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Show Notes - Episode 74

August 8, 2021

Episode 74



Feeling like something is amiss with the doctrine in your church? Starting to understand that your religion is good at little more than creating some of the worst people out there, manipulating them, and emptying their wallets? Are you experiencing WTF moments when your pastor says things that are obviously nonsensical? If so, you should ask your intellect if quitting church is right for you!


I'm spider...


Right now, it's the “everything's so blurry and everyone's so fake” edition of CBB (title not endorsed by puddle of mudd) featuring a heaping helping of alarmism so absurd it's off the grid.


What happens to your brain when you stop going to church?


I wanted to revisit the long lost art of conversation in this episode and have Shelle and me just talk about some of the stuff we know, how we got to this point in our lives, try not to repeat the testimonials we've shared before...


There's a cool article on vice.com about this (or also about this) that is more about what happens to your brain when you stop believing in god and I like how they put it:


“Losing faith happens in pieces...”


Religion works exactly like a drug—like cocaine, or methamphetamine—or like music, or like romantic love," says Jeffrey Anderson, a radiology professor at the University of Utah who studies religion in the brain. "All of those experiences on some level tap into rewards. The physiology is really the same." Source: https://www.vice.com/en/article/8qjv7v/what-happens-to-your-brain-when-you-stop-believing-in-god#:~:text=%22Religion%20works%20exactly%20like%20a,physiology%20is%20really%20the%20same.%22


We've talked a lot about this, particularly in our episode about falling in love with Jesus and in other contexts. And when I think about some of the things I saw, some of the behaviors that present during worship services, especially in pentecostal environments, I can certainly see various hallucinatory responses and erratic behaviors that I'm certain those same people never display at work or around the dinner table.


I've seen people at concerts raising hands, dancing in trancelike, fluid motions, looking detached from everything but the music, immersed in the moment... some of them high on various substances, some just on the experience. And modern worship clearly taps into the same emotions: the heavy use of music, the large group experience and the energy that creates... it all meshes well with how our brains respond to things that make us feel good.


Religion also follows the same emotional playbook as a relationship, which is why evangelicals drive the concept of a “relationship with Christ.” The more directly your brain thinks about religion in this manner, the more the attributes of a relationship become equated with the religion.


And some, even in their efforts to paint it in a positive light, accidentally indict religion for the kind of mind-ensnaring thing it is. An article in Medical News Today puts it this way:

“Researchers led by Dr. Jeff Anderson, Ph.D. — from the University of Utah School of Medicine in Salt Lake City — examined the brains of 19 young Mormons using a functional MRI scanner.


When asked whether, and to what degree, the participants were “feeling the spirit,” those who reported the most intense spiritual feelings displayed increased activity in the bilateral nucleus accumbens, as well as the frontal attentional and ventromedial prefrontal cortical loci.


These pleasure and reward-processing brain areas are also active when we engage in sexual activities, listen to music, gamble, and take drugs. The participants also reported feelings of peace and physical warmth.


When our study participants were instructed to think about a savior, about being with their families for eternity, about their heavenly rewards, their brains and bodies physically responded,” says first study author Michael Ferguson.” source: https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/322539#Out-of-body-experiences-are-in-your-body


And this happens when we go to church too. Rewards circuits start firing off like crazy but we get so accustomed to the stimulation, it just sort of hangs out in the background – they become background processes just like the ones that run on our phones or computers. And it starts with the decision to get out of bed and prepare to go to church. We set that alarm, we get up, we purpose to go to church. We get in our cars, we drive to church, probably Sunday school first, then coffee hour. First reward. Coffee and donuts. There's a good sheep. Here's a treat for getting here early. You get to see people you don't usually see all week, do a little bonding, share a little social time... then it's time for the main service and you get pelted with emotionalism and sensationalism around every turn. The worship music is lively, the energy of the worshippers around you is palpable. The special music gives your emotions a stir and the sermon? Inspiring as always. This is what you trundled through the past week to be able to experience and it just feels good. And the entire thing just makes you want to get up and do it all again next week.


It's no wonder why most of us stay longer than we really want to or know we should. What could ever replace this experience? It's unique, it taps into the pleasure centers, and over time, it begins to define us. Here's the problem: being defined by anything external is dangerous. It steers our thoughts away from who we are and makes us think about what “god” wants us to be. And let's be honest: by “god” we really mean the people around us who are watching, scrutinizing, and deciding whether or not they approve of our behavior.


That leads to the other side of the equation – not going to church stimulates our punishment centers and triggers punishment responses. Guilt, shame, and sometimes even a nice passive-aggressive card from the Sunday school department... because they “missed you” this week.


As for me losing my belief in God, to be honest, I don't remember what happened first – did I stop believing first or stop going to church first? I feel like, in a lot of ways, both happened at the same time. Leaving church confirmed my disbelief. Nothing bad happened... and when that happens, the rational mind is able to gain a foothold. And when THAT happens, you get things like this:


Pew's 2016 survey on why now-unaffiliated Americans lost faith yielded explanations such as, "Rational thought makes religion go out the window," "Lack of any sort of scientific or specific evidence of a creator," and "I'm a scientist now, and I don't believe in miracles."


“New beliefs join the same neurological framework as old ones.” - not about replacing, more about redirecting...


When we finally break up with religion, we rebound. Eventually, non-religious people who once had religious epiphanies get those same feelings from being in nature, or from seeing profound scientific ideas expressed...”


Mine – [ad lib]

the immensity of the universe,

the things people have accomplished

what my brain does when I'm high,

being allowed to think about love and sex in unrestricted ways



Certain concepts have changed drastically inside my head as have my definitions of things like fairness, justice, righteousness, personal responsibility, morality, and, most importantly, love as the all-encompassing concept that it is. It is amazing to me how much bigger and better and utterly important love is to express and experience now.


I'm kind of amazed at how while I was researching this subject I came across more material about how much better religion is for you than non-belief. And there is A LOT. It's actually a bit off-putting... [ad lib]


On the one hand, you have to hand it to religion for outlawing things like alcohol and smoking because removing these things from your life can lengthen and improve the quality of it. On the other, what kind of life does it leave you with?


It seems that “blessed assurance” can also keep your blood pressure low and have other positive physiological effects. Ignorance really is bliss. People who spend their entire lives in church might have fewer stress-related health problems, but the cost, in my opinion, for living a longer, unexamined life lived detached from reality without a sense of individuality or autonomy is high.


To me, it's like being told I can live 75 years and, in that time, travel the world, experience a variety of cultures, know love, heartbreak, consequences for my actions, and all the things that define me as a person or I can live for 200 years and never leave my house. Which would you choose? Which would any sane person choose?


All right, but... what if you were born in the house? What if you were born in the house, and now someone is asking you to leave. That door opens and there you are looking at this much bigger, much more complicated, much less polite world that exists outside your cloister. It would be terrifying. And to many, the thought of leaving their religion is just that: it's terrifying. All of those positives I mentioned spring from the assumption that the person practicing the religion is happy. If they aren't and they stay, things swing to the other extreme and in some very nasty ways.


And that's why most people don't just up and leave. It happens gradually and in a way that our emotions and intellect can handle... (Santa Claus)


There is a gap in data about certain things associated with this, but everything I read goes back to the same basic comparison: staying in a religion once you want to get out taps the same emotional centers as staying with an abusive partner and emotions like fear, anger, depression, helplessness, and anxiety surface. The delusions of the religion become the enemy to the extent that people become afraid to walk away. At this stage, it's far less about things like community and more about the fear of consequences for leaving. It starts with the disapproval of others and progresses to the instilled fear of hell that keeps many from getting unbound.


People suffering from depression while still active in their religion can take three to five years to start feeling good again if they leave. That means physically, emotionally, and as a person in general.


When you were five years old and learning English, you never stopped to ask your parents why you weren’t learning German. You just learn it. The same is often true of religion. When you’re taught about hell and eternal damnation at ages four through seven, these strong concepts are not going to easily leave you. Just like it’s hard to unlearn English, it’s hard to unlearn the concept of hell.” source: https://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2014/09/the-health-effects-of-leaving-religion/379651/


Any negative experiences after leaving religion, from depression to social isolation, can take a toll on your physical health. Isolation, according to a six-year study out of the University of Chicago, can cause health problems such as disrupted sleep, elevated blood pressure, and a 14 percent greater risk of premature death. Depression can cause fatigue, trouble concentrating, headaches, and digestive disorders; and persistent anxiety can cause muscle tension and difficulty sleeping, according to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America.”


Jesus, Spider, are you trying to convince people to keep plugging away at their faith? Nope. Just conveying a few uncomfortable truths. I'll say it again: five years of introspection, therapy, medication and relearning who you are or 75 years of never finding out who you are, actualizing your potential, or having a life that's yours and yours alone? What is the worse fate?


The one time I tried to quit cold turkey, it backfired... [ad lib]



Let's keep in mind that the damage is done while you're still in – the effects of the damage come out when you leave. That means the longer you stay in, the more intense and pervasive the effects can be. This is why I say, if you're young – still in your 20s or 30s – and still statistically have more years ahead and behind, the level of trauma involved in leaving religion is far less.


Trauma bonding and religion... [ad lib]


But regardless of how long a person remains in a religion that denies them of their identity, freedom of thought, freedom of choice, and more it does damage. And that damage usually manifests as religious trauma syndrome or RTS. It's a form of PTSD and it is a real thing. I'm going to mention it here but not get into it that much right now because RTS is an episode in and of itself so we will delve further into it next week.


And this is why, just like losing belief in Santa Claus, losing your belief in god should be more gradual. Some people go through traumatic experiences and immediately denounce their god, but far more often, they cling even harder. The ones who walk away abruptly almost always return to the fold. I know, I was one of them.


At least 3 crises of faith [ad lib]


Mission impossible

The AG debacle

The death of my grandmother


And each time I found my way back, although my grandmother was one of the final nails in the coffin. Wicca showed up in time to woo me away from Christianity and give me a little hope (I give freedom and peace and reunion with those gone before...), but it was really just another dip into the same toxic pool. Anything that steers you away from reality is toxic so I substituted one god for an army of them. And it was empowering until I realized I didn't believe in any of it.


Lots of people make a stop in paganism... [ad lib]


Barriers to leaving:


Family won't approve

Fear of rejection by family, friends, their spouse, etc.

This is all I know – what do I do without it?

The need for and fear of loss of community

Feelings of guilt for leaving or even just skipping a Sunday


The 30-Day Four Sunday Challenge


1. Commit to skipping church for a month.

2. During that time, close yourself off to any and all things Christian if you can.

3. If that includes close family, just try to steer clear of religious discussion (difficult if they know you aren't going to church)

4. Fill the time you would normally be spending in church

  • Don't set an alarm. Wake up naturally.

  • find a book you've always been interested in and spend a couple hours on Sunday reading it

  • have plans to leave the house

  • Fix yourself some breakfast. Something good. Better yet, go out for brunch or just get out in nature – the awe and mystery of something as tiny as a ladybug will take on a whole new dimension

  • Call or text a friend or family member who's smart enough to also be home on Sunday

  • Try not to think about what's going on in church – aside from the social outlet, there is little going on there that will benefit you and you know it

  • When you get through four Sundays, reset the clock and go for four more



The sad part about this is that cold turkey is the only option. There is no patch, no stepdown program, no way to do this gradually. Belief diminishes over time but the decision to leave church is much more immediate and concrete.


If you're at the point of making that decision, things are at least on shaky ground inside your head about whether or not god exists or if church is something you really ought to be bothering with. That said, it's hard to give up. It's like a drug in a lot of ways. And some people quit smoking cold turkey and just stop. Some go back an buy a pack hours, days, weeks, or even months later.


In the same way, a special occasion, boredom, the need for the emotional connection can all turn into reasons to go back... just like with cigarettes or other vices.... [ad lib]


This is why it's important to think in terms of not simply giving up on church, but replacing it with things that are self-affirming, feel good, and give you reasons to not be in church. Once you find yourself with other appealing options, two things happen: it gets easier to not go and it gets easier to piece together why you stopped going... [ad lib... clear away the influences and it's easier to see the agenda]


It's hard to give a concrete account of something so abstract – not based so much on specific, concrete thought as on shifting emotions, feelings, and perceptions... I did make a conscious choice to abandon Christianity but I had a cushion. Many people out there don't. I didn't rebound after the last time because I landed in Wicca. What about people who don't? What if it's a direct decision to abandon religion all together? For me, that happened with Wicca, not Christianity. I was still very religious when I adopted Wicca.


And this, I believe, is how you eliminate the middle man without a methadone religion aiding in your recovery: keep your brain turned on. Question everything you hear in church. Challenge what you're being told in Sunday school, bible study, and the men's prayer breakfast. When your brain says, “this is nuts” listen. When you observe people behaving in ways that make it seem like they're not thinking for themselves or thinking rationally, agree with your brain. It's right. You might stick around a bit longer, but you'll probably also start believing less and less.


And when your belief starts waning, church and everything about it will start feeling boring. It will start feeling stale. You'll start recognizing just how many times you've heard this rhetoric and just how little good any of it has done for you. It will feel like an exercise. Your “heart” won't be in it anymore and you'll start thinking about some of the things I suggested a few minutes ago. Once that happens, you'll decide to try one week away. Then another. And at that point, I'm willing to bet you'll get just accustomed enough to not setting that alarm on Sunday to start getting unbound.


CBB Notes



It seems to be silly season here at Christians behaving badly, silly season with various degrees of seriousness. The first is entirely silly.


Yet another prophet, Manuel Johnson of Mega Praise Ministries (such a very serious name) has said something on Steven Schultz's show on the Elijah Streams youtube channel that really takes the cake. Steven Schultz accepts with no questions the guests on his show, such as Kat Kerr and Chuck Pierce, to mention two ersatz prophets that I've featured on this segment before.


And Manuel Johnson told him this time that Jesus rode with him on his super cool motorcycle and someone painted a picture of it! Cool, right?


(section from Friendly Atheist)









And this one is only funny if you think of these people trying to go “off-grid.” The wonderful person who inspired Uganda's infamous “kill the gays” bill has advised Christians to “go underground” if “genuine patriots” don't get back in power in 2022 mid-term elections. If they don't, he warns “it will likely result in the eruption of “some kind of violent insurrection” and “armed rebellion.” In the event that Republicans don’t win in 2022, Lively told his viewers to prepare to “disconnect from the grid” and “go underground” in order to escape the radical tyranny that President Joe Biden and Democrats will supposedly impose on the country.”


You know, all these guys think “going off the grid” means what they see on “Doomsday Preppers” where they focus on guns, growing food (sensible) and booby traps, zooming around the country and mountain roads in their tricked out 'survival rv.' They never seem to think of what happens if you fall and break your leg, or what happens when your clothes wear out and you don't know how to fix them or make more.


Do what it takes … to bring the country back into the hands of genuine patriots in this next election cycle, because if we don’t take it back in ’22, it’s not takeable back,” he added. “Because if they can cheat us in ’22, then it’s sort of a lost cause from that point. Just sort of hunker down, build your bomb shelter, gather your survival supplies, get your children out of the public school, move to a place that the government doesn’t know they exist, raise them without letting the government know who they are or where they are, and go underground with your church and your social network, your social structure. Disconnect from the grid if we don’t take the country back in [2022]. Right now, they have an incentive to be less radical—Biden and all the rest of them—they have an incentive to be less radical because they know everything hinges on 2022. But once that’s over, once we have thrown everything that we can [at them], if they are able to break that and beat that, that’s it. That’s the last bastion right there.”

I'd like to know where he thinks there is a place where “the government doesn't know where they exist.” I'd like to know where he thinks he can go underground with a “social structure.”


I'd be amused at the panic if we didn't have to take these people seriously.