Faith and Fitness

Below is a guest post by Gayle Jordan.  Gayle is a personal trainer and massage therapist.  She blogs at Epiphany Health.

How Finding my Fitness led to my Atheism


How Finding my Atheism led to my Fitness

Everyone of us has one of these stories.  Everyone’s is interesting, and everyone’s is different.

It gives me joy beyond measure to recount mine.  It may seem like I’m taking license to have the two branches of my story to run so parallel, but it only seems unusual now, after the fact.  At the time, it just happened.

In 2000, I turned 40, mother of 4 teenagers, active in church and community.  I was also active in my Southern Baptist Church, a Sunday School teacher, Missions Director, and committed to the faith.  And 60 pounds overweight.

The evening of my 40th birthday party, surrounded by friends, I came to the conclusion, which later I began to describe as an epiphany:

That the first 40 years of our life, we can treat our body pretty brutally, and it will respond, for the most part, to the demand; the second 40, however, are quite a different story:  we have to treat our body with deep respect and reverence in order for it to respond to the demands of life.

I had attempted diets before, lost a few pounds, then, ad nauseam, reverted to old, comfortable, established habits.  Walking into the bookstore left me more frustrated than helped, facing the wall of books in the Health/Fitness section, some of which were in direct opposition to the one right next to it.  Fuck that.

This was in the year 2000, when the internet was a toddler, and I spent hours at the public library looking up nutrition information, going directly to the study when I could.  I don’t have a medical background, or even a degree that was heavy in science (education), so I had a lot of remedial work to do.  Maybe that even worked in my favor since I had to start from scratch understanding human anatomy, physiology, metabolism, nutrients.

For two years I applied what I learned to my routine, tweaked, applied, and tweaked some more.  I lost 60 pounds, and became so interested in and excited about my new lifestyle I became a trainer to try to help others struggling with health issues.

Parallel to this information-gathering, exercise-implementing, nutrition-experimenting journey was a gradual, slow, dawning of realization relating to religion.  While I had never been an actual creationist, I was a believer of the Bible, an advocate of a personal savior, even a teacher in my church.  My view of the beginning of human history was that whether it was Eden or evolution, Goddidit, and resolving the particulars was irrelevant to me.

As I began my study of nutritive science, however, I found that I needed to study our human anatomy and physiology to make sense of the process.  That in turn led me to study our evolutionary heritage:  what were we to eat to make us truly thrive?  What had we eaten for the thousands of years that we did thrive?  While the answer was simple:  whole, unprocessed, fairly accessible natural foods, the implication was greater.  Evolution was an absolute, undisputed by any scientist, and the evidence was abundant.  Hmmmm.  Not a show-stopper for the faith, but certainly a proverbial chink in the wall.

I visited Christian apologetics sites and read several books trying to reconcile my new acceptance of evolution with the broader picture of my faith.  I knew there were Christians who accepted, even embraced evolution, and I was eager to understand how I was to do this.  It was completely contradictory to the version of humanity’s beginnings in the Bible.  The general explanation was that the events that occurred in Genesis were “poetic”, not literal, that they were representative of God’s relationship to us.  Hmmmm.  Again.  My next question was:  When did the poetry end and the reality begin?  Noah?  Abraham?  David?  The apologists diverted at this point:  some said that during the course of evolution when we became modern humans, the history then became literal.  Some said that the poetry continued through most of the Old Testament.  But most certainly they all agreed that when Jesus entered the picture, why then it was all literal.



The brevity and simplicity of the paragraphs above belie the drama and torment of the process.  In sharing stories with other atheists, I have heard from former believers who left the faith kicking and screaming, who begged God for a word, who didn’t want to be atheists, who fought for years against acceptance of the truth.  While mine was not quite so vehement, it was painful, it was sorrowful, it was traumatic, and it was humbling.  I had to grieve anew those folks I had only said goodbye to “temporarily” – my grandparents, some friends.  I had to recollect every Sunday School lesson I had ever taught with confidence and arrogance.  I had to grasp the separation this was going to create with my already fractured extended family.  I had to reevaluate my morality.  I had to redirect my compassion and drive and creativity and time that for years and years I had devoted to my church.

But do not misunderstand me.  Although the journey was unnerving and unknown, it was thrilling and exciting and liberating.  My 4 teenage children had been making journeys of their own in the same direction, and we spent countless hours discussing and debating and researching toward the same conclusion.  This brought me absolute, sheer delight.  Watching their beautiful brains develop their critical thinking skills and refuse to accept dogma made me as proud as their mother as I had ever been.
I love reading former believers’ coming out stories.  I love commiserating with the struggles and rejoicing in the victories.  I feel the pain of lost relationships and the joy of new discoveries.  This is mine.  I am honored to share it.

About JT Eberhard

When not defending the planet from inevitable apocalypse at the rotting hands of the undead, JT is a writer and public speaker about atheism, gay rights, and more. He spent two and a half years with the Secular Student Alliance as their first high school organizer. During that time he built the SSA’s high school program and oversaw the development of groups nationwide. JT is also the co-founder of the popular Skepticon conference and served as the events lead organizer during its first three years.

  • LeeAnn Langdon

    Gayle, your description of your epiphany gave me chills. You are so right about treating your body with reverence for the second (and third?) forty years. I hope that your understanding of the workings of the human body as miraculous in their own way made up for the loss of your organized religious faith.

    • Gayle Jordan

      LeeAnn –
      That and so much more. I know that everyone has their own avenue to freethinking, and while mine originated in health and nutrition, it’s encompassed so much more.

      I recall visiting Arches National Park in Utah when I was a believer, and having a tremendously “spiritual” moment taking in all the beauty. I recently visited that park again, as an atheist, and I was overwhelmed at how much more impressive it is knowing all that beauty was not created at the snap of a celestial finger, but with time, and pressure, and wind, and water. Profound.

      Thank you for your comment. Best wishes to you on your journey.

  • John Morales


    Everyone of us has one of these stories.

    Wrong; I don’t.

    It gives me joy beyond measure* to note I don’t have any such.

    * Too small to be measurable.

    • Gayle Jordan

      John -

      It speaks to how overwhelming my experience was that I occasionally temporarily forget that there are some folks who are raised in a free-thinking environment.

      I read what you wrote, I watch my friends raise their children from birth to be skeptics, and I would be less than honest if I didn’t admit to a little jealous. I still find I’m unpacking baggage, even after 8 years of deconversion.

      Thanks for your comment.

      (John – after rereading this, you may not have meant what I thought you meant…you may have meant that you don’t have a deconversion story for another reason. If so, thanks for you comment!)

      • John Morales

        And thank you for your response, Gayle.

        My rather brusque comment was due to a perception that you’re over-generalising and using the imagery and tone of, um, ‘spirituality’ to put your message across.

        I’m being sincere — I’ve compared my existence to that of one of my pets — I was born, I live best as I can, then I shall die and be no more.

        I need no more reason for existence than a dog does, I feel no need for such a reason any more than does a cat. I just am.

        Anyway, it was easy for me, my childish belief just kind of faded without any effort on my part. I wouldn’t call it a story, and there certainly was no epiphany. :)

        I want to make it clear that I think that those such as you for whom it was an intellectual and emotional exercise to actually examine, judge and ultimately reject your religious belief deserve admiration; your achievement is real and was conscious.

        (And I understand that those are to whom you are truly addresing your post)

        As it turns out, I was raised Roman Catholic (born in Spain in 1960 out of wedlock, in what was effectively a theocracy) without a mother or father (I did have family, all religious), and spent years in Jesuit boarding-schools. That entailed a shit-load of indoctrination and not much tolerance for dissent.

  • P Smith

    Once again, it’s proven true:

    People convert to religion.

    But people are educated out of religion.


    • Gayle Jordan

      Love that. It makes my hackles rise to hear Sam Harris’ comment: “You can’t reason someone out of a position they didn’t reason themselves into”. Wrongwrongwrong.

      • Mark

        I think what Sam is getting at when he says that is another person can’t reason someone out of a position they haven’t reasoned themselves into unless they’re actually open to changing their mind. Each individual has to decide they want to know the truth as best it can be known for themselves and until they make that decision themselves, as you did, then all the reasoning in the world is futile. Thanks so much for your story it was beautiful.

  • Peter Hearty

    Thank you for that Gayle. Like you, I enjoy hearing about other’s de-programming experience, although some can be quite traumatic.

    I was very lucky, in that my own journey was almost instantaneous and happened while I was still a teenager. It was like blinkers being lifted from my eyes – a kind of anti-road-to-Damascus moment.

    I wish you well and envy your children as they set out on life’s wonderful journey of discovery.

    • Gayle Jordan

      Thanks Peter – I’d love to hear your story sometime – it doesn’t sound like a very common one. My kids came out of the faith as older teenagers, but it was protracted and academic, for each one of them.

      Thanks for you comment!

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