up, and it's interesting. Some of the more progressive Adventists have talked about how Adventists who really like to hone in, or who really like to harp on the idea of present truth, maybe believe that present truth stopped in the 1800s with Ellen White [laughing] and, and aren't willing to accept new theological arguments. For example, for affirming gay people.

[02:00:22] It's very interesting to me, there's this, there's this tension there, this kind of contradiction with present truth, and, and, uh, insisting that we have what we need. But yeah, no, I think that's such, that's such an important thing, right? Being able to see the world with new eyes, being curious. Definitely, once I was able to step away from Young Earth creationism, that opened up a whole new world of learning for me as well. And I'm still going on that journey.

[02:00:51] Kyle: Yep, it never ends.

[02:00:52] Santiago: Yeah, yeah. So with that in mind, right, you've talked about this new sense of freedom, this new sense of curiosity. And having gone to an Adventist university and grown up in the environment you did, would you say that the Adventist church is a net positive, negative, or neutral force in the world?

[02:01:14] Kyle: In the world, I would say, I would say it's very neutral. I don't think that we are as [laughing] I, I, I'm gonna speak very black and white, but I don't think that we're as bad as say, like the Mormons or Jehovah's Witnesses when it comes to like, shunning and a very like, cult-like feel. I know we're called a cult, but I don't agree with that because a lot of our churches are very open to change and are very, they can be very liberal.

[02:01:44] We're so internally diverse that I feel like it pushes us from being a negative to being neutral, and in some aspects, positive with our hospitals and, uh, with our health message and stuff like that. But I would say mostly neutral. I don't think that we're too big of a problem. Like if, for example, if I went to Oakwood right now, and I'm an atheist and I was just down there, I could, I could still have a good time, enjoy stuff with my friends.

[02:02:09] I think I could probably even enjoy church with the music and the concerts. Whereas if I was a Jehovah's Witness I don't think that they would have that experience. So I do think that we're neutral. I wouldn't say positive though, but I would say neutral, yeah.

[02:02:23] Santiago: Hmm, interesting, okay. Taking into consideration what you just said, are there any positive messages or ideas from Adventism, and I think you've touched on some, but any positive ideas that you've taken with you and still have today, or any cultural practices or memories?

[02:02:42] Kyle: Yeah, I would definitely, uh, [laughing] I'd definitely say that I do love a haystack, still. So that's, that's one thing, I think, culturally. I still enjoy gospel music from time to time. Even though I don't believe it, it's just maybe the soulfulness of it. But when it comes specifically to Adventism, I wouldn't, I don't really think anything other than maybe like their health message, I think is a positive thing.

[02:03:06] But other than that, I don't really think so. I think a lot of the stuff, I kind of let go of. I think the most positive thing though, I would say is my strong, strong stance on separation of church and state. I think that Adventism kind of drilled that into me, and I still feel that way now.

[02:03:24] I've told my dad a few times that, you know, I, I'm, if there was a Sunday law, I'd be a hundred percent against it because it's, it's not right to force anybody to do anything. And me and him disagree because I also think that you shouldn't say that people aren't allowed to have abortions, also based on religion.

[02:03:40] And so we, you know, I, well disagree on that, but I think those are things that Adventism pushes for that I a hundred percent agree with, which is separation of church and state and that we should all be led by our own conscience.

[02:03:52] Santiago: I a hundred percent agree and I've had that same conversation with my mom, which is that yeah, she's point blank, asked me what I would do if the Sunday law came, or when the Sunday law comes. And yeah, I told her basically the same thing. I'm like, just because I'm an atheist doesn't mean that I, if anything, I would be even more against it.

[02:04:12] Because I, I reject the entire premise of, you know, forcing people to worship on any day. I don't believe it'll happen. I don't believe that that kind of prediction is something that is rooted in reality. But if by some off chance it ever did happen, 100%, I would absolutely be against it for the reasons you just said.

[02:04:36] Kyle: Right, of course.

[02:04:38] Santiago: One of the last questions I want to ask you is if any of your old classmates or friends or family happen to hear this, keeping in mind everything we've talked about before with the Facebook post and debates and things you've had, what would you wanna say to them now?

[02:04:53] Kyle: I'd wanna say that it's okay to have people think differently than you. And just because somebody does not believe the same as you, doesn't mean they aren't the same person they were. The difference between myself and a Christian is their belief in Christianity. But other than that, there are many things that we could have in common.

[02:05:14] There are experiences and relationships that we can still have with each other. Just because I don't believe the same thing as you, really, I can't believe the same thing as you, doesn't mean that you need to see me any differently. It doesn't mean that I see you any differently. And the same way that you feel about Zeus, Allah, or Vishnu is the same way I feel about your god. Not malice, not anger, I just don't believe it exists. But that has nothing to do with the person I am.

[02:05:41] Santiago: I appreciate that, I think that's kind of something similar to what I said to my parents, which was that I was still the same person they raised me to be. And even though my views on certain things have changed, I think they still come from a place of empathy for other people. I referenced what Jesus is recorded to have said in the Bible, which is to treat others as you want to be treated. I view that as one of the things in the Bible that I can absolutely agree with, even if it isn't unique to Jesus.

[02:06:17] So yeah, a hundred percent agree. Just because we've changed in this one area doesn't mean that we are an entirely different person from the person that people have known us to be.

[02:06:26] Kyle: Exactly.

[02:06:27] Santiago: It's been so great chatting with you, I've really enjoyed our conversation. And for anyone who wants to see more of your videos or more of your discussions on this, where can people find you?

[02:06:41] Kyle: You can find me on TikTok, I believe it'll be linked inside the show notes, you can find me on Instagram as well. I do have a Facebook under the name Kyle Freedom, I think I'm the only Kyle Freedom on Facebook, so if you look that up, you can also find all the links to my different accounts there as well. That's at the moment where you can find me and I will be working on a podcast soon under the same title, Kyle Freedom.

[02:07:03] Santiago: Awesome, all right, well all of that will be linked in the show notes and once that's up and running I will make sure to add that as well. So yeah, please, everyone listening, go check out those social media accounts, give 'em a follow, and, um, I'm sure we'll have more to chat about once you get that going. So if you're interested, I'd love to have you back on sometime.

[02:07:25] Kyle: Of course.

Haystacks & Hell Outro

[02:07:26] 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 again for listening. We'll see you on the next one!

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