This episode considers the life and spiritual vision of the Rev. Carlton Pearson, subject of a popular This American Life episode as well as the recent Netflix bio-pic Come Sunday. When Rev. Pearson hears God reveal to him a potentially heretical view by way of a special revelation—universal salvation (everyone goes to heaven, and there is no hell)—he risks losing his congregation and jeopardizing his spot as a rising Christian star. How would people know whether God revealed new information by revelation? Along the way we talk about racial division in church, the pros and cons of revelation as a mode of spiritual discourse, and the reasonability of hell.


We’re climbing the mountain in this final episode for season one of the podcast! Why do people climb mountains? What do mountains mean, spiritually? We explore aspects of these questions through the film Meru, documenting three adventurers who attempt to climb a never-before-summited peak in the Himalayas. Brian reveals deep emotional problems, and Leah doubles down on her reluctance to ever climb a mountain while yet promising on tape to climb Mount St. Helens. We’ll glance at some research about why people risk their lives to stand on a snowy peak (see also some newer research here), the rise and fall of a small mountain town, and the legend of Wy’east (Mount Hood).

THE AUDIENCE (Audience of One)

This episode introduces listeners to the little-known documentary Audience of One. We hear the story of Richard Gazowsky, Pentecostal pastor and amateur filmmaker, who, after watching his first movie at the age of 40, believes God has given him a vision to create the biggest and best film ever made (!?). Along the way we talk about aesthetics in American Pentecostal-Charismatic movements, Christian appropriations of the Shofar, finger streamers and tambourines, Charles Finney and the New Measures, Hamlet and the Lion King, the devil and Pentecostal rockers, Jesus Camp, Rocky IV, and Troll dolls (BURN THEM).

THE GAMERS (King of Kong)

In this episode, we watch King of Kong: a Fistful of Quarters, a film documenting the surprisingly engrossing contest over who will be the reigning champion of the 80s classic video game, Donkey Kong. Will it be the self-aggrandizing favorite, restaurateur and hot sauce salesman Billy Mitchell? Or down-on-his luck, everyman challenger Steve Weibe? Come for the epic sports drama. Stay for discussions of David & Goliath and other ancient epics, cheating, virtuosity, masculinity and gender construction in the gaming world, misogyny and the alt-right, and whether or not video games count as religion in this “secular age.”

THE HERETIC (The Heretic)

In this episode, we discuss The Heretic, a documentary about the life and ministry of former megachurch evangelical pastor Rob Bell. We introduce listeners to the (often misunderstood!) subcultures of conservative and progressive American evangelicalism. Along the way, we talk about American revivalism, evangelicalism, the liberal-fundamentalist controversy and its fallout, epic culture wars (and Twitter battles) within middle-class white evangelicalism (from Harry Fosdick vs. Billy Sunday to Rob Bell vs. John Piper), heresy, orthodoxy, universalism, higher criticism and the Bible, and the Westboro Baptists.

THE WOMEN (Handmaid's Tale)

In this episode we consider the women in the Hulu adaptation of Margaret Atwood’s stunning dystopian novel, The Handmaid’s Tale (season one only!). Does The Handmaid’s Tale TV series present, religion, race, and gender cynically, or help us understand anything about our lives today? Leah and Brian imagine life in the other gender role; Leah wonders what it would be like to have a traditional wife, and Brian regales the audience with stories of being a stay-at-home dad while writing his dissertation.

THE KINDNESS (Won't You Be My Neighbor)

In this episode, we talk about Won’t You Be My Neighbor?, the new documentary about the legendary creator and star of Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood, Rev. Fred Rogers. Along the way, we talk about Mr. Rogers’ vision of neighborly love, character formation, and  TV ethics (for adults as well as kids!), catharsis in ancient theater and 21st century film, screen time (and parenting guilt!!), William Penn, Quentin Tarantino, Phineas & Ferb, Peep and the Big Wide World, and how Mr. Rogers inspires us to be better teachers.

THE CULT (Wild Wild Country)

In this episode, we talk about Wild Wild Country, the new documentary from Netflix about enthusiastic enlightenment-seekers who built a commune called Rajneeshpuram in the rugged Central Oregon desert and, during their brief time there, clashed with the residents of the rural town of Antelope. We also explore American religious innovations, the problem with the label of “cult,” “deprivation theory” in apocalyptic biblical communities and in the U.S.A., how racism shapes public understandings of new religious movements, the Jesus Movement, LSD, Never Nudes, the mysterious Rajneesh/Osho and his right-hand woman Ma Anand Sheela, and more. 

THE MONSTER (The Walking Dead)

This episode takes us into the frightening realm of the monster—embodied by the zombies (and some people) in the TV series The Walking Dead (through season three only!). In particular, we examine two episodes concerning the arc of Lori’s pregnancy, “Secrets” (S02E6) and “The Killer Within” (S03E4), and discuss the ethics of childbearing in an ugly world, pop culture’s obsession with monsters and their many symbolic meanings, and how we would fare, personally, in an apocalypse. Prepper communities, gender, monsters in the Psalms, and heroic TV characters as Christ figures make cameos.

THE AFTERLIFE (Black Mirror)

In this episode, we tackle life, love, death, and technology in two episodes of the creepy and thought-provoking series Black Mirror: “Be Right Back” (S02E1) and “San Junipero” (S03E4). Is it possible for humans to prevent death with technology? Should humans do such a thing? Other light and cheery and way-too-big-for-one-podcast topics include male and female death rates, euthanasia, physician-assisted suicide, transhumanism, Wendell Berry, Radiohead, Thomas Hobbes, theodicy, Perpetua & Felicitas, marriage and death and resurrection in the Bible.


The Season One trailer for the Weird Religion podcast. Brian's celebrity crush revealed. The source of Leah's high school popularity revealed. Join us...