Backing Slowly Away from Hell: Post-Traumatic Growth and Deconversion

“Sometimes you can only find heaven by backing slowly away from hell.”

Carrie Fisher quotes are a great start to any blog post, amirite?

Seriously though, I’ve got that quote up on my dorm room wall in red-orange pen, complete with a grinning skull doodle that I like to think Carrie would’ve appreciated. It’s there because it’s a really great way to sum up how my deconversion from Evangelical Christianity, and my struggle to survive in a new and godless reality, has been for the past five years. Backing slooowly away from hell, and a damn deep tan to go with it.

See, I was raised an Evangelical Christian, and being born again, being on fire for God, being in a singular and transformative and divine relationship with Jesus, that was everything to me. It’s what I based my imagination of the future, my goals, my social life, my thoughts, my speech, my daily routine, my values, my beliefs about the whole world, all around.

And then in high school, over a slow and shattering period of time, I quietly lost my belief. I realized that what I’d been taught wasn’t just wrong, it was toxic. But when I lost my belief, I lost my God, and I lost my very self. I went on pretending I still believed, not knowing how my parents would react, and the added agony of hiding it all meant that my relationships with my best friends, my church family, and my parents withered away.

I went to college. I was struggling with depression, dissociation, situational mutism, social anxiety, and the trauma of growing up and emotionally leaving the community and lifestyle that I was still physically trapped in. And then I met a man we’ll call Jonathan. And I loved him – human to human, I loved him, because he showed me love and grace, and with him I healed. He was there with me when I became obsessed with my spiritual trauma, when I went full hermit and descended into my depression and disordered eating. He saw me, witnessed me, and he was with me, unlike anyone I knew before.

And then he left. He left his job at my university right before the summer of freshman year, a summer I fully believed I would not survive, because I was going back home, and I expected the pain of hiding my loss to kill me. And that summer was hell. There was a pain, and an agony, and a redness in me, day after day. It also hit me that if my parents found out I was gay and godless, I wasn’t guaranteed safe, so I packed a secret duffel bag, memorized shelter numbers, planned out bus routes. Some days I was drowning in that red pain, because when Jon left, it was like he had died, and I had died with him. After all, he was my therapist, so I didn’t know if I’d ever see or speak to him again.

But I did survive that summer. In fall semester of sophomore year, I had to deal with the unpleasant, unexpected surprise of, uh, still being alive. Fall semester was another type of hell. I was alive, but I didn’t think it would last. There was something coming that I’d have to survive and I didn’t see the point of trying. I couldn’t see a future. Almost everything I’d believed in and loved had been a sick lie. I had lost myself, but never gone about creating a new one. I stayed in my room. I started compulsively visiting the nearby chapel, crying my eyes out, asking aloud how I was supposed to leave God behind when I had no idea how or what that even looked like. Winter break, I almost killed myself.

And then 2017 came.

And I don’t know how to explain it. I don’t know how to make a story out of this. I don’t need to, I think, or even want to, really. But it was like the breaking of a fever. And suddenly, I began to heal. I can pick out touchstones in that process now, small moments when my direction changed:

After the summer, like a cool slow breeze, I began to allow myself to imagine a future. It started with a 3-second byte: me, holding a mug, walking into a room in a cardigan. And it grew, very slowly. I wanted to do social work, help other people who were struggling to recover from their faiths like I was.

Before winter break, like lightning, like a rushing tide, sitting minding my own business in my therapist’s office, I wanted to live again, and I swear I felt my future self touch me. Out of goddamn nowhere. 

Moments after the clock struck 2017, I felt like my spirit pivoted, and all the hells I had been through were behind me. I was facing forward. I didn’t know how to live without God, to make a life despite the fact that I’d always heard that non-Christians were miserable and purposeless and destined for destruction. But hell if I wasn’t gonna try. Because I was tired of wasting away and hurting and feeling so damn lost. I was done with it.

It’s February now. And it’s still so hard to explain – but my God, I think I want to live. I am changed. Where I once believed that my only purpose in life was to glorify God, now I believe that life doesn’t have a purpose at all, and it’s incredibly, gloriously liberating. Absurdism freed me. I have learned how to love and let go at the same time, and while I will always miss and cherish Jon, after months of processing and hurting, I know I am a different person because he left, more gracious, more inspired, more tender. And I’m figuring out who I wanna be through who I can be, discovering just how damn much I love the idea that life doesn’t actually have as many rules as I thought.

I was thinking about all this last night – how I am changed through it all, miraculously, unbelievably, because I never saw any of this coming. It just happened to me. Again, like a fever breaking, like a chemical reaction. Old bonds were broken, new ones formed, structure reshaped and properties transformed… it’s a whole new look, boys. I feel brighter, cleaner, fresher. I feel renewed. I feel alive.

It turns out that this type of change is called post-traumatic growth. I stumbled on this idea by complete accident this morning. Post-traumatic growth is a positive change experienced as a result of the struggle with a major life crisis or a traumatic event. According to the Posttraumatic Growth Research Group, it’s got 5 major areas: awareness of new possibilities in life, warmer relationships and kinship with suffering people, a sense of personal strength, a greater appreciation for life, and a change or deepening in spiritual beliefs.

While people who go through trauma can face post traumatic symptoms, including PTSD itself, they also change, they grow. And that is true for me, so true. I feel myself, my own spirit, changing shape and color and tenor. I would never want to relive everything I went through. But I also know that I am healing, and that I have learned invaluable lessons from some (not all) of the ways I was hurt.

Don’t get me wrong, it was hell, and I’m not in heaven; I’m not glad I went through any of it. But I am really starting to like who I am now. I’m excited to see who I’m becoming. And I hope that you out there, you hurting/suffering/lost person, will find growth in your own way too. Even if you have to back ever so slowly away from hell to feel it. It’s the only reason this happens in the first place.

And don’t forget, if you’re already backing slowly away from hell, try and make s’mores while you’re at it.

They Said Walking Away from God was Impossible. Watch Me.

From the very beginning, they said there was no walking away. They said I was in the palm of God’s hand, and nothing, no power of hell, no scheme of man, could ever pluck me out. They said no matter what happened, even if I somehow (gasp) stopped being a Christian, if God wanted me, he would always find a way to bring me back to him.

From the very beginning, God was it. Being “on fire” for him, serving him, being a living sacrifice for him, dying to myself so that he would increase – that was always the only life worth living. That was the only life that was possible to live.

I was born and raised in a church that taught that I exist is to stroke God’s ego glorify God. It proclaimed that without a relationship with God, without completely surrendering and sacrificing your life to him, without killing the self you were before you dedicated your very being to him and begging him to break and reshape you according to his will, well, life was completely and utterly empty, void of meaning, dark. Worthless. (Cue the crashing piano.)

It painted non-Christians as unsafe, depraved fools, conspirators, and enemies. It said that these poor people were like clueless babies, and we, the enlightened and blessed, were to, ah …humbly preach God’s message. This way, they too could have the only thing that made life remotely worth living. (Misery loves company?) It said that nonbelievers knew, deep down, that God exists. Those atheists were just denying it because they didn’t want to have to give up their lives to God. Can’t imagine why not.

And those people who left? The people who believed for years and years and years, who studied the Bible and sang and tithed with the rest of us, who were even worship leaders or Sunday School teachers or pastors themselves? They were never true believers. Because no one could ever know the only True Love in the universe and walk away from it.

And even if they somehow did? Well, God would hunt them down, just like he did Jonah. He would shipwreck us and we would come back. Someone we loved would die, or we’d lose our jobs or houses or minds, and God would use it to show us just how very powerless and useless we were without him. How generous.

All my life, all along, the message was crystal clear. Since some lady at the beginning of time chomped on a forbidden fruit, obviously all of humanity was utterly depraved forever and deserved to be eaten alive by worms for the rest of fiery eternity. Duh. I was worth less than a used tampon by my very nature.

But God, bless his heart, had the generosity to get tortured to death on a dead tree, even though nobody even asked, thus saving us all from ourselves – all for the low, low price of killing our spirits and pledging to unquestioningly obey and serve God forever as his children, slaves, and bride all rolled into one! And this was the epitome of love, by the way. So much so that non-Christians didn’t even know what real love was.

I have decided to follow Jesus, I sang, over and over and over. No turning back. No turning back.

I’ve heard that C-PTSD is especially tough on people who have got no concept of themselves before their trauma. They lived in danger ever since they could remember. It was all they knew. 

For myself and others who were raised in Evangelical/Baptist/Fundamentalist Christianity, leaving feels impossible because we have no concept of being people without believing and living out all this crap. It’s like we get Jesus Juice through an IV.

And then we stop believing. And that alone is hell enough. It takes months or years and some of us barely survive. It’s been roughly 5 years for me, and I’m still barely surviving it some days. Just the mere idea that I once knew the “Truth” and walked away from it – I never once imagined that could happen to me. And besides, I knew nothing about the secular world. It was supposed to be dangerous and utterly empty and depressing and blah blah blah. Even if I wanted to leave, how would I?

But it turns out, you can stop believing. Your entire world can melt away around you. And for a long time, yeah, it’ll blow your mind, because almost everything you loved and believed in turns out to be a bullshit casserole – there’s layers on layers of just how fucked up it all was. And for so long too, you’ll be shell-shocked. Because you don’t know how to exist, how to LIVE, without serving God, thanking him for everything, constantly apologizing and afraid and guilty and alert. Because you weren’t supposed to escape. And there will be so many others you know who didn’t, so why did you? 

But you are here. Surviving. And slowly, like a thaw, you learn how to live. And how to leave. And oh yeah, it’s fucking terrifying, and you don’t know what the hell you’re doing. But there is a point, a constellation of many points actually, where you actually start to want to be a person and live without God. To own yourself for the first time. And you may not see it coming, but it happens. And you’re doing it, as messy and awkward and funny and hard as shit that it is. Look, Ma, no hands!

There is no one point when you simply leave. You’re always leaving. It’s the art of leaving. You leave when you drink for the first time and a girl puts her hand on your thigh. You leave when you wake up late on a Sunday and the birds are chirping and you got nothing planned. You leave when you pick up a new hobby, strike up a conversation, start saving up for that tattoo. You leave from breath to breath as you exist, as you do and recover and feel and build what you want. You leave by living. And it’s fucking awesome. Ex-fundies do the impossible every day. Call us stuntmen.

They said I could never have a fulfilling life without God. I say, watch me.

Life Has No Purpose, and That is Freedom: Vignettes from an Ex-Christian

It’s been years since that night. Those nights. But I still remember them, still turn the memory over in my palm like a small river stone: the bonfire bristling with thick snaps of sparks, soft crackles, insistent heat. The stars glimmering quietly in their shadowy seats up above the glassy black lake, among the silhouettes of towering trees.

There I was on the hill, surrounded by believers, the air laced with cricket song and sweetish smoke, the cold sliding down my throat. In those moments everything felt alive and thrumming, sacred and old. It was easy, then, to look up at the dark summer sky and see God. To feel him moving among us. To love him. Oh, more than anything, to love him.

It was so easy. Easier still to rise when the preacher called, pick my way down the incline and take a stick from one of the servers, stare deep into that flickering fire as I prayed for God to forgive me for not giving him my all, to help me do that now. Easiest of all to throw that stick into the flames, a symbol of my decision to follow God for the rest of my forever. He was my God, and I was his. We were the fire. All else was just smoke. 

– – – – – – – – – –

I was 10, 11, 12, 13, 14 then. In my life, I’ve thrown a lot of sticks into a lot of bonfires. Walked down a lot of church aisles, knelt on a lot of different spots on my bedroom floor. Growing up Evangelical, pledging my wholehearted servitude to an invisible being every few months was a given.

For little me, it quickly became a sacred and comforting ritual. Sit in a pew and listen to a sermon. “Convicted by the Spirit,” realize in horror and shame that I hadn’t been giving all that I was to God. Immediately come before him, “broken,” lavishing him with passionate apologies, praise, promises. Humbly ask that he “reveal to me his plan” and help me, despite my selfish, weak soul, to “live for him.” No matter the cost.

Vowing my eternal allegiance to the God of the Universe was easy. All I had to do was throw a stick into a fire. I watched it burn. Afterward, when I closed my eyes and sang, all of creation sang with me. What else was worth singing for?

– – – – – – – – – –

My knees to my chest, bare feet on the cold hardwood floor, I shifted a little. One of the legs of my bed was digging into my back. I don’t know how old I was – 14, 15, 16? However old, I was small. I felt small.

The words had been there in my head for I don’t know how long. Once, when I was younger, I was brushing my teeth when a centipede slithered out of one of the holes in the bathroom sink and I screamed. This feels like that. Like those words had been hiding, hideous and horrific, just behind the porcelain.

I knew what the words were even though I had never thought them. Now, it was time to think them. I put my hand flat against my bedpost to steady myself. The words spoke themselves. What if, they whispered. What if this relationship with God isn’t working. What if this relationship with God isn’t working because it was never going to work. What if He’s not there. What if heaven is empty. I sat so still. But no bolt of lightning came. No light erupted through the ceiling. No blindness struck. What if heaven is empty.

– – – – – – – – – –

I swing my legs gently, letting my heels bump up against the cobblestone ledge of Chapels’ Pond. The sky above me is a melt of blue, fletched with soft-edged clouds. I sigh and rub my eyes. I’m tired. I’m tired.

Behind me is the Christian chapel on my college campus. I just spent three hours sobbing uncontrollably in its sanctuary while my computer grinded out Tyler Glenn’s solo album, EXCOMMUNICATION. I burst out with bitter laughter when I got to “keep on living, keep on living, keep on living.” When I heard “I found myself when I lost my faith,” I lost it.

It’s been 2 years since I started college, leaving my family and church behind. But I haven’t forgotten the summer before I started college, the summer I realized – that God I threw sticks into bonfires for, he was a monster and a myth – and all the rage hate disgust confusion terror and desperation made a lump in my throat I couldn’t swallow. I also haven’t forgotten the summer before this year. Both summers, I stood in front of my bathroom sink with a cup full of chemicals on my lips.

I didn’t expect to last this long. There’s a little person in me who isn’t a fan of tomorrows. Now that God’s gone, for her, there’s no point in living. And even if there is, it won’t last long anyway. In the closet in my dorm room there’s a plaid red backpack. In my head is the length of time it’ll take to walk to the nearest homeless shelter from my parents’ house. After all, once my parents find out I’m a queer nonbeliever, it’ll be over. They’ll disown me. They’ve threatened over less. And once that happens, I’ll either die or finally down that Drano. I don’t want to survive. What purpose is there in living? God and I used to be the fire. Turns out I’m just the stick.

But as I sit at that pond, legs swinging, something begins to ripen inside me. Words swell up from a place I haven’t been in a long time. What if, they whisper. What if you’re right. What if there is no point in living. A bird swoops down to settle among the leaves. What if you don’t need a reason to live, except to just live. A little orange fish nips at a lily pad and the pond puckers with tiny quiet ripples. Would you ask a birch what it’s doing here? Would you ask the rain its purpose? Would you ask Jupiter why it spins?

What if you’re right. Life is meaningless. There’s no point in being here. There’s no plan for your life to be revealed, there’s no one to follow or serve, there’s no single sacred reason to keep breathing. The sky’s blue is deep as a voice now. You’re here because your mom had scientists cook you up in a Petri dish. There are no rules. No expectations. You’re here. You’re now. What are you gonna do with that?

And suddenly the backdrop of death I’ve been carrying around with me for so long falls away, and I see life, I see everything ahead of me. And it is vast and bright and beautiful. 

Whatever you want. You don’t have to die. You can plan to survive what your parents will bring you. Save up. Fight for your voice back. Recover from God. Change your name. Get tattoos. Forgive yourself. Wake up early. Sleep late. Skip math class. Go hang gliding. Learn the back handspring. Study Polish. Move countries. Make friends. Lose them. Write blog posts no one might ever read. Kiss a girl. Get drunk. Camp out in a national park. Roast marshmallows over the stove. Let people see you. Let people love you. Let yourself love.

I don’t know how to leave God once and for all. I don’t know how to make him leave me. But I want to learn, I think. I think I can try to learn. No matter how long it takes. How hard it gets. I have lost my God; I have lost myself; I have lost the fire, and the stars, the hill and the lake and the cold. Look at how little I have left to lose. Look at how much I have now to gain. I still have the smell of smoke on my skin. But maybe, just maybe, with time and a whole lot of fresh air, I could make my own sparks.

Cover image by ninniane of Flickr ]

Fuck Joseph, Paul and Job. Dear ex-Christians, your struggles are valid.

As Christians we weren’t allowed to make hard times about ourselves. Well, fuck that.

This week, I want to take a closer look at how Baptist Christianity’s anti-self attitude creates expectations that suffocate us when we’re struggling.

It’s no secret to us by now that Baptist Christianity is pretty much synonymous with repression. I mean, worldview literally stresses that you cannot follow God without “dying to yourself.” That’s rough, buddy.

Growing up, I was taught that loving God means allowing him to control every imaginable aspect of my life, to the point where my very emotions could be sinful, from anxiety (didn’t I trust that God would take care of me?) to anger (how could I not forgive when God had forgiven me?)

Unfortunately, that repression really takes its time to shine when a Christian goes through hard times. The idea is that when you’re struggling in life, it’s because God intended it to happen, and you’re expected to deal with it and feel with it in very specific ways. Any other and you’re selfish and foolish. That’s based on the following 3 concepts.

  1. God never puts you through anything you can’t handle.
  2. God puts you through hard times for your own good.
  3. God puts you through hard times so you will learn that he is the only person you can depend on.

Tough times are not about you. They’re about God.

No matter what’s happening to you – whether you’ve fallen ill, lost a loved one, suffered a natural disaster, whatever – you are supposed to turn into a walking Gospel tract. 

God’s goodness is supposed to be so amazing that heathens will take one look, gasp, and say where can I get me one of those?! when they see how At Peace and Gracious your relationship with Jesus has made you. Because you’re not supposed to worry. You’re not supposed to be angry, or question, or get depressed. Not for long, anyway. 

Joseph, Paul, and Job: the Good Survivor Squad

But for the vast majority of us who can’t stuff all their feelings down and shove their questions to the side – well, we get blasted with the Good Survivor Squad, Joseph, Paul, and Job. You’ve heard about them in sermons about “rough seasons,” in meetings with your pastor or counselor, in brochures and devotionals. They’re the rock stars of repression.

Joseph is the Gracious and Wise Forgiver. He welcomes those who hurt him with open arms. He cries, but he claims it’s because he’s so happy to see them. He forgives, holds no grudges, and has no flashbacks. He says, “don’t worry. You may have hurt me, but God meant it for good.” He is at peace. 

Paul is the Modest Self-Suffocator. He acknowledges that his hard times happened, but never that they hurt him. He’ll rattle off all, like, 51 (random guess) of his near-death experience, then “yeah, whatever” them away since they’re, like, minor league compared to Jesus, right? He considers himself the lowest of the low. He needs some goddamn therapy.

Job is the Silenced Questioner. He responds to rapid successions of tragedy by worshiping God, but when he finally cracks, he gets angry, depressed, and questions God. However, he comes back around and “repents,” saying he despises himself for being so arrogant as to not trust in God.

Unfortunately, Joseph, Paul, and Job are all bullshit paradigms. They are who we’re supposed to be, but they are not who we are. We were supposed to trust that God would take care of us no matter how confused or hurt we were, to never blame him for our pain, to take it all with a smile and a “thanks be to God.” No offence, but that’s bullshit. 

This sucks. You’re allowed to say it.

I’ll admit it. I’m a Paul. I’ll acknowledge that things that’ve happened to me are, like… bad… I guess… but there’s no need to make a big deal out of them. I’ll stick a smile on my face and “it’s fine” it away. I get so uncomfortable when people call me strong or say anything that suggests my struggling is worthy of sympathy. Sometimes I even get angry. And that’s because little me, deep down, still thinks that hard times are not supposed to be about me.

Who are they supposed to be about? Beats me, cause I long stopped believing in Jesus. 

But you know, maybe it’s okay to just straight up say it. Whatever you’re going through, you can say it: You are allowed to make it about you. You are allowed to say,

Listen, this fucking sucks. This is not good. This is not meant for good. This just sucks.

You are allowed to be angry. You’re allowed to be pissed.

You’re allowed to be depressed. To worry. To cry days, to cry nights. You’re allowed to feel lost, unbearably lost, alone, unbelievably alone. You’re allowed to hate God. You’re allowed to wonder why. You’re allowed to swear. You’re allowed to not feel anything at all.

You can go through this without marketing it to people. Without smiling or dressing it up, without turning it into some inspiring story. You can not see the bright side. You can rely on friends and family, or just yourself.

You can. You are allowed. 

Those times when I say this to myself are the times when I write on this blog. And I’m now I’m saying them to you too. Your feelings? They’re yours. You don’t have to perform for anyone now. You can just be. 

So go be. 🙂

 

 

INFIDEL VIBES (A 20-Song Mix for the Ex-Religious)

Hey all, and happy Sunday! Around two weeks ago, I joined an online chat group for ex-religious people (a great place to commiserate and celebrate all things ex-religius, by the way. Come say hey if you’re into it!) 

Yesterday was a quiet night for me, and long story short, I found myself compiling some heathen jams for our chat group. I’m always on the lookout for songs with “infidel vibes” (excuse my crude humor), so I thought I’d share the playlist with you all too, along with why I included each song, and see if you’ve got any recs.

Here it is!

1. “Trash” (Tyler Glenn): “Trash” has been my anthem since I first saw the incredible (and blasphemous) music video. It’s such a raw, flagrant song straight from the gut. And it fits its singer. Tyler Glenn is a gay ex-Mormon who sang “Trash” about his relationship with the LDS church after it banned LGBTQ members, and he’s promised a full album about “the pain of a faith crisis and the darkness of doubt.” His Facebook post on reclaiming yourself with that red X is worth the read.

I repent my days away“… as a Christian I spent my days repenting. Now I repent of those wasted days. Powerful stuff huh?

2. “Heathens” (twenty one pilots): This one’s a no-brainer for me. “Heathens” has got a distinct ex-cult vibe with lyrics steeped in paranoia, desperation, and repression. It echoes, for me, that too-familiar muffled fear and constant vigilance in the pews.

3. “Blasphemy” (Bring Me the Horizon): Another no-brainer. This entire damn song is perfect for ex-religious people. If you want some alternative metal that really taps into post-deconversion anger and disillusionment? This is it. “Was it all for nothing? / Cause we’ve found no sign and we see no light / We hear no voice when we pray at night. 

4. “This is Gospel” (Panic! at the Disco): Okay, so after 18 years of a musical repertoire that consisted exclusively of 2 Christian radio stations, P!atD is my first love. I chose “This is Gospel” and “Emperor’s New Clothes” because they symbolize that visceral need for freedom that so many of my ex-religious friends share. And, of course, the music videos segue into each other. “This is Gospel” is more civil and communicative; I wish I could tell my Christian family, “if you love me, let me go.”

5. “Emperor’s New Clothes” (Panic! at the Disco): Not only is the music video is fucking cool, but it represents to me the transition from asking for freedom from religion to wrenching it away with both hands. Deconversion is a long-ass fall, and it transformed me into what looked at the time like a monster. But it also allowed me to reclaim the darkest, beastliest parts of me that religion had shamed into my deepest recesses. There’s power there. 

6. “Battle Cry” (Angel Haze): Angel Haze is such a badass. Pansexual, agender (they pronouns), ex-Greater Apostolic Faith and a survivor of child sexual abuse. They’re courageous and unflinching, and many of their songs have major ex-religious themes. Listen to this: “I woke up one morning, stopped believing in Jesus / stopped believing in churches I stopped believing in preachers / I realized I was a teacher, not just one of the heathens.

7. “Pretty Lies” (Written by Wolves): Man, I wish I had this song when I first deconverting. It’s an infectious, fast-paced anthem that captures what it’s like to be caught between your religious doubts and the fear of being wrong or getting punished – and letting that fear drive you rather than consume you. 

8. “Doubt” (twenty one pilots): Another take on fears and doubts, but instead of weaponizing them, “Doubt” wrestles them. Anxiety, mindfuckery & co. are almost inevitable for secret nonbelievers: “scared of my own ceiling / scared of my uncertainty,” and “shaking hands with the dark parts of my thoughts? no. / you are all that I’ve got? no.”

9. “Ribcage” (Mary Lambert ft. Angel Haze, K.Flay): More Angel Haze! In the music video, Mary sings in a room cast in blue shadow, faced by a crescent of unmoving people. It’s a powerful metaphor, to me, of the disconnection and despair of losing religious friends and family. “Telling the truth, it might mean you get broken / but letting it hurt, that’s my method of copin“. 

10. “Same Love” cover (Angel Haze, originally by Macklemore & Ryan Lewis): Wow. This cover still makes me feel things on a body level. Such an unflinching message about being a queer kid breaking free of religion… and “No I’m not gay, no I’m not straight, and I’m sure as hell not bisexual” – that pansexual representation. Here for it.

11. “Hallelujah” (Panic! at the Disco): When I finally got a Spotify at age 18, “Hallelujah” was one of the first songs I fell in love with! It feels like a joyful celebration, like reclaiming religious words I used to take way too seriously.

12. “Bad Believer” (St. Vincent): Figured this mix needed a dose of nonchalant cheer, so here’s some St. Vincent. “What do you know, I’m just a bad believer; show me your stones” is such a nonchalant line, I love it.

13. “Bad Reputation” (Joan Jett): Ohoh was this song written for me. If I had theme songs for different parts of my life, this would be the one for church. Whoops.

14. “Wild Horses” (Bishop Briggs): Not only is this just a gorgeous blend of upbeat synthetics and laidback acoustics, but “Oh glory, I’m a believer / Oh glory, I’m a troubler” -yeah, it feels like it’s one or the other these days.

15. “Control” (Halsey): I’ve “turned all the mirrors around” on more than one occasion (to, you know, cast out vanity and all.) And Halsey’s chorus is a great reminder… when it comes to the “body” of Christ that hurt us, we’re the bigger people.

16. “Sinner” (Andy Grammer): A nostalgic, almost tender look at how massive a part God played in shaping me from birth. Pretty much every line in the first verse spot-on describes how … “brick by brick and piece by piece.”

17. “Angel of Small Death and the Codeine Scene” (Hozier): Those opening lines are applicable to too many ex-religious kids. “I watch the work of my kin bold and boyful / toying somewhere between love and abuse… freshly disowned in frozen devotion / no more alone or myself could I be.”

18. “Foreigner’s God” (Hozier): I love how blasphemous Hozier is, and he does it in such poetic, graceful ways. “Since some liar brought the thunder when the land was godless and free“… that Liar’s thunder can’t touch us anymore. Also, godless = free? Love it.

19. “Take Me to Church” (Hozier): Does this one need explaining? What better song to cap this nonbeliever mix with than one where “I was born sick but I love it… every Sunday’s getting more bleak, a fresh poison each week.” Don’t I know it.

20. “Black Synagogue” (Angel Haze): I left this one off the actual playlist because it opens and closes with sermon (listen with discretion), but there’s no way I couldn’t throw it in. I strongly recommend at least skimming the lyrics… ’cause what a strong show of the before, during, ‘n after of doubting and searching, from seeking God to ultimately finding God in yourself.

That’s what I’ve got! What about you? Any songs we should add to this playlist? It’s a (heathen) collective effort, so drop your thoughts in the comments!