“Bad Influences” is a segment in which the author pays tribute to the people and texts that contributed in specific and memorable ways to the decline of her Christian faith--or, depending on how one looks at it, the burgeoning of her authentic self. As you’ve probably figured out, the title is somewhat ironic.
About three or four years ago, I started getting really into stand-up comedy thanks to a guy I was dating at the time. We didn’t go to many live shows, being far too broke and a little too lazy, but I learned about a lot of different comedians and about the art of stand-up itself. One of the many comedians he introduced me to was Pete Holmes. I wasn’t totally sold at first; Holmes’ older stand-up didn’t always do it for me. But then I started listening to his podcast (I was also getting really into podcasts for some reason) and my life was suddenly, forever better.
Though my boyfriend simply enjoyed Holmes for his comedy, it was a strange coincidence for me that Holmes and I actually have a somewhat similar backstory. He grew up in what sounds like, based on his descriptions, an Evangelical-type church. He also went to a Christian college that is very similar to the one I attended, and participated in international mission trips. His post-college path diverged from the one I took, though, in that he got married in his early twenties to the young woman it seemed he was 'supposed' to be with, and pursued his career as a comic.
As you might expect, based on the fact that I'm writing about him, things changed for Holmes after a bit. To make a long story short (a story you’ll hear more about if you listen to his podcast) he is no longer with that woman and is no longer a committed church-goer. Instead, he is--via his stand-up and his interviews--earnestly exploring all of the routes and perspectives the world has to offer; and, he is doing so in a candid and vulnerable way, which I find incredibly admirable. Holmes’ transformation away from traditional Christianity and into true open-mindedness stands out to me because it is full of hope and curiosity and joy. Much like my experience with Higher Ground, one thing I cherish about Holmes’ public exploration of life outside of the church is that it is done with a good sense of humor and an appreciation--rather than a resentment--for the place from which he came.
Holmes’ podcast episodes tend to run long (sometimes over two hours) but I make time for them. He converses with comedians, actors, writers, atheists, Christians, physicists, New Age types, nutritionists, and more. He appreciates every view point, and isn’t afraid to bring up the “God” question no matter the type of guest--and no matter the type of answer they might give. As an evangelical, I was taught to be afraid of just about everything that wasn’t church-based since it was “of the world” and thus “of the Devil”. Interestingly, there is a very famous verse in the New Testament that says, “there is no fear in love, for perfect love casts out fear.” Yet I heard almost nothing but fear-based teachings from the various pulpits I sat in front of throughout my youth. From Holmes, however, I’ve learned so much about what it means to approach the whole world with that fear-defying love.
Pete Holmes, if you read this, thank you for all the work you’re doing just being yourself and loving everything that’s in front of you. You really are making the world a better place, one conversation at a time.