Audrey Assad’s Deconversion Story: Objective Analysis

From the article, “Musician Audrey Assad seeks ‘permission and freedom for all to feel at home’”(Stephanie DePrez, National Catholic Reporter, 9-24-21):

On March 3, musician Audrey Assad quietly dropped a bomb that rippled through Catholic spaces when she announced that she’s no longer Christian.

The beloved chart-topping singer-songwriter has over 500,000 monthly listeners on Spotify and millions of streams on YouTube. Her albums, which gently weave new takes on traditional hymns with intelligent lyrics that capture the modern Catholic experience, are the de facto soundtrack of Catholic dorm rooms, retreats and Christmas parties.

In 2010, “The House You’re Building” was named Amazon.com’s Best Christian Music of 2010 and iTunes Christian & Gospel Breakthrough Album of the Year. The next year she received two Dove Award nominations, for New Artist of the Year and Female Vocalist of the Year. Earlier this month she released “Pearls,” a cover of Sade’s song from “Love Deluxe.” It was her first studio release in nearly two years.

In March, Assad stated that she hadn’t been a “practicing Catholic” for three years. She held back from sharing this publicly, she went on, because she wasn’t sure if her relationship to the faith were truly “over.”

Alright. As in all these types of stories, which give reasons for why one has left Catholicism or Protestantism, or Christianity or theism altogether (hers is of the first category), if someone goes to the trouble of explaining it in public, then those of us who remain (and apologist types like me, for obvious reasons) are fully entitled to make a public response to the public “ex-timony.” No one should object to this at all. There is no reason to do so. But of course they often do.

I reiterate, as always: “if a person has no good reasons to be a Catholic (or a Christian, generally speaking), then it may be that the time will come that they have no good reasons to remain a Catholic or non-Catholic Christian.”

We remove the intellectual / theological / apologetics indispensable element of faith and discipleship at our own peril. Unless we can explain why we believe what we believe, it’ll be easy for someone to persuade us to leave what we can neither explain nor defend. Is this not utterly obvious? Someone wisely observed: “the heart cannot rejoice in what the mind rejects as false.”

Audrey’s words from the above article will be in blue.

I don’t really have a lot of specific shapes or beliefs around that idea[God] anymore, but I still feel connected to that concept very deeply.

It looks like (just speculating, however) she never had a solid “theology proper” (theology of God), or else she wouldn’t have been brought to this place. I’m glad she still believes in some sort of “God”, but concerned that the trajectory of her journey may lead her to atheism in due course.

I am heavily influenced by the Tao and Zen Buddhism nowadays, . . .

Obviously, if she has been reading this sort of material (contrary to theism and Christianity in many ways), it influenced her to leave Catholicism. “We are what we eat.” Therefore, it follows, it seems to me, that we ought to be very careful and vigilant about what we eat, or to eat it with other things (analogy to competing ideas), so as to make the best choice with full knowledge.

and I think everything that’s happened in my life belongs there for some reason. Not in the same way that I used to say that everything happens for a reason — like God has a perfect plan for every detail, for every hard thing.

This is the rejection of God’s providence and the Judaeo-Christian monotheistic conception of God.

I can integrate all things that have happened in my life into my own growth, expansion and healing, and that’s how I choose to approach that.

Individualism, rather than corporate acceptance of a passed-down creed. This is part-and-parcel of an eastern religious outlook.

I was at a dinner with a priest that I know, years ago. We were discussing Richard Rohr. Richard Rohr is a Franciscan priest who lives in the Southwest and operates a retreat center and writes books about spirituality. He has a book called The Universal Christ, which was very influential upon me, as well as the first book of his that I read, called Falling Upward, about the first and second half of life, before and after spiritual awakening or crisis.

Fr. Richard Rohr is not an orthodox Catholic (one who accepts all the doctrines and dogmas that the Church requires of her adherents). His errors were detailed in the article, “A Primer on Richard Rohr” by Tom Nash (Catholic Answers, n.d.). He’s a universalist (God will save everyone), and he writes in his book Everything Belongs: The Gift of Contemplative Prayer:

I personally do not believe that Jesus came to found a separate religion as much as he came to present a universal message of vulnerability and foundational unity that is necessary for all religions, the human soul, and history itself to survive. Thus Christians can rightly call him “the Savior of the world” (John 4:42) but no longer in the competitive and imperialistic way that they have usually presented him. By very definition, vulnerability and unity do not compete or dominate. In fact, they make competition and domination impossible. The cosmic Christ is no threat to anything but separateness, illusion, domination, and any imperial ego. In that sense, Jesus, the Christ, is the ultimate threat, but first of all to Christians themselves. Only then will they have any universal and salvific message for the rest of the world” (181-82, emphases added).

Other dubious beliefs of his are noted in the article. The point again is: “we are what we eat.” If what we are eating is unhealthy for us, then we need to find that out as soon as possible, and eat healthy food.

When I first heard of him, I remember mentioning him to this priest. He said something to the effect of, “You can’t read his work. You can’t go to his retreat center. He’s dangerous. He leads people away from the truth by using Catholic language. He’s a wolf in sheep’s clothing.”

At the time, I took that very seriously. I said, “OK, I’ll stay away. I trust you. I won’t do that.” 

And of course, from an orthodox Catholic perspective, this priest was exactly right in warning her. He was trying to spare her from loss of faith and belief (precisely what has now happened to her). But she doesn’t see it that way at all:

That same year I ran into a friend at a coffee shop who had recently begun deconstructing his own Christianity. He was reading Falling Upward by Richard Rohr. I looked at it and I asked him how he liked it. He said he loved it, and it was really helping him. He said, “Have you read this?” I said, “Oh I can’t read that.” He kind of cocked his head and looked at me, and said, “What do you mean you can’t read it?”null

It was a moment for me of awakening when I realized what I was saying, and how it sounded, because I was saying it in front of someone else. And I thought, “I can’t believe I’m afraid to encounter ideas that are different than the ones I’ve been taught. I’m actually afraid to. I am afraid of this because it will expand my view.” And it suddenly became clear to me that that was inevitable in one way or the other. That I had been holding back from doing the inevitable, out of fear.

This would require a huge discussion in and of itself. I will be as brief as I can possibly be without missing any essential elements. I would say that a proper view from a Catholic and broadly Christian perspective is not to cower in fear, with regard to reading anything different from what we believe. The goal and sensible, rational thing to do is to know what we believe (catechetics) inside and out, and (very importantly!) know why we believe it (apologetics: my field). That’s required, before we start (potentially) studying every other view under the sun.

I submit that the reason Audrey was “afraid” to read other contrary things was precisely because she wasn’t adequately grounded in her own faith. Therefore, reading something different was scary and threatening. When we know our faith, this isn’t the case. We can read anything (though we need to be careful and prudent) and be able to judge it with the critical faculty that we have established.

But in our postmodernist relativist world, where — bottom line — all ideas are exactly the same, and absolute truth is frowned upon and mocked as “intolerant” and “old-fashioned” and “arrogant” etc., ad nauseam, strongly holding to Catholicism is considered quaint and outdated and misguided.

This moment Audrey describes above seems to be the sea change in her thinking. She went from having an insufficiently grounded and understood Catholic faith and being wary of reading other views, to having an insufficiently grounded and understood Catholic faith and being open to hostile views. That was her undoing. Once she started reading other views, it was only a matter of time before she would reject a faith that she didn’t understand enough to defend against contrary views. It’s really that simple (or so it looks to me, from the information in the article).

I think that very kind of concept of just needing to stay inside the fold, stay in the tradition, don’t venture outside, don’t read outside of the tradition, stay within it, is very sad to me.

It’s much more sad to be in a [Catholic] tradition and not understand it enough to defend it against its adversaries. That’s not being “closed-minded” or “dogmatic” so much as it is being willfully ignorant. At least admit what you don’t know and make it a fair fight. If you insist on reading non-Catholicmaterials, then read also Catholicarguments that would be a counter to the other stuff. Examine both sides fairly and equally and thoroughly and then decide if Catholicism is no longer for you.null

Had Audrey read any Catholic apologetics, so she could understand why Catholics believe as they do (the rational part of theology)? I doubt it. Or if she did: what was the amount in relation to heterodox reading material that she also read? If it’s an unequal situation, then again, people simply conform to what they choose to concentrate on reading and talking about and understanding. “We are what we eat.”

The main reason I do not receive Eucharist is years ago, I began experiencing panic attacks every time I tried. That’s originally what put me into trauma therapy, in 2016. At the time, I thought it was going to be temporary, because I was trying to figure out why that was happening. The second reason is that I haven’t actually tried in years. I don’t know what would happen now. Probably not panic, I imagine.

Then that needed to be dealt with in therapy. This is, of course, no reason at all to reject the Holy Eucharist (i.e., consecrated hosts) as Catholics believe it to be (Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity of Christ). But the devil will do anything to separate Catholics from the sacraments and the Church and her (and their) faith. Whatever gets them away from the Eucharist results in them having less grace, which is altogether necessary to maintain such faith and to withstand the world, the flesh, and the devil.

Another reason that I don’t receive is that I know what the institution requires in terms of what makes you a Catholic in good standing, and I just don’t fit those things anymore. I don’t want to disrespect the institution by flouting that. I don’t, out of respect, receive the Eucharist anymore.

I admire this honesty (very unlike people like Joe Biden). But I would ask Audrey: “did you read Catholic apologetics or catechetics with regard to those doctrines that you started to doubt? Did you ever learn the biblical and rational basis for them? Did you try to dissuade your more ‘doubting’ self? Or was it just pure subjectivism?”

I remember being in Nashville at a church here the day of the Women’s March, the first one, which I did not attend. I knew that if I attended and that was made public, I would be excoriated for that, even though I believe people should be able to assemble around one idea without sharing all the same beliefs. I really grew frustrated that the Catholic Church, or any church, demanded ideological purity at all times in all situations, and that really bothered me.

Here the issue is radical feminism (including the right to abortion), which is contrary to traditional Catholic moral and social teaching. In effect, Audrey (like many millions) was starting to put (left-wing) political ideology on a higher plane than Catholicism, and to make that in effect her religion. It’s a very common progression. The interviewer also mentioned that Audrey was “into liberation theology”: which is the attempted synthesis of Marxism and Catholicism, to the detriment of the latter. The more one accepts far-left (or far-right) political notions, the more it will inevitably conflict with Catholicism, leading to many forsaking the faith as a result.null

I remember being in a church that morning, and the priest not only telling the congregation not to attend this march, but making fun of the women who were and mocking them as these kinds of “bra burning brazen women,” saying that they weren’t feminine. I remember how it felt. It felt terrible to hear. It felt petty, and small, and inhumane. And I felt mocked, even though I wasn’t there, because I wished I could be there. I thought, if they knew what I was really like, I wouldn’t be welcome here. “I can’t be myself here” is how it felt. I don’t miss that feeling of not being able to show up as my full, authentic self in a space because I’m afraid it would scandalize or offend.

Perhaps the priest went about condemning it (which was good in and of itself) in the wrong way, or it’s possible that Audrey is presenting a highly selective, biased, or inaccurate  portrayal of what he said. Either way, she seems to have become more welcoming of radical feminism, which cannot be harmonized with Catholicism. Sensing the tension, she ditched one for the other.

I would like to communicate to them[her children] . . . that no part of them is bad, or no part of them shameful or covered in shame in any way. . . .  I want them to know that every piece of them is good and whole and beautiful, and of God.null

Of course, this is Catholic teaching, but she seems to be presenting it as if it were not. Those who reject Catholic sexual teaching habitually caricature it as supposedly teaching that sexuality (even the acts that the Church fully allows) is “dirty”. Many people use this falsehood as a rationale for leaving the Church.

In summary, I respect and appreciate Audrey’s transparency and honesty, and willingness to discuss such painful and private things in public (which takes guts), but I see nowhere near an adequate reason to leave the Catholic Church, in what she presents.

Today, in our postmodern and relativist, increasingly secularist environment, all that is required is to say “I feel like this change of belief is best for me.” Reason is usually only a very small component or no part of it whatsoever. But those of us who still believe in reason and the notion of objective truth are entitled to give our opinions, too. This is now a public matter because Audrey chose to make it so.

She stated: “I want to be hospitable to people who still believe the things that I may not believe anymore.”Wonderful! That’s mutual. I have nothing against her personally (I’m just talking about the relative merit of various beliefs and opinions) and would be delighted to dialogue, if that is agreeable.

Summary: Audrey Assad was a Catholic musician, who recently left the Catholic faith. I briefly examine some of the (inadequate) reasons she gives for her defection, & make some general points.

2 comments

  1. This is excellent, but would you mind reformatting it so that it’s clear which paragraphs are quotes and which ones are your commentary? I had read the original article so I could figure it out but just reading this might be confusing to some.

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