Religion is crumbling. The views that were once held sacred and unfixed by Christianity, have been questioned and challenged at a rapid pace for decades. That I knew, but when I heard what former Pastor Joshua Tongol had to say about his views on hell, Satan and homosexuality, my jaw dropped.
Never had I ever run across a Christian as forthcoming about his faith and his doubts as Tongol was in his new book, So You Thought You Knew: Letting Go of Religion.
In my interview with the best-selling author today, we discuss what led him to his spiritual metamorphosis, the challenges he's faced speaking from the heart and how the healing he's been known for has affected his life.
What moment in particular led to that total change in tune from following Christianity to the letter to where you are spiritually today?
Tongol: For me, it could be cliché, but honestly, love. For my whole life I don't feel like I'd been living as honestly with myself as much as I could have. My entire life I would hear things at the pulpit, I would read things in Christian books, and it just didn't make sense to me at times. It's like the moment I started to understand unconditional love, everything changed.
I started to see God in other people, even when Christians would tell me that God is not inside a non-Christian. The moment I saw God in other people, it really changed everything. I saw how critical and dark the Christian world can be when you start to disagree with them, with people. I'm not trying to scapegoat them; I'm just trying to share my experience of what happened. The moment I started to question a lot of the teachings that I was taught growing up, all hell broke loose and I saw how nasty people can be. It's not even just among Christians, I'm sure it's everywhere, but it's just my own experience about how many friends and people I lost.
Thinking, once again, about how many denominations that we have and the different interpretations of the Bible, I think there's something wrong here when everyone is claiming to have the absolute truth. We're all contradicting each other. I just thought to myself, maybe we got some things wrong, not just in interpreting the Bible, but as any human being. We all make mistakes, so why couldn't the authors of the Bible make mistakes too? Which is normal, because they were people that were bound by their culture and limited by their own time.
I just started to follow my heart and realized that all these years I used to study a lot of philosophy, I actually read a lot of books on atheism that actually made sense to me at the time, but I didn't want to acknowledge it because I was scared to admit that they made sense. So what I would do is read all these books on Christian apologetics and how to defend my faith just to reaffirm what I already was supposed to believe -- because it was what I was supposed to believe -- but then I wasn't being true to myself. I can't say it's like one moment; it was a journey for me because I'd always had these thoughts in the back of my head saying, that doesn't make sense, but I'm supposed to believe it as a Christian.
Like I said, it was a process of just learning to let go, and learning and discovering the truth. It was very humbling for me because if you see me now, if you watch my videos, I'm pretty chill; usually I'm just like chilling, sitting down on a chair talking, but back in the day I was very dogmatic, very in your face, "You better do this, you better believe this if you're a real Christian," and very legalistic, so a lot of people are really surprised at how I've ended up. Of course, a lot of people I used to judge in the past are a lot happier with how I am now. It's definitely been a process.
And there was even a time, you mentioned in the book, when you would be open to talking to different religions, but really your secret agenda was to, somehow, convert them to Christianity.
Tongol: It's sad, it's really sad. It was very disingenuous, just like my approach. I did that every week. I was a hardcore. I was even telling my wife yesterday, I would go to all these different universities every single week. It wasn't my school, I was still a seminary student at the time, but every Thursday I would go to different colleges, universities, just to evangelize as many people as much as I could. I remember I would meet some amazing people, but I had my own agenda, and they were going to hell in my view at the time. Now, I see things differently. I'm just as passionate, if not more, than I was before, but I'm more humble because I realize there's still so much for me to learn about other cultures and to hear their story that I don't know why they ended up believing the stuff that they believe. Look at me, growing up as a Christian who claimed to supposedly have the truth, look how much I've had to unlearn even within my own tradition. I just needed to take a step back and realize I'm not as smart as I thought I was.
The healing you do was one of the ways that really opened up a lot of doors for you, but you mentioned in your book that there was a point when you started to wonder if the only reason people were really interested in you, or maybe invited you to their church to speak or becoming friends with you, was because you had these gifts. It's been a while since we've seen newer videos of healing. Is there a reason for that?
Tongol: The only reason is a simple one; it's just because I've been focused on other things like writing my book and speaking on other topics, other than healing, so it's nothing big. I still do it. For instance, I'll be speaking in San Diego tomorrow, and the pastor last night told me about these people that are going to be coming to do healing, so whether or not that's recorded I still do this all the time, it's just not being posted online. I do a lot of the same teachings, so I wouldn't want to be posting the same kind of content all the time. Even in my book and in my videos, I'll put it in quotes about "healing gifts" because I believe that everybody can do what I do.
I think that's something that's been on my heart for Christians to understand. People would put me on a pedestal in the Philippines and here because they think that I'm unique, and I'm not when it comes to healing; it's something that everybody can do. I was actually concerned about that for some time, especially when being new to a country. They didn't really know who I was except for that I do healing. I would have very shallow conversations, such as, "How many miracles happen at your church?" I got connections fairly easy once I got to the Philippines. I had a meeting with some really well-known guys in the area, and one of the first things that they'd ask me would be, "How many miracles happened at your church last week?" Honestly, it's great that they get excited, but in the long run those things ultimately don't matter to me.
For me, what I was concerned about were the relationships, and that they would get to know me for me. It's good they're into healing and all that I do, but deep down I just wanted to know they would be alright with me just because of who I am as a person; to see my flaws, and my weaknesses, and to not just be interested in me to speak at their church. I've had opportunities where I'd be doing these healing services at these churches, and after I leave, that's it; they don't keep in touch with me after that, and I'm left thinking a lot of these churches that I was "connecting with" are very shallow, and used me to do some of their dirty work. I won't mention any names, but I was speaking at some of the most well-known churches in the Philippines and they would have these undercover pastors. I started from the ground up, grass roots, and I was just doing my own thing, sharing, and some of these pastors would get a hold of this message and would be too afraid to preach it at their churches, so they would have me do it, and then after I would do it they would hardly even keep in touch with me. It just got very shallow for me. I don't know if I'm asking for too much. I was just looking for real relationships because it's very easy to get caught up into the celebrity scene.
You mentioned that you're not special, that anyone can heal themselves. In fact in one of the videos you did, one of the things you say is that someone needs to get into the "feeling place" of having already healed themselves or having already healed that person. How do you do that exactly?
Tongol: Well, there are different ways, of course. It depends on the person and what would actually work for them. As I mention in the videos, it's about the technique that will work for you, and will build you up to that point. Some of the ways that I mention in the clips would be speaking words. I'm sure we've all done this, just like when we're discouraged we will speak positively to build ourselves up. For example, the new song that's been out called, Happy; I'm singing that a lot now. Sometimes when you're feeling down you just need to say something and all of a sudden you reach a "state of consciousness" where you just feel it. Visualization could be another, like through meditation where you're seeing something in your mind's eye, or even just doing some sort of action. There are different ways that you can actually do it.
For me, it's visualization, speaking words, listening to something; and just all of a sudden, I hear a message. You can reach this state of awareness where it just feels so real for you in that moment. I'm glad you brought that up because I believe the feeling is the main element that people are missing. When people read something like the law of attraction they'll try all these different techniques thinking, "Oh, I prayed or I said 'in Jesus' name' or I visualized and nothing happened." That's the problem. It's not your words, it's not your thoughts that create the healing; it's faith, and faith is usually evidenced by how you feel. I use the feeling as an indicator of showing that that's probably a genuine faith you have. If you tell someone, "You're rich. You have nothing to worry about. Don't worry, you're not going to struggle financially," and if you keep saying, "rich and rich and rich and rich," but you don't feel it, then you don't believe it. When you feel it, you believe it.
So how do you get to that point? Like I said, you can be watching something, you can be listening to something, you can be saying something with your words, or you can be visualizing it. There are many ways; it just depends on the person. If you want to sound Christian, according to your faith, be it onto you.
You talk very lovingly about your wife in the book. How much of her support and her love really has a lot to do with the success that you've had and the happiness that you've had in your life?
Tongol: Oh, everything. We've been married for the third year this month, we're actually celebrating our anniversary next week, so we're fairly newlyweds. I was already "having success" with all these things prior to meeting her, but to me, just meeting her, life has been so much better, especially after a lot of the stuff that we go through, sharing the kind of message that we share to the Christian world. When I first met my wife, we actually got together after two weeks. I fell for her the first day and I wanted to be with her. After two weeks I just asked her, "Would you like to be with me?" I told her, "If you're going to be with me, are you ready for the stuff that you're going to have to endure for the flack that I get for the message that I share?" The crazy thing is, I met my wife at the time that I wanted to leave the Philippines.
I didn't mention that in the book, but I was getting so much criticism from the churches, and the mega churches. The rumors that would be spread about me through even text messages - because text messaging is big in The Philippines - people would be calling me a cult leader or a false teacher, and then all of a sudden that week, I wanted to go back to America. Literally, I told people I'm going back to America, I've had enough, and I was still single so it was really hard for me going back to an empty home and hearing all these negative voices in my head from all these churches. I didn't have a big church. As you saw in the book, I stopped going to church. Then that same week that I decided to go back to America, I met my wife. Obviously, I ended up staying in the Philippines for a couple more years.
She has been this a huge joy to me, just a big support. It's really interesting to have someone by my side to just remind me that I'm not crazy. For instance, all the times when I was hearing all those negative things, and well-respected people condemning me, or people telling me that I'm going to hell, my wife would just say, "Josh, I know your heart. I know your heart." Even when I was dropping her off at work today, she was saying, "You're going to have fun with the interview." If I was home alone, and with this all negativity that's gone on, honestly I don't know how I would take it. Would I be okay? I believe so because I believe that I'd always be okay no matter what, but it's just a joy to have my wife with me. It just makes life a lot more fun.
You briefly mention in your book that you run across all kinds of love. Being a former pastor, what is your personal view about gay marriage and homosexuality?
Tongol: We're all different, we're all unique. If there's something that leads to a destructive lifestyle, then I would say something. But I do know people, surprisingly, if they're Christians, they don't understand that there are people out there who live good lifestyles, who love people, who "love God," and they're living that lifestyle, so who am I to judge them? I know I'm going to take a lot of flack for that, but I just accept all people. If they're not hurting anybody and they're not hurting themselves, why not? That's just my personal view. There are a lot of Christians who will disagree with me, but I just don't buy a lot of the criticisms that I've heard against gay people. My gay friends in the Philippines are some of the most loving people I've ever met in my whole life, and they've been through so much hell from the Christian church. Why should I add to that? Those are my thoughts.