New Era American

Liz Coufal

Growth & Impact in an AI Startup and Civic Entrepreneur
Austin, Texas

The Inverted Culture War
May 29, 2023


Where did you grow up? What’s your deal?

I wish I could just ask everybody that, “What's your deal, though, you know?” And so what is my deal? I am 31 years old. I live in Austin, Texas. I grew up in McKinney, North Dallas, born and raised in a really, really conservative community. My parents put me in a hyper-conservative, religious school 6th-12th.

As much as it messed me up, it was so good for solidifying what I believe. My belief system isn't new. I tell people that I believe what I was taught, like that we need to love our neighbor. The experience of being in a wildly spiritually abusive atmosphere— I understand how that group thinks really well, and, I ran the opposite way at a very, very young age because I just rejected whatever the fuck that was. I became a vegetarian at 15 and developed my own belief structure around what Christianity is. So rather than rejecting Nationalistic Evangelicalism, because that didn't match with what I was seeing in the Bible, I just took what I saw from different authors that I was reading and put those pieces together for myself. And it's something I'm still doing. In the Exvangelical community, there's a term: Deconstruction. That for me was around 14/15 years old.

I went to college in Denton. There were 40,000 strangers and no one cared what I did. That is the best thing ever. And then at like 23, I was like, “I got to start making money.” And I jumped into the startup world.

By day, I run growth for an AI and machine learning consulting firm that’s been around since 2017. By night, I work in civic engagement. My passion is in voting activation. And I would say even more than voting rights, it's introducing people to their “small d” democratic voice for the first time and combating intellectual bullying. Austin's a really interesting city because you have so many conservative people that move here from school who then meet people with different life experiences and don't really know where to put those pieces together. They kind of go through political puberty, when you're figuring out your belief system for the first time.

I’m also really active in my church, Austin New Church, which people are always so weird about because I am pretty progressive, but it just makes so much sense to me. The online community took off during Covid, and it's mainly parents of queer kids who joined to support their kids in a loving spiritual environment. Our main pastor is really passionate about indigenous rights and indigenous wisdom. He’s from Mexico.


Could you tell me about any of your daily rituals?

I'm a very ritualistic person. I get up around five every morning and go to my gym. I also love breakfast. I’m a big breakfast person. In the morning, it's just that time to myself, or I'm listening to one of my podcasts like my NPR's "Up First" or The New York Times' "The Daily."


Do you think that you have a vocation or a job?

Not a vocation, I would imagine a vocation is pretty well defined, it's something that you can be trained in. My job? No one knows how the fuck to do it. I don't know how the fuck to do it. Data science is a new field. We think the term data science is going to go away soon; it's fragmenting into a million things. We do selling, which is really pairing custom knowledge, engineering, machine learning solutions to what the Department of Defense needs, what Activision needs, what these Fortune 500 companies need. Finding their pain points is really hard and requires a team of people. The core math behind AI was invented in the fifties and eighties, and not a lot has changed. It's a field everybody is familiar with and no one knows about.

You’re a person of faith working alongside people who are creating intelligence, albeit artificial. Do you have conversations about the consequences of that?

Because I worked in the AI field for five years, it's been really demystified for me. I'm like, oh, this is math, this is the same math that went into making our universe. This is the same math that's encoded into our DNA. It makes me respect higher intelligence more in whatever form that's in, because it's just, you know, we're meeting God's image, and She is a creator, and we are creating similar patterns in similar ways that are really impressive. I don't believe in singularity or generalized AI, like the Terminator situation.

You see it a lot in crypto communities trying to find God in the algorithm because it “knows” us.”

It's all very golden calf to me.


To quote Leo Straus: progress or return?

I, without hesitating, would say progress. And I say that out of my spiritual belief system. Everything I say is because of my faith. If God is infinite, we will always be catching up to Her. And so, you know, I don't think you can follow 100% tradition and believe that God is infinite. Our children will know new things about God that we do not know, and their children—it'll be the same. And I think She reveals different parts of Herself to each generation. And we have to be comfortable with that. Thinking that we got it right the first time is, I think, heretical, whether that's our Constitution or the Bible as we know it. But we can look to the past to ground us to always keep going.

Of course, history repeats itself. I don't think evolution is that quick, right? So a lot of things haven't caught up to us yet. As an example, the next generation will know different things about gender than we do today. If you use that conservative argument, then that means that there was one golden point in time where everyone had it all figured the fuck out, and the rest of us throughout time are trying to go back to 1486 or whatever weird year that was where they they had it all figured out, which doesn't make a ton of sense to me.

The way me and a lot of people who I worship with study is: you don't look at just the text, but instead the progressive trajectory of where it was taking people under Empire Control to where it's pointing to now. And you just keep following that map. You're not supposed to end with this verse, but you take it and you follow that direction and it's really, really interesting and really beautiful and challenging. I think it plays the role that faith is supposed to play in your life; it makes you, the community around you, and the world better; and it reminds you that you're not the center of the universe.

And what would you say to folks who maybe say, “I found so much peace in Evangelicalism”?

I understand. You know, it's very peaceful on the surface. But I would just imagine, well, who doesn't have peace? Because you are a protected class with a gun.

How do you deal with doubt? How do you deal with the hard things?

2022 was not my year. It was definitely a year in the desert. Too much pressure on myself.

I'm focusing more on releasing control where I can. One of the people in our small group at Church is a Buddhist and she’s just awesome. She taught me this concept where you just have open palms and whatever is meant for you will come, and whatever should be taken from you will go, and you just have open palms throughout.

I do believe the trajectory of the universe is towards justice and goodness. With all my heart, I think so much of the evil we're seeing on the far right is the last dying cause of people that are wrong and know that their time is limited. I'm just hoping that I have eyes to see and ears to hear from my children about what they're learning and how God has revealed Herself to them.

And so I do have a lot more hope in the grand scheme of things. I don't think I'll ever manifest, see a completion of that in this life, right? I will probably see the desecration of many species and ecosystems and some people groups. That's right. Really awful things. But I still believe that we are getting better as a whole. And I do believe that. I really do believe that.


What do you think's the point of it all?

May I never know the point of it all. The point of it all is that there is a wildly beautiful story that is bigger than all of us that is being told about infinite, radical, unconditional love. And myself as one individual, I am not necessarily needed in that story. It will be told with or without me. Dr. King said: “If you say no, somebody else would have said yes.”

What is your calling? Do you have one?

Sometimes that question can get confusing because it can be used to refer to a vocation or career in our capitalist religion that we live in. Was I not following my calling? Was I not adding value to the world? Of course I was. So I don't like associating that.

If you look at what I do at work, what I do in civics, what I do in church, I've found this really similar thread, which is just setting a wider table— demystifying this field of artificial intelligence; bringing people into the fold of democracy; worshiping in a church whose mission is to celebrate and learn from the leadership of queer Christians who are really left out of the table. So I think it's just setting a wider table, which I believe is a core mission of Jesus. And that's unique to me, but it also fits within the larger subset of being part of the good. If I were to say no, somebody else would say yes.


Do you think knowledge is created or discovered?

I’d imagine the answer is yes, and. There's core truths out there to be discovered, and then there's nuanced and beautiful subsets of that knowledge. Knowledge, in this case, is truths that are revealed to different people, that different people maybe birth themselves because it's their own unique experience.


What are some false idols America needs to kill?

Giant Golden Cross Evangelicalism. I think that is the most twisted and sick and evil, oppressive religion cult. It was used to justify invasion, occupation, oppression, subjugation, exploitation, all of the above. When I say Golden Cross, I’m referring to empire worship, and it's called Evangelicalism.

I would assume most people would say capitalism, and I could agree with that. But I consider myself a Warren Capitalist. Open, highly regulated markets, where people can make money the way they want to with their unique gifts, with strong social safety nets. Other systems also don't work.

Christianity, like most religions, is both old and new. The average Christian today lives in India or the continent of Africa. it's becoming less and less of a Eurocentric religion, which I think is going to be so interesting and revolutionary, good and bad in certain ways, when you get into post-colonial cultures.

Your People

Who are your people?

Honestly, I see people as diamonds. Like we all have a million different sides to us. I like having rewarding conversations like this; I also could have a similarly lengthy conversation with you about the Real Housewives. People who allow all of their sides to come out— I really, really love that. That's something my husband and I have in common.

Up Next

Emmy Pickett
Somewhere in California or Montana

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