(CNN)Growing up as an evangelical, Pete Holmes thought he was doing everything right. He believed in the Bible -- all of it -- and said he didn't smoke, drink or have sex before marriage.
Comedian Pete Holmes was a good Christian guy. Then his wife left him, and things got weird.
He went on mission trips to Africa, played bass on the worship team, even wore pleated khakis.
Then one day, as Holmes was struggling to kick-start his comedy career, his wife left him for another man.
His world, and his belief in God, exploded.
"I felt like the Lord hadn't held up His end of the bargain," Holmes writes in his new memoir, "Comedy, Sex, God" -- "and I was pissed."
But Holmes' spiritual search didn't end there.
After diving into atheism (he called himself a "hooraytheist") Holmes found new spiritual life by taking "magic mushrooms," aka psychedelic psilocybin, and studying myths and mysticism.
While walking that path, Holmes' career flourished. He toured the country as a stand-up comic and starred and produced the HBO series "Crashing," which was canceled this year after three seasons.
In some ways, Holmes' memoir seems like an outgrowth of his popular podcast, called "You Made it Weird," which veers from interviews with well-known comedians to wide-ranging conversations with Christians like Nadia Bolz-Weber and Rob Bell and Buddhist teachers such as Sharon Salzberg and David Nichtern.
Like Holmes himself, "Comedy, Sex, God" is full of irrepressible enthusiasm, a contagious curiosity for all things spiritual and healthy doses of self-deprecation. When Holmes finally meets his guru, for example, he can think of nothing except, um, pleasuring himself.
I sat down with Holmes, 40, on a recent morning in New York. He looked a bit bleary from the many media appearances he's done to promote the book, but as he pulled his long legs underneath himself on the couch -- the tall man's lotus position -- he spoke candidly about his religious upbringing and how it informs his comedy.
At times, talking to Holmes was like shaking a Magic 8 Ball filled with quotes from his spiritual touchstones, the theologian Richard Rohr, New Age-y guru Ram Dass, and even the Upanishads, ancient Hindu texts. "Finding truth anywhere -- what else are we doing?" he told me. "It's the greatest joy there is!"
This interview has been edited for length and clarity. If you want to hear the whole thing, check out Holmes' podcast. Sensitive listeners beware: Its language is a bit salty at times.
CNN: You say in the beginning of "Comedy, Sex, God" that your mother wanted you to be a youth pastor. When you told her you wanted to become a comedian she said, "close enough."
Holmes: I sort of joke that they both like public speaking, right? And certainly the type of comedy I'm doing, I would like everyone to leave feeling less afraid and less alone. I think she wanted me to be a youth pastor because I talked about the tumult in my family. I was always calming the family down or trying to keep a fight from happening. I think my mom recognized that I liked people to be happy. I like people to get along. And I like to be a peacemaker. And I liked the church. So she was like, you should be a youth pastor.
A character on your show "Crashing" calls stand-up comedians the new preachers. Do you think that's true?
I am preaching. You know, a preacher is somebody who preaches with a board of elders and like, has a text and an agenda and a religion and a group. I like saying that hopefully, I'm ministering. In the literal sense of ministry, like someone bringing soup is ministering to your body, you know. So I don't consider myself a preacher or a minister, but like, when I get on a tear and start talking about "the kingdom of heaven is here and men don't see it" -- that's just preaching. I'm sorry, I'm preaching. I don't want people to adopt my belief system and then reflect it back to me so then we can prove that we're in the group. It's totally possible to lecture passionately and verge on preaching about the nature of reality without ever going, "And now we're going to plant our flag."
At the same time, you say comedians are often cynical. How do you balance those two parts of your personality: your search for meaning and your cynicism?
You wouldn't ask for any comedian to fully detach from their ego. It's the funnier part of me, and people delight in that. And I think they take solidarity in that. They're seeing someone else sort of struggle with it.
The reason I wrote the book was to try to restore some connection (to religion), but not my belief system. To invite people as a comedian, someone who is a small part of pop culture, and say, "I don't think (spirituality) is embarrassing." I am a comedian. My brain is critical, it's overthinking, but you can find ways to turn it down and realize that's not who you really are. And I'm not saying we should all just like, melt and become indiscriminate and just like shine and everything.
So do you put a label on your religious beliefs? I hear some elements of mystical Hinduism, like your relationship with Ram Dass, but also elements of Christianity and other traditions.
I call myself "Christ-leaning," but that's primarily psychological.
What do you mean by that?
It's the symbol system I was raised with, and it got into my brain and my blood, before my discernment or anything, my defenses or whatever had grown. It just got in, in the way that your parents get in. I'm grateful for that. I'm down with Jesus, sweet Jeez, sweet baby Jeez.
But what we're talking about is symbol systems and labels. And those are good, those are helpful. (But) we're trying to get our inner reality to respond. So in the book, I'm trying to rescue some Bible verses, I'm trying to rescue some ideas of Christ. I'll always get a lot of juice out of rescuing something that Jesus said. It's healing to me, psychologically, to do that with words that were used to convince me that I was in danger of going to hell. It might be my favorite thing to do, is to go like, "Oh, my God, it was right there." We just didn't have eyes to see. We didn't have ears to hear. We were listening wrong. We were listening with an agenda. We were listening with our egos. We were listening with a deep desire for membership and identity and certainty. We weren't looking as the mystics are. And when you look at the Bible the way a mystic sees it, it opens like a flower and you're like, whoa.
And then, yes, are there my great teachers, Maharaji and Ram Dass. These are Hindu mystics, so that's in there.
You write about going on a retreat with Ram Dass and the two of you barely talked. What was that about?
As Ram Dass says he gets older he doesn't really want to talk about a lot of things I like to talk about, which might be like "dorm-room, smoke-a-joint" conversations that I never got to have, so I have them now. I saw him recently and just we just sat there. And it was the best.
What do you get out of that?
That's a great question. It's worth mentioning that there are countless, the majority of people maybe, that would sit and just be like, eh, seems like a sweet guy. (But) for me, it sort of feels like sitting next to a space heater. When I say he's a space heater, he's a space heater to the extent to which you're really feeling your own space heater heating up. You know what I mean? He's warming you up.
So how do you take experiences like that and integrate them into your life? Do you meditate, take psychedelics, or something else? Because it's hard to live in the world like that, no?
Because the problem is you'll seem phony, right, and I don't want to seem disingenuous.
The last time I did LSD, it wasn't deep. But all I kept thinking is that being nice is nice. And it felt like the most profound (idea). It was like you don't have to grade it. You don't have to rank it. I'll take fake nice any day, if you're one of these people who's capable of torment and torture and horror and nastiness -- and you choose nice for any reason. Good. Yeah, score.
As for meditation, yeah, I feel like I'm meditating all the time. I never stop meditating. I'm so happ