26 Jul 2011

It Gets Better: A Letter to Doubters

I remember thinking – knowing really, during that indescribably difficult and painful time of my life when all of my doubts were finally being dealt with, that this darkness and self-hatred was  something I was destined to endure until I died. I remember this feeling, hopelessness, being all that I could feel for some time.

I was losing my faith. I was losing the core of who I thought I was. I’ve tried to describe this pain before but my words can’t do it justice. This was an involuntary reversal of that which I once KNEW; that my god existed, loved me, and had plans for my life. To know something and then to no longer know that something, especially something so vital to my own existence can be absolutely devastating.  It was for me.

For over two years I wanted to end my life every day. It seemed like the only way.

Eventually I began to accept who I had become, I stopped lying to myself  and calling myself a believer. I wasn’t anymore and for a long time I was ashamed of it. Eventually it became the thing I am most proud of.

Today I’m writing this for those of you that find yourselves in a place similar to where I was just  a few years ago. Those of you struggling to understand who it is that you are and to come to grips with the terms of  your existence. I’m writing today to tell those of you that fear god’s wrath or your family’s rejection that god is not a threat and a family that rejects you for being exactly who you are isn’t one worth having. I want you to know that you deserve to be exactly who you are without shame or fear. You don’t have to pretend if you don’t want to, nor do you have to meet anyone’s expectations.

I’m writing this because I know that there are thousands of you out there who, because of the idea that you are totally depraved and unworthy of anything but punishment has been pounded into you for your entire life, need to know these things;  this idea is irreconcilably wrong and you are not the first nor the last to endure this – you are a member of a family of people that prefer truth over comfort, happiness over devotion, and doubt over false certainty. You are a unique member of a community of millions of people that have been exactly in the midst of their own version of where you are now.  You need to know this. You need to know that even though right now you feel like no one else in the entire world understands the pain you feel and the loneliness of moving from one station in life to another – we do.

I’m writing this to say that, if you need it, my door is open. I’ll provide whatever advice you may need, bringing my own experiences into what you are dealing with or if you want I’ll just shut up and listen. I’m only an email away.

Why bother?

Many people don’t understand the drive I have to help people make it through their crisis of faith. To clear up any mystery or confusion, this isn’t in the least about “converting” people to atheism.  My goal is to make sure that the group of people that are most in need yet the most ignored have someone to turn to when all seems lost.  I don’t personally care if anyone seeking my help renounces faith all together, that would be selfish – I just want people to know that, no matter what,  it gets better and the result  is well worth the pain.

Suicide rates of gay teens and young adults are through the roof, though I haven’t seen any studies about people dealing with the results of a lost faith my own experience tells me that this too is driving suicide rates due to the despair that so often accompanies doubt.  I bother because I wish someone had bothered with me and I wish I would have had the courage to reach out to someone sooner than I did.

A side note, for The Church:

I know, I get it. This sounds absolutely awful coming from your perspective.  I’m potentially taking someone away from “salvation” and grace.  I totally understand why you might be upset at this prospect…but what I don’t think you understand is that these people hurt, they hurt in ways that you probably don’t understand and  I’m sorry to say it but you’ve probably had your chance to help …and unfortunately you probably blew it. The Church just isn’t good at helping doubters because the real issues never really get discussed. If you’ve never  been in those shoes it’s just not something you can understand much less help someone else with.  So, respectfully, I ask that you work with me here. If the lives of these people are as important to you as they are to me I need you to put away your dogma for a moment and consider the consequences of someone taking their life over doubt because of your inability to help them cope.   It may be the most important thing you ever do to just help someone find this page or some other resource for doubters. Please, put these lives first. If you know a member of your church or youth group and you think they need help please get in touch with me or someone else that can help, someone that’s been there.   There ARE doubters in your congregation, they may even be in your pulpit.

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written by
Matt is a former Christian who, through facing his own doubts found a life without faith. Now atheist he dedicates his life to helping people transition through stages of belief via private counseling. Matt is currently working on his first book - Embracing Doubt, and contributing to the dialogue between atheists, Christians, and skeptics.
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30 Responses to “It Gets Better: A Letter to Doubters”

  1. Reply Brother Jeff says:

    Matt, I'm on vacation in NY and don't have time to write much. But check out Dr. Marlene Winell's posts on Ex-C and on YouTube also. Religious Trauma Syndrome is at least part of what you are describing and yes, doubting Christians and ex-Christians need to be made aware of it! And, of course, so does the Church though they won't care and they aren't likely to acknowledge the fact that they do a tremendous amount of damage to many people.

    • Reply RevOxley says:

      Thanks Jeff, I've heard of it and have actually got some experience in counseling in traumatic events that I hope to use in this endeavor.

  2. Reply Lucid Sin says:

    A most profound piece of literature. I am proud to know people are out there much like myself. Your story is so much like my own. I have been down the path of philosophical introspection to the points of faith and Nihilism. I have gone from wanting to believe so greatly that I lied to myself and loved ones to seriously not giving a fuck. Both destinations are perilous, the latter being the worse. I too make great effort to life coach the youth in my area. Many do not see the amount of effort that goes into this endeavor, and may never comprehend why we do what we do. I applaud your efforts friend. Thank you.

  3. Reply ourwingsareburning says:

    This is a really awesome and touching gesture. Thanks for being so willing to help doubters get through their struggles. I know it was tough for me at first when my beliefs changed drastically and I can only imagine how much worse it must be to completely lose a belief in God altogether.

    I'll be posting this on my fb wall. I think it's a great thing that you're doing.

  4. Reply Darrin says:

    Matt. This is a well written, honest and very compassionate post. I really appreciate your words and the heart you display in it. You know a little of my story, and I have found your comments helpful. I would like to email you as well and hear your words. I think they would be really encouraging. Thanks again.

  5. Reply Eamonn P Keyes says:

    I'll be doing the same. The fear of punishment was the greatest for me, although I'd a lot of opposition from my family…I was 14 at the time. The piece above is inspirational, and I hope you get some response, although I doubt it. The churches guard their "property" jealously and certainly shun external help, particularly if it is diametrically opposed to their own interests.

    • Reply RevOxley says:

      I doubt that the Church will respond well at all, but you've got to give people the benefit of the doubt sometimes. I'll at least provide the opportunity.

  6. Reply Ben says:

    Thanks for the post, but I have a question to atheists, especially in comparison with agnostics. Do you ever doubt atheism?

    • Reply RevOxley says:

      You are forgetting that in my last post we discussed the definition of Atheism.� That being the absence of belief in god. You can't doubt what you fail to believe – the terms are incongruent…so to "doubt atheism" would instead be better termed as to "experience fits of belief".

      • Reply Ben says:

        OK a semantic game. That really doesn't change the question. Language is a tool to describe meaning, and I believe you understand my meaning and question.

        Also I did want to note that I replied to your post in a very methodical way and believe it describes atheism as a belief the way most academics (especially philosophers) would (even though most are agnostic, and some atheist). I understand that the New Atheists (Dawkins, Hitchens, Harris, etc.) would define as you do, although their definition is not held by most of the academic world (or so I presume from my interactions with leading scholars). The New Atheists, like extreme fundamental theists, tend to do "bad" philosophy.

        In addition, I would like you to check this out. It is related somewhat, but I felt it was a decent overview of the Christian theists' argument. It deals with the topic of atheism as a belief briefly. Let me know what you think. It is long though. http://vimeo.com/23938321 Please watch or listen to the whole thing. It is also on iTunes if you want to listen to it on your iPod or such. That is the way i did it.

    • Reply centdrops says:

      This question really makes no sense. Atheism is the lack of belief. There is nothing to doubt. You can only doubt an actual belief.

      I guess you are one of those people who think that atheism is a set of actual solid beliefs, like a religion, and that one of them includes the solid belief that a god \definitely and absolutely does not exist. Most atheists are agnostic about this as there is no way to test ot prove a neagative, unless the system can be shown to be internally inconsistent. Many people believe that they can do this with specific gods but not with any conceivable definition of "god". Some prominent philosophers define the cause of the universe as "god". If this turns out to be provably due to a random quantum fluctuation in potential energy then it would be silly to disbelieve in this version of "god". Of course, the hidden assumption in these "proofs" of the existence of the divine is that the supernatural in question is identical in name, qualities and character with whatever one or ones the arguer prefers or has been indoctrinated to believe in.

      • Reply Ben says:

        Actually, check any of your dictionaries. The term atheism is described as disbelief in a god. Check out my comments on Matt's July 19th post (http://ragingrev.com/2011/07/popular-misconceptions-the-definition-of-atheism/). I can understand your point that many people are really atheist agnostics, but it such a light I would be a theistic agnostic. I have used the term when leading philosophical discussions and groups. I usually introduce my philosophical framework by claiming that everyone is an agnostic whether they like it or not, even hardcore fundamental Christians. Christians usually disagree, but when they hear the argument, the thinkers typically agree to some extent. Christians believe that God is absolute truth and knowledge, but they also should respect the fact that within their paradigm, humans have only relative, limited knowledge. That is why they have faith (or belief) in a God who has absolute knowledge (or truth).

        Moving on. The question does make sense because for every action or thought there is an opposite (not necessarily an exact opposite though). Disbelief is still an action; therefore, doubt would be belief. Anyway, again as I stated to Matt above, this is a semantic game you are playing, or a red herring. My question is have you ever doubted atheism. I did, and that is why i am currently pursuing theism (and finding it surprisingly intellectual reassuring). For more information from a Christian point of view, I recommend checking out the link I posted above on my reply to Matt. It is a decent, concise argument from the Christian theist's viewpoint. I'm not saying you need to agree, but understanding the opponent will increase your total knowledge.

        Also, before labeling me a complete postmodernist, I do believe there exists absolute truth and we must act out of some degree of certainty, but I also respect the fact that nothing is truly certain (although the other is typically philosophically absurd (i.e. I do not exist)). Oh and finally, maybe I should have rephrase the question to ask, do you ever doubt scientism, materialism, secular humanism, nihilism, or naturalism? :)

        • Reply Mike says:

          Ben, to answer your question as a life-long atheist, yes there are times when I've wondered the if I'm wrong. What always puts me back on track is the idea that wrong or not, it has no real effect on my life. If a god does exist, he's either abandoned us or is watching without intervention, so what's the difference between believing in a god or not?

          Note, I'm not talking about religions. All religions as far as I'm concerned are man made for the sure purpose of controlling the masses. It was very helpful in our development as a species, but has no place in a modern world.

  7. Reply Sarah says:

    Sometimes it takes a person who has been there to tell their story. That's all it takes to help someone because then they at least know they are not alone in what they're going through.

  8. Reply Caprise says:

    I can't imagine being so compassionate and approachable all the time. The fact that you're in the world is a dear comfort, Matt. Thank you for all you do.

  9. Reply Carrie says:

    Matt – this is what I live with every day. It has been diagnosed as bipolar, ptsd, and ocd in my case (with three hospital stays, one 911 call, and many other scary events).

    I would LOVE to talk with people that understand but I do NOT want to give up my faith. "Adonai I believe, help Thou my unbelief". I still believe that I am under attack my negative and dark forces (the devil, evil, demons, bad energy, whatever you want to call it). I am in the process of learning how to cope and respond, but it is very difficult.

    • Reply RevOxley says:

      Thank you for your comment and your honesty. My door, as previously stated, is open and you are welcome to email me – if not, I encourage you to find someone you trust, that is level headed enough to be fair and empathetic with you to talk with.

  10. Reply Shannon Kish says:

    For me, no longer believing in a god has released that fear of failure with regards to being unfaithful or not good enough with god.

    • Reply RevOxley says:

      Thanks for the comment Shannon – I'd agree that no longer believing in god certainly prevents any fear of failing him, I think the toughest part is that space in the middle of belief and lack of belief where those fears are fully realized and confronted. It's the graduation from fear to freedom that I'd like to facilitate for those that need it.

  11. Reply John Duckworth says:

    Thanx its awesum to know that there is someone there to listen to me?

  12. Reply Jessica says:

    Thank you.

  13. Reply Nick says:

    Carrie, I am with you there. It is a very painful struggle. I want to be a priest but I don't know if I can do it anymore.

    Nick

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