We interview people you don’t know, about a subject no one wants to talk about. Today, Cass Midgley interviews Peter Montoya. (Bob was not able to be present for this one.) I heard Peter interviewed on Bart Campolo’s Humanize Me podcast and wanted to bring him on to talk about his work in developing communities. Peter is one of those energetic communicators and creative brains that motivates people and discovers solutions. Very entrepreneurial. He was raised Catholic but today models an unbelieving worldview that is non-threatening and, in fact, very amiable. I call this relaxed atheism, and it’s something to which I aspire.
Before we get into my talk with Peter Montoya, let me get a couple of things off my chest.
My prescription for creating something tolerable in this world is "say yes to what is." By all means, find yourself, THEN LOVE THAT SELF, pursue your dreams, set goals, etc., but if, at the end of the day, you don't say yes to what's right in front of you, you'll always be chasing that next thing and hitching your happiness to it. I believe self-denial is actually more rewarding than self-indulgence. The good life is not about getting what you want, it's wanting what you got.
What I mean to say here is that part of the loneliness and restlessness that we all experience comes from thinking that we’re the only one fighting battles, under stress, embarrassing ourselves with fits of anger or saying things we regret. We could tell ourselves that everyone else is having fun (Facebook does this to us), everyone else is able to control their emotions, everyone else has amazing friends as demonstrated on TV shows like Friends, Seinfeld, or New Girl. This loneliness and sense of missing out can be even more intense among ex-Christians. We devoted our lives to the social boundaries of the Christian subculture. We suppressed our true selves, our likes and desires, in order to be like Jesus. For some of us, when that tent collapsed and we pushed and crawled our way out from under the heavy tarp, we got the sense that a party had been going on the whole time without us—a party we formerly regarding as sinful or worldly. Now we see that humans have been creating strange and exotic cultures, making music and all art forms, experimenting with scientific theories, calculating and understanding the cosmos, figuring out how to enjoy being human instead shaming ourselves for being human. All while we were parsing scripture to unlock the code of God’s hidden intention for our lives. So perhaps we feel like we’ve got a lot of catching up to do. Some of come out swinging with rage and embarrassment and a hefty appetite for hedonism. But what I’m shooting for (and what I think my guest today models) is a calm mature exploration of who I am, what I believe, what makes me happy, why I do the things I do, how can achieve better emotional health, where is my own moral compass pointing to, how can I be a better husband, father and friend, --all things I maybe thought I was doing within Christianity but this time NOT out of an obligation to appease an angry god or please the judgmental measuring stick of my pretentious peers. This time, I’m doing it for me. Because I can, not because I should. Not just telling ourselves lies in attempts to get fired up, or fake-it-til-we-make-it, but affirming actual facts about ourselves—qualities and traits that are true, that everyone else already knows about us but we’ve too afraid to admit. By seeing ourselves as the natural accidents we are rather than the creation and property of an owner and master, we realize that we are neither good nor evil, we just are. And the sooner we show up as ourselves comfortable in our own skin, having said to yes to what it means to be ourselves, the sooner we live the fulfilled life. And by fulfilled I mean the one in which we find ourselves—wherever that is at any given moment. It means being present and unafraid to be ourselves. This is the opposite of what Christianity taught us. We were taught to be downplay our strengths and highlight our weaknesses. This was the virtue of humility. But I call bullshit. It is of utmost importance that we hone our skills and acknowledge our weaknesses so we know when to act or not act, when to speak or shut-up, to stay in our lanes, so to speak, and see the nuanced balance of our skillsets and lack thereof and how we are neither savior nor invisible in the societies we orbit.
I felt this moral inversion imposed by Christianity for years but couldn’t wrap my head around it until I read Nietzsche’s theories on morality. This is a difficult concept to comprehend and will probably require revisiting many times before it starts to sink in. This 8.5 minute lecture unpacks it concisely. I encourage you to listen carefully to this entire 8.5 minute excerpt of a lecture given by Joseph Vukov, Professor of Philosophy at Fordham University. It just might blow your mind. Listen also for how this upside morality would serve to suppress women even more than men in western civilization.
In conclusion, a tongue in cheek axiom that has been the goal of my life is “be who you is, cause if you is who you ain’t, you ain’t who you is.” Let us aspire to stop apologizing for being ourselves and being human and hiding ourselves from each other. This type of inner work of affirming yourself and showing up as the truest you is well laid-out in Amy Cuddy’s book titled “Presence: bringing your boldest self to your biggest challenges.” I highly recommend it. A link to it is in the show notes. And to bring it back to my interview with Peter Montoya, I believe that being in community helps foster this type of personal growth. It is in the context of healthy, loving relationships that we feel safe enough to try out our true selves on our friends; selves that have been hiding in fear and shame for possibly decades. We need communities so we can see, in more mature people, what it looks like to be true and thus powerful. Not a poer that wields itself over others, but that lifts others up by modeling a healthy, inclusive confidence. We need safe places to give and receive honest feedback as we step out of the dressing room with our new duds on. There is a certain vulnerability that comes with choosing to confide in each other and exercising our innate gifts to help each other be brave and bold.
I taped the following conversation with Peter Montoya on November 19th, 2016. 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, give it 5 stars, and/or 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 through Patreon; that’s www.patreon.com/eapodcast, or leave a lump-sum donation through PayPal at our website, www.everyonesagnostic.com. The smallest contribution is greatly appreciated.
Credits: "Towering Mountain of Ignorance" intro by Hank Green https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=w3v3S82TuxU Intro bumper "Never Know" by Jack Johnson The segue music is on this episode is Sam Mayer recorded on a handpan in the NYC subway
Thanks for listening and be a yes-sayer to what is.
So that’s my talk with Peter Montoya. I hope you benefitted from that. I did. I’m driven by past experiences, some of which were in a Christian context, to be involved in community. Peter talked about levels and layers of community or tribes, defined by proximity or common interests, but also shared suffering. I think that can be achieved by intentionally getting involved in some cause, but also by just sitting together and sharing in our everyday suffering that life ultimately imposes on everyone on a regular basis. The idea of getting together and sharing your life stories, drilling down, getting to know each intimately is very enriching and exciting. Especially if it’s recurring. It can become something you look forward to, a place that helps you feel less alone in your struggles. We need this, people. We need one another. We’re pack animals. We really start to live when we’re actively involved in helping others and making a tangible difference simply by loving one another and listening and expression compassion and shared experiences. This is what the ex-Christian movement needs. We need each other. The problem is that it’s messy sometimes, it’s taxing on time and energy. Often it becomes overwhelming if too few are the caretakers of the group and experience burnout. These are pitfalls that are common in community building. I hope this talk gave you some inspiration toward being involved as both a beneficiary of the community and playing an active roll in making it happen. This is one of those things that isn’t going to land in your lap. We all have to get out, risk awkwardness, risk exposure, spend precious time, energy and money to keep it going and exercise a lot of grace (to borrow a religious term) and patience with the complexities of being human. Thanks again for listening. Have a great week. Think about how you could be better connected to a local community. Do some research to find groups in your area and start reaping the benefits of being actively connected to others in your area. We’ll talk to you next week.