What Heathen Isn't

And just like that, season one is all wrapped up. Perhaps not with the most elegantly-arranged bow you've ever seen, but this is Heathen, after all: messy, colorful bows of wildly varying lengths much preferred.

Fifteen episodes featuring fourteen guests adding up to about 21 hours of conversation. I loved every minute of it. It's one of the best things I've ever done. It's completely transformed my life. And I don't for a second suggest that you take any of it too seriously.

What do I mean by that?

When I recorded the first Heathen conversation eight months ago, I had only a vague sense of what I was doing, or why I was doing it. I was following a muse—what Elizabeth Gilbert calls an "idea fairy." I simply set out to make a thing that I knew, on some subterranean gut level, I needed.

That it's turned out to be a thing other people need as well isn't exactly a surprise—I mean, ex-evangelical is practically a bonafide market segment at this point—but it has been deeply gratifying and life-giving to encounter so many other people out here in the trenches, doing the work, and trying to build a better life in our earthly skin. It's the one life we all know for sure we have, and we've collectively decided not to sit this one out.

Now, after 21 hours of conversation, things have started to come into focus, and I thought it perhaps worth my time to write (and yours to read, if we're gonna be technical about it) a few brief thoughts about what Heathen is—by way of specifying what it isn't.

Heathen Is Not a How-To

The moment you think "it goes without saying" is often the moment you should say it. I did not set out to create a self-help resource. In case this hasn't been plainly apparent: there is nothing prescriptive about this podcast.

The tagline—spiritual conversations for the godless—serves as a clue that this is a place for exploration, discovery, storytelling, and dialogue between people in a particular space of godless spirituality, or spiritual godlessness, or any other way you choose to frame "I used to believe in a God-faith-thing, and now I don't believe in that exact same God-faith-thing anymore."

Heathen is more documentary than how-to. The hosts, more moderator than guru. The guests, more storyteller than adviser.

It doesn't mean you won't find profoundly helpful tools, practices, or ways of thinking/behaving/being in these conversations. God (ha!) knows I have. In fact, my takeaways have often been quite specific, concrete, and paradigm-shifting. And I love that.

But I hope you feel empowered to strongly disagree with, outright reject, or otherwise hold loosely anything said on Heathen that does not sit well with you. These are deeply personal stories and experiences, reflections offered by the unique individuals who have lived them. You are likely to encounter profound resonance, because we are all human living and moving in the world together. Other times, it will sound like nails on a chalkboard. When this happens, there are so many options available to you. Fast-forward. Skip the episode entirely. Throw your phone out the window (but know that Heathen assumes no liability for damaged personal property).

Or—my personal favorite—tell us. There are an email address, website, and at least three social media accounts where you can share your own experiences and how they might differ from what was presented on the podcast. Who knows? Maybe your voice needs to be the next one we have on the show.

Just don't say: Heathen told me to do it this way. That's not why we're here.

Heathen Isn't (Just) a Complaint Department

I genuinely believe you have to critique bad religion as you step away from it. I think it's helpful and healthy to point out what fucked you up. Necessary, even.

And, I believe if that's all you ever do, you're no better off than you were in the restrictive, shame-based, soul-damaging culture you're trying to leave behind.

Let's build something together, shall we? Let's bring our collective stories, the tools we've acquired, the maps we've made, and—yes—the complaints we need to submit, and let's dream with abandon about the world we want to live in. The culture we want to create. The spirituality we would like to share with other people.

If there is healing and hope to be found in godless spirituality, I believe it will be found in our grievances and in our grit. What will we do, now that we know better?

Heathen Isn't Perfect

I mean. Duh. Right?

This is simply my humble request that you be as generous and forgiving with me as you are able. Not to the point of letting me get away with bullshit. We've all done that before—that's probably a huge reason why most of us are here.

We'll fuck it up. We won't say everything well. We'll sometimes completely leave out important perspectives—your perspective—because it isn't in the room with us and we didn't know to seek it out. And for all of those things and more, we won't hesitate to apologize, and strive to do better.

(For instance: we are painfully aware of how homogeneous the first season's group of guests turned out to be. Not as homogeneous as, say, the makeup of most evangelical church staffs, but still. It was a lot of white thirtysomethings. Much of that is due to the huge learning curve with starting a podcast and the ease of low-hanging fruit—it was a lot of work to get off the ground, and it was simplest and safest to ask the people I knew well to be guests on the show. Since I'm a white thirtysomething, so is much of my close community. That's not an excuse; just an explanation. We can and will do better in season two and beyond.)

We hope that you will, over whatever amount of time it takes you, come to trust our intentions. Intentions which, we believe, are really quite good. And the more we can respectfully engage with each other, the better we'll be able to turn those good intentions into really good work. Together.

Which brings me to the final point...

Heathen Isn't a Podcast

It's not. Not really.

Heathen is a community. Our mission is to be solid ground for people taking steps away from bad religion. When you're leaving behind the only culture and community you've ever known, there's a very real chance you have a lot of anxiety around what comes next. Is there life after evangelicalism? What does community even look like? Is it lonely on the other side?

These are questions that plagued me when I set out into the the great unknown, away from my country of origin. And I want Heathen to answer those questions for others: it's going to be okay out here. It's hard, but it doesn't have to be lonely. It most likely means the end of many relationships, but not every relationship. It may mean your God needs to die, but it doesn't mean you can't have a rich, exciting, profound spiritual life.

And just like that, season one is all wrapped up, and Heathen starts to reveal what it is... and what it isn't. Thank you for trusting us with your time and energy. We can't wait to walk through the next season—of life, and of this podcast—with you.

Here's to the heathens.

—Matthew Blake

Matthew Blake