“It was January 20, 2001, and I was at George W. Bush’s inaugural ball,” Susie Meister breathlessly writes in Medium.She goes on to relate this evening of triumph after months of hard work campaigning for Dubya and chauffeuring his key advisers (Andrew Card and Karen Hughes!) around as a 20-year-old college student from the University of Pittsburgh. Little did she know that a decade later, she would become one of those “Godless liberals.”
That evening, Meister was still working as a “celebrity handler” for Drew Carey.
I had spent months campaigning for him, and it had not been easy. After the Florida electoral debacle complete with “hanging chads,” Katherine Harris (and her fifteen minutes of shame), and ultimately the Supreme Court’s Bush v. Gore decision, I was finally enjoying the fruits of my labor as I celebrated the new president that I worked to get elected.
Enraptured, Susie Meister stood watching the festive scene before her. For an ardent young conservative Christian woman who’d grown up fuming at President Bill Clinton along with her deeply religious family, this must have felt like Cinderella’s ball.
As I stood there in my purple satin, floor-length gown and then-in-style white eye shadow watching the new President dance with his First Lady, I was inspired by what I thought was a going to be a move toward increased personal responsibility, a shift from the distracting Clinton/Lewinsky circus, and a return to the philosophy of the patron saint of right-wing politics, Ronald Reagan.
Nor was Susie Meister just some “garden variety” conservative Christian. She describes herself as a strong believer growing up “immersed” in the “pro-life” and “family values” militarism of the evangelical Christian movement:
I attended church several times a week, sought guidance from my pastor in private meetings, and after my reality TV stardom, spoke to church youth groups about how to stay “pure” in this “sinful” world.
So what happened to Susie Meister over the next 15 years? The Internet abounds with stories of former evangelical Christians who went to college and lost their religion. In fact, she writes about how folks back home warned her about “the bias of ‘godless liberals,’” in academia, but Meister felt certain that her faith could withstand the test.
College Didn’t Turn Susie Meister Into An Atheist, But Studying Religion Turned Her Into A Liberal.
Sure enough, Susie Meister’s dual major in Religious Studies and Political Science didn’t shake her faith. Nor did her subsequent career as a reality TV star in MTV’s Road Rules, where she was cast as the wide-eyed, wholesome, Christian ingenue. Although has a lot to say in Salon about her experiences in the tawdry world of reality TV, she got off lightly “with an episode detailing my ‘downward spiral’ that amounted to me swearing once and stealing a pair of bowling shoes.”
What happened, however, wasn’t an abandonment of my faith, but a shift in my understanding of Scripture. […] The more I read the text through unfiltered eyes and the more I learned about scholarly investigation, the less sense their point of view made. Their old Jesus looked nothing like my new Jesus.
In his Debunking Christianity blog, the Christian-turned-atheist author John Loftus writes that many Christians turn from God after struggling through a life-changing experience that they cannot reconcile with their faith. Susie Meister’s issue, on the other hand, lay in reconciling her new understanding of Jesus Christ with her old belief system:
I could no longer reconcile Jesus’s calls for non-judgment, loving your enemies, and taking up your cross with many of the Religious Right’s positions on social services, women’s rights, and the LGBT community.
As if this shift wasn’t traumatic enough, Meister discovered that rejecting the kind of Christianity she’d grown up with also meant having to reject her conservative politics.
Only after my doctrinal evolution did I realize I no longer aligned with the political conservatism for which I once literally campaigned. Jesus was a champion of the poor, the weak, the meek, and downtrodden. He encouraged his followers to “sell their possessions” and give them to the poor. He hung out with hookers and crooks. The lifestyle of Jesus didn’t look anything like the politics of the Right.
Although Susie Meister felt alone while going through this drastic transformation, CNN reports that the intolerance of evangelical Christian churches has driven many millennials away from their childhood faith.
A recent survey from Public Religion Research Institute revealed that nearly one-third of millennials who left their childhood faith did so because of “negative teachings” or “negative treatment” of gay and lesbian people.
Now, Susie Meister lives among the godless liberals in Los Angeles with her husband — whom she met on the set of “Real World Road Rules Challenge: The Ruins” — and children. Her dissertation ”Presents of God: The Marketing of the American Prosperity Gospel,” explores the world of prosperity gospel churches, her “Revolving Door Faith Club” documentary chronicles how she immersed herself in five different faiths in a spiritual journey, and her podcast Brain Candy covers an eclectic mix of pop culture, literature, science, and DIY (Do It Yourself).
Apparently, Liberal Jesus still isn’t good enough for her mom.
No Christmas is complete w/o my mom sending me a religious tract asking me to come back to Jesus.
— Susie Meister (@susie_meister) December 18, 2015