'I Never Wanted a Hard Heart'
Before his "deconversion" from Christianity, David Bazan was just like any other indie rock star evangelical who achieved secular success while attracting Christian fans who loved him despite his habit of cussing at concerts. Well, maybe he was the only one. From 1995 to 2005 he was frontman for the band, Pedro the Lion. Now he's gone solo. And though he may not believe in God, he still sings about him. The Chicago Reader called Bazan's first solo album, Curse Your Branches (2009), a "harrowing breakup record—except he's dumping God, Jesus, and the evangelical life." CT reviewed that album here, and recently included it in the Top 12 Albums of the Year. We recently caught up with Bazan to talk about his deconversion, his music, and how, on some nights, he still fears that he's going to hell.
You've described your loss of faith as "devastating." When did you feel yourself starting to slip away?
It happened gradually. There were many small steps, but there were some big questions I remember dealing with. I remember thinking that it would have been faithless to push those questions aside or just sweep them under the rug. I believed that if I had refused to pursue those questions, I would have been admitting that belief in God could not be intellectually satisfying. It felt like a faithful response to grapple with these questions. I had to be honest, and let the chips fall where they may. That was what was so devastating. At the time I didn't think I was in danger of losing my faith. I assumed that the hard questions would affirm my faith, not lead me away from it.
Who was your most formative spiritual influence?
My parents were the biggest influences. I didn't get a lot of direct instruction from them. I received more of that in the church. But just seeing them live out their faith was the most important thing for me. Their own expressions of Christianity, love, service and compassion, really impacted me. They are deeply ethical and compassionate people. If it weren't for their authentic example, I would have bailed on Christianity much earlier than I did.
Some Christians might be cynical about your journey. Here's this young guy who hits it big in the rock world, starts to party, and loses his faith. They might say you just changed your creed to match your conduct. How would you respond to that?
By 2002 I had arrived at a place where I still had orthodox beliefs, yet had realized that some of the more superficial behavioral concerns—such as swearing or drinking—weren't really prohibited by my faith. I wasn't using illegal drugs or anything like that; I just swore and drank, so there was no conflict there.
When I was starting to make the shift, I would talk to my dad. I felt that the kind of Christianity I practiced actually stood in the way of the kind of ethical behavior that I wanted to engage in. Both of my parents have been really upset by my decision to move away from my faith. But we have a great relationship, and they can see my motivation and sincerity and commitment to what I think is right. There may be one sense in which that criticism is true. But ethics has always been of chief importance for me, and that concern actually comes from Christianity. I always want to be completely honest with myself and others.
Is that why you have been so public about your journey away from faith?
I've always grappled with religious and ethical concerns in my music, so it was natural for the shift to come out in the songs. Also, it's just due to my personality. I have very few thoughts that aren't expressed. It's actually kind of embarrassing. I look up to people who have a rich thought life, but they don't need to express their thoughts. But I'm not that way. Growing up, the book of James was really hard on me with its teaching to mind your tongue. So if there's something on my mind, it's coming out.