Scott Douglas Jacobsen: You used to run the podcast Living After Faith. How did it start, develop, and dissolute?
Rich Lyons: Living After Faith was the brainchild of my wife Deanna Joy and myself. When I was first coming out of religion, there was no organization and very little resources to be found for people making that journey.
We decided to start one. We figured we would have a few dozen people in the world who would relate to it, but now with over 300,000 downloads, I guess we were wrong. A podcast seemed natural since we were both radio professionals, and already had that skill set.
We started by me telling my story, but I kept getting too triggered by PTSD to finish an episode, so we started bringing in guests to share their experiences. All we asked was for them to tell their story as accurately and openly as they could. What transpired were dozens of stories that people could see themselves in.
They could feel that pain because they knew that pain. We never planned on ending LAF, but knew it would happen one day. We reached the place where we felt we were just telling the same few stories over and over. And while that was popular, we wanted to do more.
We wanted to bring in experts to comment on things that were discussed and make it a better resource. At the same time, we were realizing I was not mentally or emotionally healthy enough to keep up with my current load, much less add more to LAF. So we took a pause until I was ready.
As of this date, we are still paused, with some distant illusion of starting back, but no set plans, and honestly, no distant plans, either. But never say never.
Jacobsen: What is your own background in faith and irreligion? How did you come to this point in your personal narrative in other words?
Lyons: I was raised by extremely verbally abusive parents who were also moderately physically abusive (I say moderately, but for much of my young life I was beaten daily, and still remember my parents checking for marks.
I thought they were checking to see how well they did, not realizing the goal was NOT to leave marks. They didn’t leave marks, so I say moderately.) and according to one shrink, that left me always looking for the comfort of being in an abusive relationship. I joined a Pentecostal church as a young adult, and found it perfectly abusive for my needs.
I lived under a pastor I have later called the single most abusive human I’ve ever known. He was arrested for beating his own children, but got off of the charges.
Anyway, that fundamentalist, abusive church was where my damage was done. It damaged me, and I damaged others when I became a pastor then Senior Pastor. My ministry lasted nearly 20 years by the time I realized it was just an abusive cult.
I tried to fix things before I left, but realized not even the leader can change an entrenched cult. I left as a total failure. I left the cult in 2004, and have been in recovery since.
I’ve survived a suicide attempt and many years of living with suicidal thoughts. I’m not sure what “recovery” actually looks like, but for the past year I’ve been more stable and had more energy than I have in my life. So that’s at least moving in the right direction.
Jacobsen: What were the things that you used to more prominently and popularly do on Living After Faith?
Lyons: I think what made LAF work was that it was professionally produced when most podcasts were anything but, and we focused on the very emotional stories of people who were hurting.
Our listeners could relate to that. They were themselves experiencing many of the same things, and hearing it in other words from another person gave a connection point.
Jacobsen: Now, with the podcast over, what are the next steps for you?
Lyons: Over? That sounds pretty final. I think we may have some ideas about what LAF in a new generation should sound like, and may work toward that. Or I may continue just helping a few other podcasters put out a professional product.
I tried the atheist speakers tour, but that is a business that isn’t ready for professionals to enter, with speaking engagements rarely paying more than room and board. I don’t foresee any public outreach to the atheist community outside of helping podcasters and maybe issuing an occasional episode.
Jacobsen: How do you hope to give back to the irreligious community in the future? How do you hope the non-religious community develops over 2018?
Lyons: In a way, I feel like LAF was my contribution. We only produced 70-something episodes, but those have been listened to hundreds of thousands of times. Some of the techniques we introduced for sound quality are in use by many of the podcasts that followed, and have even been adopted by others that were out there first.
I do help with some podcasts, and would be interested in teaching or mentoring those starting podcasts. But I don’t feel a great debt to the atheist community outside of that.
Jacobsen: Any final thoughts or feelings in conclusion?
Lyons: I’m glad to see others responding to the needs of people who have just left the life of faith. It is the most difficult journey most people will ever take, and knowing there is a vibrant and growing post-faith community to help them is comforting.
Jacobsen: Thank you for the opportunity and your time, Rich.
Lyons: Thank you for this interview.