Confessions of an ex-evangelical

Boulder writer Erika Rae pens memoir about growing up religious

Erika Rae
David Accomazzo | Boulder Weekly

Erika Rae’s evangelist upbringing imprinted some unusual beliefs upon her. As a teenager, she believed demons were behind every accidental misstep, from rock ’n’ roll to forgetting your keys. In her memoir about how she ended up leaving behind her radical religion, Devangelical, she puts it this way: “Whereas the older generations believed that demons and angels existed and fought for spiritual ground, my generation believed that demons and angels fought over pebbles.”

In a world bursting with demons hiding behind your shoulders, an exorcism here or there wasn’t unusual. Rae writes about performing one herself. But unlike the well-defined Catholic rituals you see in movies, Rae’s religion didn’t have many well-defined traditions regarding exorcisms. She describes expelling the demon in her friend as “more or less a matter of ordering a demon out of somebody in Jesus’ name and sitting back and letting the unseen powers battle amongst themselves.”

These are just a few of the lifestyle elements Rae describes in detail in Devangelical. Her story is compelling but not an uncommon one for ex-evangelists: She grew older, received more education and freedom, and began asking a series of questions that led her to leave the church. But unlike so many who grew up strictly religious, Rae doesn’t seem to resent her upbringing. Instead, she tells her story with a healthy dose of humor and calmness. When writing her memoir, she reached out to old friends from her hometown of Colorado Springs. Many did not share her attitude.

“A lot of them were angry,” Rae told Boulder Weekly. “For making us do these things that they would consider today as a waste of time, or ignorant. But for me, these things were amazingly funny, too, if you just stop and take a look at this. I did an exorcism at church camp! That’s hilarious!

“It was almost like a therapy for me. We all realized it was more fun to laugh about it than to be angry. And the option of that was that being able to laugh about it put me in a place where I was actually able to move on and actually want to be able to move forward in some sort of spiritual journey.”

The seeds of Rae’s apostasy were sown when she was young — she befriended people outside the church — but it was when she started pursuing her graduate degree in linguistics that she started questioning the historicity of the Bible upon which she had based so many of her beliefs. She studied original texts and their translations, emerging with skepticism and an encyclopedic knowledge of the Bible’s linguistic inconsistencies.

“There are 14 mentions of Hell in the New Testament, depending on the edition you’re looking at, and every single one, with the exception of one, is translated from the word Gehenna, which is an actual place … outside Jerusalem,” Rae says. “And it used to be a trash dump. There were fire incinerators that burned there 24/7. That’s where they burned the bodies of dead criminals, or animals, or trash. … It’s very different than eternal damnation.”

Devangelical is Rae’s 10th book, her second to be published and the first under her own name. She works as an editor for a couple of websites, and she has ghostwritten a memoir. She now lives in Fourmile Canyon with her husband and three kids, who she takes to a church in Boulder that is, to say the least, more open-minded than the one she attended with her parents. She likes the church’s “enlightened” stance on the Bible and social issues.

“I like it, from the standpoint of my kids, that it gives them kind of a context to at least kind of open their mind to searching [spiritually],” Rae says. “I’m not going to tell them what to think.”

Erika Rae will sign copies of Devangelical at noon March 23 Barnes and Noble, 2323 30th St., Boulder, 303-444-1066.