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Everyone's Agnostic Podcast

Cass & Marie interview people you don’t know, about a subject no one wants to talk about. We hope to encourage people in the process of deconstructing their faith and help curb the loneliness that accompanies it. We think the world is a better place when more people live by sight, not by faith.

Oct 5, 2017

Cass Midgley and Dr. Bob Pondillo converse with Rusty Shackleford. That's not his real name. Like many of our guests, they're not completely out as non-religious to everyone and for their own personal reasons wish to keep it that way.

Rusty is a 31 year old mental health counselor. He holds two Master’s Degrees in Early Childhood Development/Education and Counseling. He's lived in TN his entire life, and church was always a part of his upbringing.  He grew up in the Church of Christ (with music) and Freewill Baptist. He played drums on the worship team and was involved in the children’s ministry and driving the church vans to pick up the children in the housing developments for the Wednesday night program. Rusty began chipping away at parts of his belief in his 20s, first dropping the literal interpretation, then realizing that the story of the Christ was a repackaged story from folklore of many other religions and belief systems that pre-dated Christianity. He tried attending a church that was a “Progressive" Christian Community, and found a lot of peace within this congregation, but also found that I simply could not align himself with even the most liberal of Christian beliefs.  

After interviewing people every week for over three years, most of the guests have told me that it proved to be a catalystic event in their lives. Something shifts. It can have a rattling effect or it wakes them up in a way or emboldens them to do something significant. People have gone on to start their own podcasts or write that book or come out to their parents, etc. Bob and I forget how nervous guests can be when they come on and almost everyone is at first. And I think that's perfectly normal and even right, since their story is now available to the world for the rest of time, or at least as long the electrical grid stays intact. Either way, people will be able to access it long after we're all dead. I just think its cool how many ways the show is changing lives. Who knew? that Bob and I started this thing that it would create such a beautiful community of people. I've never been a part of something so beautiful. If you'd like to be more involved, add me on FB, private message me that you'd like to be in the private support community of this podcast. If you're middle TN, there's a group, and there's also an international group, and the conversations that take place there (completely private) are so beautiful. I'm grateful for the courage of all the guests who have come on here and shared their story so that thousands of others could be encouraged and feel less alone, less crazy, less afraid.

One more thing I'd like to share. Back in January, I was diagnosed at Vanderbilt Psychiatric with clinical depression. I ended up in the hospital because I was suicidal. I was suicidal because I was thinking crazy thoughts, believed crazy thoughts, and as a result my anxiety and depression came unhinged from reality. I was prescribed medication and things started to get better. So much better that I thought I was fine, that my anxiety was sparked by circumstances and when the behavioral medicine doctor I was seeing was charging me $60 co-pay every two weeks to see him, I took the liberty to stop going and eventually ran out of meds. Well they didn't tell me that this kind of medicine has to be taken for a year or it'll drop you back down like a rock to the state that got me there. And this last month, it did just that. The way it manifests is that if I'm alone in my thoughts for more than 30 minutes, I start to get anxious. I get a tension in my abdomen area, my thoughts race into a vortex of panic and fear and rage and resentment and I start hating. Myself and people in my life. I start distrusting everyone and I marvel at their ignorance. Why can't they see what's happening. Well I'll tell you why. Because it's not happening. It's in my imagination. And if you don't think mental illness is real, then it's only because you haven't experienced that particular disfunction personally. I remember counseling a young man, as his pastor, about his fear of dying in his sleep. It was really debilitating. He fought sleep, he had anxiety attacks, he drank heavilly to cope. I didn't relate. I wanted to tell him, "Dude, you're not going to die in your sleep. You're 30. You're healthy. The odds are astronomical." Essentially I was saying, "stop thinking that way." And that was naive. He needed real help. He eventually got it and he's fine today. But no thanks to me.  

I was sharing with someone this week that I was excited to get back on my meds. I don't want to put too much hope in things but it may be why I drink as much as I do. It may be why I smoke. I may be why I'm unmotivated in life. Why I can't write the books I know I have inside me. Basically, I've been just trying to stay alive AND slowly killing myself at the same time. I told her, "help is on the way." Now I used to be a big Bryan Duncan fan and we were reminded of an old song of his called Help is on the Way.  So just for kicks we found it online and played it. But notice that he blames Lucifer--the author of confusion--for the suicidal thoughts.

The way my brain plays tricks on me can feel like a separate entity. We've talked a few times on this podcast about Sam Harris' question, what is the self? So the fact that our brain is firing constantly, feeding us thoughts with or without our permission can feel like we're possessed by another thinker. Secular people reference this metaphorically as "he's fighting his own demons" which is apt metaphor but within most forms of Christianity, Satan is real. Is it so that we can blame something outside of ourselves? So we're not responsible? so God's not responsible for giving us such fucked up brains? who knows why people throughout history have ascribed mental illness to demons, but I no longer have that luxury. I have to get help--real, scientific help. And I'm glad to so and certainly unashamed to do so. I go back to my prescription this week and I'm sure it takes weeks for the effects to start remapping my neural pathways, but it'll be interesting to see how it changes how I show up as an interviewer, but more importantly as a human being, a husband, father, co-worker and friend. I'm excited to find out.  

We taped this conversation on September 10th, 2017. We interview people you don’t know, about a subject no one wants to talk about. We hope to encourage people in the process of deconstructing their faith and help curb the loneliness that accompanies it. We think the world is a better place when more people live by sight, not by faith. Please subscribe to our podcast, and leave a review wherever you listen to podcasts. Our show is available on most podcast platforms.  Also, you can support us monetarily in two easy ways: you can pledge one dollar per episode or more through Patreon; that’s, or leave a lump-sum donation through PayPal at our website, The smallest contribution is greatly appreciated.

"Towering Mountain of Ignorance" intro by Hank Green
Intro bumper "Never Know" by Jack Johnson
The segue music on this episode is a song that was influential in Rusty's deconversion: The Pig by Showbread.

Thanks for listening and try to cooperate with reality.