How Phanatik's Faith Pool Drained

Last week, popular Christian rapper Brady Goodwin, aka Phanatik, announced his deconversion. His extimony perfectly illustrates a concept I call the faith pool

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Last week, popular Christian rapper Brady Goodwin, aka Phanatik, announced his deconversion. He released a video on his Facebook account describing how it happened. And his extimony perfectly illustrates a concept I call the faith pool. Today, let me show you what this concept means — and how it worked for Phanatik.

(Quick note before we get going: When I talk about truth, I mean objective reality — not metaphorical truth. Rather than capital-T Truth, I mean something based in little-f facts. An “extimony” is an ex-Christian’s testimony. It details how they came to reject Christianity. Also, if you’re new to my writing, welcome! If you’d like to hang out with the commentariat, feel free to introduce yourself in the comments. There’s no religion test at my door.)

The faith pool: a brief introduction

Every belief you hold — from the mundane to the fantastical — consists of a pool of water. As with real-world pools, these faith pools all have taps feeding water into them and drains taking water away.

The taps are all the things that we think confirm that particular belief. The drains are all the things that contradict it.

Mundane, minor beliefs don’t require much water. Their pools are correspondingly small. If we believe the library is always closed on Monday, that’s pretty minor. It doesn’t take much to feed that pool, maybe a sign we saw on the library door. Nor does it take much to confirm it: a quick visit to the library’s website to see its hours.

Accordingly, it takes little to contradict a minor belief in the most devastating way. If the library website says it’s actually closed on Wednesday but open on Monday, that faith pool empties and another — based on it being closed on Wednesday — fills.

But for most people, religious belief is a big huge pool with many taps and drains. It takes a lot to fill it, and it usually also takes a lot to empty it.

The taps feeding water into the faith pool

When I was Christian, I thought all kinds of things confirmed my beliefs:

  • Testimonies
  • Miracles, oh so many miracles (big and small)
  • Feelings of sublime, divine connection
  • Apologetics arguments
  • So-called “common sense”
  • The example of martyrs
  • Many early historical references to Jesus
  • Fulfillment of prophecies of various kinds
  • The Bible being right about everything (at least metaphorically)

To borrow Luke Skywalker’s assessment, every single item on that list is objectively wrong. But at the time, I thought they were valid. So, they fed into the taps filling my faith pool.

Other Christians might add to this list Creationism and who even knows what else. Others still might delete out some things I thought confirmed my faith — because they’d already figured out what reality had to say there.

Suffice to say, a belief that big has a lot of elements feeding into it.

As I mentioned above, Christianity’s faith pool drains 24/7. Just living in this world constantly contradicts every single claim the religion makes. Interestingly, it seems to me that the most damning contradictions aren’t really found in the religion’s history claims. Christians can massage away those errors in countless ways.

But these contradictions speak volumes, and no Christian has ever figured out a way to square these circles. (That’s why they’re called capital-P Problems, like the Problem of Evil.)

Looking at this list, it’s easy for me to understand why Christians vastly prefer to squabble about Creationism. Compared to the Problem of Evil alone, that must look entire worlds easier for them to deal with.

Draining the Christianity faith pool

So yes, like all other Christians throughout history, I lived and moved through a world that constantly, 24/7, continually contradicted my beliefs. No, miracle claims never turned out to be supernatural. No, Jesus never changed anyone, nor healed anyone, nor talked to anyone. All those historical references turned out to be pure wishful thinking or outright fabrications.

As I slowly discovered the truth about one confirmation-source after the next, those corresponding taps turned off one by one. But I still existed in a world that constantly contradicted my beliefs, so the water in my faith pool was always draining away.

It took a while to fully accept the truth that reality had been showing me for some time. My deconversion probably took place over about a year, and it probably took another year for me to start divesting myself of the major components of my non-supernatural beliefs. But the realization itself, the moment of acceptance, was momentous, immediate, and defining.

It seems like ex-Christians go in a lot of different directions here. Some realize the truth very early and quickly, then pare away both the supernatural and non-supernatural stuff immediately. Others “kick against the pricks” for years before accepting reality. That said, most of us seem to have similar general experiences as we deconvert and begin to deconstruct our indoctrination.

Everyone, meet Phanatik

Brady Goodwin Jr. is a Gen-X musician who goes by the stage name “Phanatik.” He’s a very well-regarded artist, too, from what I can see. He’s released a lot of highly-praised music that’s garnered him two Grammy nominations. In addition, he’s also a well-regarded educator and author — and a seminary graduate with a master’s degree.

Every professional engagement he’s ever done has been Christian-centered, even if it happened in a secular context.

So I’m sure it was very surprising to his fans that he deconverted.

Once I listened to his extimony, I wasn’t surprised. He explains it perfectly — and it fits perfectly within the paradigm of the faith pool.

At first, he thought a lot of stuff confirmed his beliefs. Over time, though, he discovered that one thing after another wasn’t actually a valid support for Christian claims. Eventually, there wasn’t enough water in his faith pool to sustain his faith in those beliefs, and so they faded.

And now, he has become one of a long line of Christian musicians (like Marty Sampson) who have publicly announced their loss of faith.

How a faith pool drains

In his deconversion video, offered here on his Facebook page, Phanatik describes his journey through and past Christianity. In it, I see a lot of elements of a customary extimony:

  • He began his faith journey, to use the Christianese, as a very firm, devout, committed Christian who had no reason in the world to think that the taps filling his faith pool were invalid. He enrolled in seminary with the full expectation that it would only enhance and further his faith.
  • Alas for him, he thought that apologetics is a valid support for Christian claims. (Mostly, it’s apologetics hucksters making this claim so Christians will keep buying their dreck.)
  • As many of us did, he wanted to learn higher-end apologetics because he hoped that by using it, he could better persuade people to join his flavor of Christianity. (This desire led him to enroll in seminary.)
  • Once enrolled in seminary, he began to learn more about the apologetics arguments supporting Christian claims. He soon realized that even the most high-flown, academic-sounding apologetics argument is piss-poor at giving outsiders any actual reason to buy into Christian claims.
  • Then, he began wondering what did actually constitute a good support for his own beliefs.
  • He discovered what what countless ex-Christians before him have: nothing reality-based actually supports Christian claims.
  • Cue a long season of him grappling with that dawning realization. Once he’d worked through it, he emerged with a stronger understanding of Christianity and its sourcebook, even an affection for the best-case version of Christianity — but no longer believing that any of it is objectively true.

I bulleted these stops in his journey because each element turns up a lot in extimonies. This is how it went for a lot of us. We might not have enrolled in seminary, but the rest of it is very common.

Turning off the taps

As I listened to his video, I really liked how Phanatik described his faith as a Jenga tower. Jenga is a popular 3D puzzle game. In it, players build towers with rectangular wooden blocks, then remove pieces from it. The person who makes the tower collapse loses the game. Here’s where his belief in apologetics as a support began, and where it ended (this is at about 7:00 in the video):

While I was [attending Westminster Theological Seminary], I was forced to not just look at somebody else’s faith and say, if you remove this Jenga piece from the tower of your faith, what happens to it? Well, I turned that lens around. What happens if someone were to use this theological judo on me? If you remove this Jenga piece from the construction of my worldview, what happens to it? I began to ask those more penetrating questions. I began to second-guess the answers that I was getting and the answers that I would give someone else if they asked me that same question.

And I remember looking at my classmates. Many of my classmates were training to be pastors. I was not. I was training to go into secular academia. And so I think I had a much more skeptical clientele in mind, which caused me to be much more skeptical in my classes. In the class, I’m thinking to myself: Okay, you want me to give that response to my unbelieving coworkers? Cuz I don’t think that’s going to be good enough. . .

Like that response that you want me to give this non-believer. I don’t know if it’d be good enough for them. And I’m starting to wonder: why is it good enough for me? Is it really just my faith commitments, my presuppositions, my theological underpinnings that’s causing me to take these responses and say [snapping his fingers] “Well, good enough!”

Brady “Phanatik” Goodwin

This is 100% spot on.

And just like that, the apologetics tap feeding into his faith pool shut off forever.

Eventually, the faith pool drains

Phanatik also speaks in his video about how many Christians will point to his attendance of seminary as the reason why he deconverted. It isn’t. As he himself immediately says, most pastors and Christian leaders attend seminary, and they emerge with even stronger faith. What they learn there affirms their beliefs rather than challenging anything. At most, they might do what he initially did and move from a literal, inerrant viewpoint to something more in line with reality.

In his video, he says he suspects that the reason almost all seminary graduates remain Christian is, simply, that they don’t learn how to talk to people who don’t already fully buy into the claims involved in their religion. By contrast, he expected to be talking about religion with people who almost all didn’t buy into those claims. So he wanted something more rigorous and objectively real to offer them.

At some point, he reasoned (correctly), one can’t just write off nonstop rejection as everyone being meaniepies who just don’t know what’s good. It made no sense to him to offer inadequate arguments to his targets, then accuse them of not being wise or evolved or spiritual or Jesus-y enough to accept those arguments. While many Christians happily do exactly this for their entire lives, he knew instinctively that a religion based in objective truth should have lots of good reasons to buy into it.

So he wanted to show his evangelism targets the really actually good reasons to believe his claims about his god.

Where was the seminary keeping them?

And the crushing truth

Indeed, where were the real and true footprints of a totes-for-realsies god, this god who meddles constantly with his creation and his human ant farm?

Well, they sure weren’t in apologetics. He knew that now. Indeed, apologetics is really only for believers, not filthy heathens. At most, it only addresses mild doubts — and it does so by steamrolling them with bad arguments and manipulation. But it’s not a persuasion tool for outsiders, and it never was.

So what of the rest of the reasons he’d always considered persuasive?

Oh yes, about those:

One by one, Phanatik figured out what we all figured out: this god’s footprints weren’t in any of the places he’d always been taught to find them.

One by one, Phanatik figured out what we all figured out: this god’s footprints weren’t in any of the places he’d always been taught to find them.

In fact, they weren’t anywhere at all. The only reason he’d ever thought they existed was that he’d been raised in and taught a worldview that said they did. Once he actually tried to see them for himself, he learned they don’t exist.

The cruel dilemma

Some Christians can adapt to this knowledge. Maybe the claims’ veracity wasn’t super-important to them in the first place. Other aspects of Christianity hold them in place, but not the objective truth value of the religion’s claims. It blows my mind even to consider this, even though I’ve actually met these sorts of Christians many times. They even look down on (and sneer at, and insult) those who do care about it.

For many others, like Phanatik, like me, like so many other ex-Christians, it was — and is — absolutely important to us to believe only in that which is real. We took our claims seriously. If something isn’t objectively true, then it simply isn’t something we want in our lives.

And eventually, we ended up in a speeding metaphorical car-of-faith, heading right toward a big metaphorical brick-wall-of-reality. The collision was going to happen, thanks to the nature of our beliefs. We could hit the wall and lose our faith. Or we veer aside from it, deny reality forever, stop worrying about our beliefs’ actual truth value, and continue in our faith.

This is the cruel dilemma I talk about. Christians can’t have both belief and reality, and so they are set up to face this collision eventually. It is agonizing and painful. I don’t wish it on anyone. But for ex-Christians, this very collision is all but a rite of passage.

We just wanted our faith to be rooted in reality.

If we couldn’t have both, then we wanted reality.

Avoiding the draining of the faith pool — or not

Now, you’d think that Christian leaders wouldn’t ever want that collision to occur. But it almost feels like they want it to happen. They keep making claims (like prayer being a thing that works for realsies) that can be tested — and found wanting.

I’m sure it’s not intentional. I’m sure they just really do believe, or at least say they believe, that against all of the contradictions in reality, their beliefs are rooted there. But it does them no good at all to push false claims onto their followers, now that Christianity has lost so much of its coercive power, and especially now that we’re starting to recognize just how powerfully corrosive false beliefs can be.

Eventually, someone in these leaders’ flocks is going to ask — as Phanatik did, as we all did — why an objectively real god isn’t leaving objectively real footprints everywhere. People will want to know why all the reasons Christians give for buying into their claims universally stink on ice. And growing numbers of their followers won’t be satisfied when they’re given the standard-issue excuses for why heathens keep rejecting their inadequate reasons.

Ultimately, the biggest tap feeding any faith pool is simply this: Because it’s the real, objective truth.

Once someone realizes it’s not, then oh yes, that pool is going to drain very quickly.

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ROLL TO DISBELIEVE "Captain Cassidy" is Cassidy McGillicuddy, a Gen Xer and ex-Pentecostal. (The title is metaphorical.) She writes about the intersection of psychology, belief, popular culture, science,...