So many encouraging quotes from my first year of guests! I loved putting together this episode. Don't miss it!
"I just remember kind of losing the fear little by little. As I lost the fear I realized I didn't have to be a Christian if I didn't want to, if it wasn't working for me"
My guest today is Vilmarie Perez.
Her father was a preacher, her step-father a pastor and her aunt had her own church. Raised in a strong evangelical family, she begins to experience some real difficulties in adolescence.
Her Christian upbringing leads to a desire to become "less" for God and family. She develops an eating disorder. In the next year or two she comes out to her mother and also becomes an atheist. Her mother forces her to move from the States back to Puerto Rico with her father. This is traumatic for Vilmarie, as she leaves behind her friends and the life she knows.
I was inspired by her story and you will be too!
Jesus Camp (movie) https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0486358/
Tumblr: ExChristian https://www.tumblr.com/search/exchristian
Secular Student Alliance https://secularstudents.org
"For this time that I am here on earth, with the only life that I'm sure that I get; I'm going to help as much as I can. I'm going to try to be a good neighbor as best as I can"
My guest today is Benny (Benibo) Ajumogobia.
He was born and raised in Lagos, Nigeria. His mom was a deaconess, and dad an Elder. The charismatic church he was raised in had some BIG differences compared to American charismatic churches. The emphasis on witchcraft is one example.
At 16 Benny responds to an alter call at a revival meeting in the U.K. His faith takes a serious turn. He decides to cut off all friendships for the sake of his faith. He also takes a vow of celibacy.
The events of 9/11 and attending Howard University have an influence on him, but he remained a committed conservative Christian. Years later, a show on CSPAN would have an enormous impact on his faith. He's now an agnostic-atheist.
Ex-Christians on Reddit:
"Never forget why you questioned. Never forget what took you over the edge. Hold onto that, because that's kinda pure, those things that make you realize 'I don't believe this stuff anymore'. Hold onto that and never forget it"
Treigg shares an array of experiences and touches on some fascinating topics. He grew up a Baptist preacher's kid and took the Bible VERY seriously. He later helped with the youth ministry in his mom's church and even had his own church TV show!
Seeds of doubt are planted throughout his life. One begins when he notices his friends parents listening to secular music. This was a major moment for Treigg. His parents only played gospel music. Another seed of doubt is when Treigg begins discussing God's allowance of slavery with an agnostic friend.
Treigg has to share his new views with his parents as he realizes how much of his world was wrapped up in religion. His search for community leads to Skeptics of Color in Cincinnati, which evolved into Black Non-Believers of Cincinnati.
The God Delusion, by Richard Dawkins:
"Laugh at everything. Always be kind. Always be courageous and if you fail, make amends"
Ian Redfearn (via Dr. Who)
The second half of my conversation with Ian is wonderful!
We start with him resigning membership at his church, then discuss atheist spirituality. He shares observations about how church doesn't seem to make people any better.
Ian tells me how he prepared to tell his wife he couldn't go to church anymore. Her reaction was amazing! Finally, Ian ends on such an inspirational note. He shares a quote from the movie, The Life of Pi and also a quote from Dr. Who. As you probably know, I love quotes! These two in particular were very moving to me.
Thanks for listening!
"I was beginning to ask the questions and there were things I was observing and thinking, 'I'm not sure how we're going to hold this together here really'"
It was so much fun to meet and speak with Ian!
I loved hearing of his experience as a charismatic Christian in England. Definitely there are similarities to those of us in the U.S., but important differences too.
Ian has so many factors that played a role in shaping his faith. From seeing Billy Graham speak in person, to seeking out a Dental practice that was part of the Christian Dental Fellowship and his experience with the Toronto Blessing. As a young family, Ian and his wife received difficult news about her health and that of their first-born son.
God calls Ian to lead. Ian gets some practice preaching. Seeing the influence of Answers in Genesis at his church is a significant turning point. Subsequent observations and questions prove to be the start of a big life change!
"If their theology was right and what they believed was true, it would've made people a lot better"
Be Excellent to Each Other!
In part 2, Bill discusses his time helping people out on Skid Row in Los Angeles. He encounters people who make a huge impact on his life, including a rabbi he decided was most certainly not going to hell.
Bill's family moves from southern California to Alaska! His daughter begins asking who is going to heaven and who is going to hell. She questions the Trinity.
Bill transitions to CFO of his congregation. When the church wants to spend money they don't have, Bill advises against it. Their response to Bill triggers a big change in his life.
I absolutely loved this quote from Bill:
"If their theology was right and what they believed was true, it would've made people a lot better".
Everyone's Agnostic podcast:
Life After God podcast:
Good Without God by Greg Epstein-
Why I Left, Why I Stayed by Bart Campolo and Tony Campolo:
"I realized that you didn't have to be dogmatic to be a good person"
Bill starts our conversation discussing the difficulties he experienced when his parents divorced. As a child, Bill had no warning the day his mom decided to pack up their stuff and move out.
Boy Scouts became a stabilizing force in Bill's junior high and high school years, as he became the de facto mediator between his parents.
He moved to Colorado for college and earned a Bachelor of Arts in Biblical Studies.
Bill and his wife served as Officers/Ministers in the Salvation Army for over twelve years. They now attend a Unitarian church and Bill considers himself a Humanist.
"Give yourself permission to not figure it out. It's really scary to go from feeling like you understand everything to feeling like you understand nothing "
Krista Cox is a poet, Program Director of Lit Literary Collective, Associate Poetry Editor at Stirring: A Literary Collection and Pittsburgh Poetry Review. She's also on the Advisory Board for the Feminist Humanist Alliance.
She has an inspiring story to tell.
Following a traumatic experience in a relationship she spent years not feeling like herself. She explained it like a switch being flipped. When it begins to impact her son, the switch flips back. Her resilience and determination when she describes that moment were really inspiring to me. Her instincts kicked in.
Late in the interview she describes how she is "drawn to joy". I loved the way she explained that and found it to be incredibly hopeful!
Learn more about Krista and her work at:
" I have a faith in the process. If you are honest and curious, you will find your way to the truth"
In this week's episode, Ryan Bell shares his compelling story of deconversion. Ryan also talks about what he's been up to since joining the Secular Student Alliance as National Organizer Manager.
I've been looking forward to meeting Ryan for a while, so it was wonderful to finally speak with him. Although I'm familiar with Ryan's story, I learned some fascinating new details during our conversation.
He explains what convinced him to stop pursuing Pre-Med in college and become a pastor. He also shares what motivated him to live in Nicaragua for 6 weeks. Finally, it was fun to hear the story of how his "Year Without God" blog went viral, resulting in breakfast with Penn Jillette.
Ryan spent nearly 20 years in congregational pastoral ministry. His very public deconversion in 2014 is documented in his blog, “Year Without God”. Since that time, Ryan has been a writer and speaker on the subjects of religion, humanism and justice. In 2015, he founded the Life After God community and is the host of the Life After God podcast. His writing can be found at The Humanist, CNN, and The Guardian.
"Religion hijacks curiosity, gives you all the answers and stops inquiry"
In Part 2, Ariel discusses his transition out of Christianity and into atheism. He searches for meaning in life and finds it in Humanism. He talks about what he likes best about being a Humanist, what stayed the same about him after his deconversion and making a difference in the world.
He's also a web developer and blogs at http://ghostlessmachine.com/en/
"If people ask me the meaning of life, what keeps me going: I want to contribute to making the world a better place. I want to minimize suffering and maximize well-being on earth"
Ariel was raised in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil-well known for being a very Catholic country. However, Ariel describes how spiritism, reincarnation and out-of-body experiences are a normal part of Christianity in Brazil.
In his early teen years he sought out how he could have an out-of-body experience. He began asking questions to learn more...and that's when things take a turn.
He is now Chair of the Americas Working Group at IHEYO (International Humanist and Ethical Youth Organization):
He's also a web developer and blogs at http://ghostlessmachine.com/en/
He currently lives and works in Bucharest, Romania.
"I won't attack your religion, but the moment that your religion puts a child at risk, I'm going to attack the crime of child-maltreatment. That's the problem, religion convolutes the crime"
This is the second-half of my conversation with Vennie Kocsis, a cult survivor.
Vennie left off in part 1 when her family had just been banished from the cult in Alaska. It was fascinating to hear how very practical, everyday things were new to her, like wearing jeans.
As she adjusted to normal life, she began to exude independence. As she grows into young-adulthood she discovers a variety of beliefs and tries out several of them. We also discuss raising freethinking kids, which is always interesting for Ex-Christians.
Vennie devouts a lot of her time to raising awareness about modern-day cults. If you'd like to support Vennie or learn more about her work, check out her website:
"The word cult derives from the Latin. It just means to worship. It could be said, anybody who is a part of group-think, who worships an entity is part of a cult. "
Vennie lives in the Pacific Northwest, in the United States. She is an author, artist and podcaster.
Through her podcast "Survivor Voices" and her other work, Vennie stands beside fellow cult and abuse survivors, encouraging them that they're not alone.
Being raised in a cult, Vennie endured some of the most difficult experiences a child could go through. She survived mental, physical and sexual abuse in the cult. Although she doesn't go into a lot of detail, she does discuss the abuse.
*Please be aware that in this episode we discuss mental, physical & sexual abuse. If these topics are a trigger for you, or if this is a particularly difficult subject, please take note before deciding to listen. Also note that she briefly discusses animal sacrifice that occurred within the cult.
She's quite courageous to speak so candidly about these difficult issues. I admire all the work she does in bringing awareness about cults and supporting those who have survived cults and abuse.
You can find her art, writings and podcast at venniekocsis.com: http://venniekocsis.com/home/4592874752
"If our morality comes from God, if our moral compass comes from a benevolent God, then why when I read the Bible do I have so many problems with the way he behaves"
In talking with Forest, it struck me how much he endured.
He gets kicked out of the mission trip group he was with and sent home from Ireland. He was battling mental health issues and subsequently would lose his faith. His ability to continue in college depended on his parents, who were paying for it. Forest makes the brave decision to tell his parents that he's no longer Christian. His dad gives him an ultimatum.
Forest's life opens up. He's enriched and becomes his true self.
"This is the reality that's been taught to me my whole life. You question that, you question everything you think you know. It was hard to do, it was hard to even process"
Forest grew up in North Carolina going to a charismatic church. A leadership change in his home church brings a new pastor who begins to express some cult-like tendencies.
When Forest's parents became interested in missionary work, the family moved to Iraq where he attended school around age 12. A friend close to Forest's family is murdered.
Forest comes to a point where he says he "chose intellectual dishonesty". This choice results in some big behavior changes in Forest. Family and friends start to take notice.
When Forest is in Ireland for a mission, it's revealed to those in leadership that he has been showing signs of self harm and an eating disorder.
I want to thank Forest for being willing to be so open about an experience in his life that was incredibly difficult.
Forest's story is fascinating and he was so articulate and reflective about his journey. He was a wonderful guest!
"The humanist part of me recognizes now that life is finite. It is that much more precious. My relationship with my wife and my daughters is of the greatest importance in the cosmos. There is nothing more important to me than she is and my daughters are"
In Part 2 of my conversation with David, he shares the moment he realized he was no longer a Christian. He also shares the painstaking process of telling his wife (who is still a Christian today) that he was no longer a Christian.
David discusses finding comfort in the history of doubt and secular thinking throughout history. He also explains his thoughts on the basis of morality as an atheist.
It was a wonderful conversation!
"What do I believe in? I believe in people. I believe in people over ideology".
Jesus tells David's mother to stop drinking. Her struggles with addiction ended when she dramatically converted to Christianity. This had a major influence on David's faith.
He approached his faith with authenticity, but soon found he was in the minority amongst friends. He learned that others approached their Christianity in different ways.
David eventually enters the ministry, before burning out and distancing himself from church activities.
When David reads something from Greta Christina, it's the final straw.
After 20 years of Christianity his faith broke down in 2015.
He respects and cares for those who remain in their faith. David is interested in finding evidence based truth. He want's to discover and communicate the subtleties of why some believe, some do not and some change their minds.
@GracefulAtheist on Twitter
"There are other people who feel the way you do. There are thousands and thousands and thousands. Even if you live in a religious community. There's no reason to feel like you're alone...at all"
Dr. Irene Haralabatos
Dr. Haralabatos considers herself an atheist and a secular humanist.
Her mom was Lutheran and her dad was Greek Orthodox. However, while she was growing up her family attended a Methodist church every Sunday.
She was very rational from a young age and remembers questioning stories in the Bible like Noah's Ark.
One day, as a young girl she was searching for some chocolate. What she ended up discovering would unravel some big mysteries.
Dr. Haralabatos had some great advice on how to respond and relate to Christians when they ask us to pray for them. As a physician, she's occasionally been asked to pray when delivering difficult news to her patients.
Dr. Haralabatos received her MD from Robert Wood Johnson School of Medicine and served her residency in internal medicine at Parkland Memorial Hospital. She completed her fellowship training in Allergy and Immunology at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania. She is Board Certified in Allergy and Immunology.