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Grief and the loss of your faith

Moving Mountains

A poem written while reflecting on the loss of faith and the beginnings of my own personal grief.

This particular post is being written with the ex-christian and ex-believer who has embraced atheism or agnosticism in lieu of their former faith. This is done because this is where my best experience lies, however – for those that leave their faith for another many of these same words will ring true, and so I hope you will still read and take from it what you can – and share with me your own experiences if you are so willing.  I don’t write in this way to alienate anyone and I hope my words don’t do so – my goal is to provide those experiencing these emotions with some feeling of normalcy over what is happening and an understanding that they are not alone.
 
 

A couple days ago Neil Carter over at Patheos’ Godless in Dixie (Which is currently my favorite atheist blog btw) was gracious enough to use one of my posts from 2011 as a guest post on his very popular blog. That post, entitled “It Get’s Better: A Letter to Doubters” has made the round a number of times since I originally published it 4 years ago now and I’ve always felt like I’ve needed to follow up on it in some fashion, if you haven’t read it – I recommend you do. The emails and comments I’ve received since it’s appearance on Godless in Dixie have confirmed that need more than ever – and so today I want to discuss the process of grief and the loss of your faith.

The Death of Faith

Traditionally grief is a process that occurs after the death of a loved one and for many in the ex-christian and ex-believer communities the loss of their faith is very similar to the death of a loved one. I personally believe that just how death-like this process might be depends on how sincere and life consuming one’s faith has been – but even the nominal believer will experience the symptoms of loss when recognizing that he or she no longer holds the same beliefs that once rang true.  In other words – the devotion you have to your god or faith will be directly proportional to the pain you will feel as that faith dies.

This faith death is often spurred by a series of realizations, often the embracing of doubts that have long been quieted by the desire to leave well enough alone. Whether it be a recognition that  your particular holy book doesn’t meet the criteria for evidence and truth that you once thought it did, or  the epiphany that your own cognitive biases have held you in a belief system that new information simply can no longer reconcile. Whatever the reason and however abruptly or agonizingly long this death takes to occur the end result will seem very confusing and difficult to explain – most people say that they feel alone in the world and, despite a sense of data overload that accompanies all the new information coming to you about the faith you no longer hold, a sense of quietness that seems unlike any other that you may have experienced before.

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The Day I Gave Up My Hindu Faith

Krishna

Today we have another episode of “Your Stories”. It’s been a while since I’ve been able to post one of these, but this one comes from a friend of mine who shared this on his Medium account – when I read it I knew I had to share it with my own readers and help them follow the posts he’ll be using to follow up from this one. So please, follow my friend Prashant Patel on Medium so that you can read the next in this series as I’m positive they’ll be informative posts that you can reflect on and identify with. While Prashant is an ex-Hindu turned atheist – people from any religious background should recognize many of the same feelings portrayed here.

This was originally posted on Prashant’s Medium Page Here.

I’m writing this to explain why I moved on from my religion. I have been asked many times about how it happened and I often think about this most when I think of the event that pushed me over the edge. So here’s that event and the context. In the future, I’ll be writing about what effect this has had on my life and what it could mean for you should you also be questioning your own faith.

The Context

So first of all, it didn’t really all happen in one day. For me, it was gradual with some major turning point along the way (I suspect the same is true for many people who change some important viewpoint they hold). My major turning point was September 27, 2003 (11 years ago today).

It all really began a few years before that day. Our temple had youth education known as Balvihar (it’s pretty much like Bible study or Sunday school for Hindus). Younger children were regaled with various religious mythology and how the heroes of history overcame the evils that threatened our world. As we got older, we were moved into a different group where we sat with a respected member of our community and discussed various religious texts we had been assigned to read. Our discussions often focused on why we maintained certain traditions and held certain beliefs. These discussions are what led to my first debates about my faith. I’m purposely not going into details because you already know the problems with major religions and it won’t add anything to this story. Anyhow, these debates were the tremors leading up to the earthquake that was September 27, 2003.

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Four Refutations for Pascal’s Wager

Pascal's Wager Word CloudOne of the most common and over used defenses for the Christian faith, and any faith really, is that of Pacal’s Wager – It’s so common and so overused that I was recently on the receiving end of it at a live formal debate (GodornoGodDebate.com). A lot of people, despite hearing it all the time and despite the obvious logical fallacies employed – still have a difficult time answering it, and so I present to you four refutations for Pascal’s Wager.

Defining Pascal’s Wager

Blaise Pascal (1623-1662) was a French child prodigy, mathemetician, and physicist – who invented one of the first mechanical calculators. Toward the end of his short life he turned to Christian philosophy and his most famous contribution is  known today as Pascal’s Wager. I’ll not bother to go into the deeper background of the wager – as no one ever presents it the way Pascal actually did, but I’m going to present the Wager in the same way it’s always been posited to me:

“What if you are wrong?”

or

“If I’m right I go to heaven and you go to hell. If you are right we are both worm food – why wouldn’t you just believe what I believe to be on the safe side?”

These are generally the basic premises presented, with little deviation. Now, what are my refutations for Pascal’s Wager?

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What You Lose when Losing Your Religion

losing-my-religon-vibe

Neil Carter, over at Godless In Dixie recently wrote a great piece on what he gained when he left his religion which inspired me to consider all that I’ve lost in losing my religion. There are, inherently, a lot of built in benefits to holding to religion and maintaining a religious belief – especially if that belief is the predominant one in your community, country, or family but I find this idea largely unexplored by atheist and ex-christian writers. Losing your religion has lots of pro’s and con’s considering your particular station in life – so, what might you lose?

1: An immediate and supportive community.

Within most religions and Christianity especially there are strong communities built around churches. Stepping away from the faith meant that I was a leper in my former community, where I could call someone for help anytime I needed it and had built in job references from people that had known me for many years. I had people that, so long as what I had to say was approved, would stand behind me and support me.

There are supportive atheist communities  out there, that’s important to note, but they are small and struggling to grow in small towns like mine. It’s just not the same as having hundreds of people in support of one another (again, so long as the message isn’t deviated from) the minute you join a church and become an active member. The effort required to have huge amounts of built in friends is incredibly low – as an atheist in a small town, especially as the type of atheist that is active in the community, it takes a great deal of work and networking to build any sort of clout with people.  (As a small business owner, this is incredibly important.)

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Mailbag – Why Did You Leave the Church?

mailbag

I know it’s been a while since I’ve posted anything, that’s largely because I’ve been preparing for a live debate coming up on September 17th between myself and Rip Snow in Waycross, GA. Go to www.GodorNoGoddebate.com for more information on that.

 

I thought I should probably try to push out a little bit of interesting content none-the-less since all of the stuff I’m currently working on is into the 3000+ word area and nowhere near complete (Running a growing business and having a full-time job leaves me with very little time for writing). That said, I thought I’d open up a new section called The Mailbag – where you can submit questions or comments and I’ll respond.

 

To submit something to the mailbag either tweet me @Revoxley using the hashtag #mailbag or submit it through the Contact Me form.


 

Today’s mailbag comes from a Facebook message from Clint W.

Clint W. writes:

 

My question was why did you leave the church, because of who Jesus is or because of who the church is? I can see someone being disillusioned with the church because of people in the church but I have never seen anything Jesus does in scripture to make me even considering leaving the faith. Matter of fact with the words of Christ I have such an understanding of how much we as the church miss the mark. But it also makes me strive to be able to serve him the best I can.

 

Thanks for writing Clint. I get that more often than you might think – and the honest answer to the question is that I left the faith because of who Jesus wasn’t. Or, better yet – because I simply couldn’t believe in who the Bible claimed he was. Don’t get me wrong, I had suffered a great deal of disappointment at the hands of Christians – but I always tried my best not to judge the faith by the faithful. I still do. As I studied and got deeper into an understanding of the Bible I realized that so many of the claims around Jesus were simply unsubstantiated, and I was unable to maintain any faith in him or in God at all.

 
I simply don’t believe that there are any credible accounts for Jesus’ life. So, none of the written accounts are credible enough to believe – and because of that I find it impossible to hold Jesus in the position that I once did. Whether or not the authors of the synoptic gospels believed that Jesus was Lord is irrelevant, because their accounts aren’t trustworthy since they weren’t written down until at least 30 years after his alleged death, so I don’t have a reason to believe the story they tell.

 

Whether or not Jesus was even a real person is a better starting point than whether or not the accepted Christology of Jesus is true today, but we are expected to take the word of scribes who probably never met the man and who had their own agendas to push about who he was.  I also find that the Jesus that Matthew, Mark, and Luke talk about is generally different than the Jesus talked about in John and that Paul believed in – the latter being the focal point of Catholic Christology at the Nicene Council and still largely accepted to this day.

 

The fact of the matter is that I truly wanted to believe in Christ more than anything on the planet, most notably while I was losing my faith, but after enough time I just couldn’t and nothing I did – no amount of prayer or study could fix it. I had to eventually become OK with that fact, and I am.

Thanks again, and remember that you can submit something to the mailbag either tweet me @Revoxley using the hashtag #mailbag or submit it through the Contact Me form.  While you’re at it subscribe to my new YouTube channel – I’m working on lots of new content right now.

Choosing Hell

Choosing Hell

Choosing Hell: Leaving faith against your will

 

Any atheist who has spent any time talking with or debating with theists is going to have heard it at least a dozen times, “You have just chosen not to believe” or “You’ve chosen one faith over another faith” or some derivative of this idea. Personally, I’ve heard it hundreds of times – largely because of my status as an apostate.

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Gut Check for the New Atheist Jerks

Note: In this post you’ll notice that I lump various groups into a single group. I call atheists, skeptics, agnostics, and etc all Humanists – largely based on the assumption that most of us are. If you don’t identify as a humanist please don’t take offense to this post or that categorization, it was done for the sake of simplifying the language of the post and for the sake of brevity. For the sake of clarity I am providing a link to the Humanists Manifesto II.

– – –

New atheists, we non-believers who dare to speak out against the evils we perceive inherent to religion, are consistently victims of a great number of stereotypes.  “Atheist jerks” or “angry atheists” are pretty common perceptions among those who maintain a faith system, but now it seems that those within our congregation might be growing weary of the people that cause these brash stereotypes to befall  the rest of us.

Don Rasmussen recently implored his fellow atheists to “stop being jerks” and identifies a number of things that he believes atheists should stop doing in order to improve our public image. Most of the things he alludes to — suing to keep manger scenes off of public property, suing to keep religious displays out of schools, etc. — really aren’t so ‘jerky,’ as they are intended to enforce the establishment clause of the Constitution, but that doesn’t mean that Mr. Rasmussen doesn’t make some very good points.

He says,

How can I ask 27 million Texans to put up with me if I act like they not only disgust me, but I’m entitled to legislate my disgust upon them?  How many nativity scenes have to be banned before Christians accept me? It’s a ridiculous strategy that makes enemies, divides people and carves up freedom; throwing away the parts that aren’t easily digestible.

In small part here, I think Mr. Rasmussen is dead on but please allow me to correct bits of it:

I don’t believe that lawsuits over manger scenes curtail freedom at all, people are allowed to put manger scenes on their private property all day long and I’d never even suggest that lawsuit is appropriate – it’s the fact that we all pay for the public lands and grounds that makes it reasonable to protect them from religious display.

Where Rasmussen is correct though is that it DOES divide people, and it DOES make enemies.  Atheists today don’t need more enemies and our country doesn’t need more division.

I’d like to pose an alternative to the American Atheists model of throwing lawsuits at every cross they find – here’s a screen cap from something I posted on my Facebook page in June of 2012:

American Atheists

This model doesn’t focus on being in the right, it focuses on being good and doing good.

I’m going to call this model the “Do it better” model. You see, atheists and agnostics don’t have a deity telling them what to do – we don’t have a James 1:27 telling us to care for widows and orphans like Christians, and unlike Muslims, we don’t have the zakat requiring that a percentage of our income go into helping the poor. What we do have, what all humanists have,  is a shared existence on this planet with theists. That shared existence leads me to a humanists  philosophy that requires as much social endeavor toward goodness as any other philosophy might but for some reason this endeavor hasn’t manifested itself in these cost efficient, good ways of helping real people.

I propose that we atheists of the world put our humanism into practice first before we concern ourselves with litigation and division. I propose that we solve what the combined efforts of Christianity and Islam have failed to do for the last couple of millennia  by focusing the bulk of our efforts on the truly important things: ensuring that the people in our world can eat, protecting the weak from abuse, and ensuring that liberty is extended to all people. I’d like to do these things better than those with a mandate to do so. I believe that this sort of action would not only repair the damage done to the atheist/humanist/skeptic/agnostic communities by fundamentalist religion thru the hate and propaganda we’ve earned by spending our time on less pertinent actions – it will also endear us in the hearts and minds of those we’ve taken the time to do good for. When we’ve become what people expect from big religion we won’t have to worry about fighting legal battles anymore because people will respect us enough not to push those buttons.

One of the giant 1.1 Million dollar crosses that have been built across the country by Cross Ministries

One of the giant 1.1 Million dollar crosses that have been built across the country by Cross Ministries

The way to transition from the most hated minority in the USA isn’t to call the ACLU every time someone wastes money and effort on a public religious display or spends millions of dollars erecting giant crosses throughout the country – it’s to do what they should be doing with their time, effort, and money: fulfilling the duties they are currently too distracted to worry with.

Let’s face it, they have more money and power than us – but I believe we have the compassion required to do this right around the world.  Let them spend 1.1 million dollars on a giant white cross in the American South (because we don’t have enough crosses around here) while we spend our efforts on food banks in our local communities and finding other ways to help real people with real problems. Without the distraction and threat of Hell we can focus on real problems.

Now, let me be clear for just a moment – I don’t believe that all Christians and all Muslims do nothing for other people. I don’t believe that at all. I know that the majority of the charity in the world comes from people that are either Christian or Muslim, of course – one would expect that considering they consume the majority of the population. Consider, however, that so much of the charitable giving that Christians do goes directly to their churches and then directly into overhead – like pastor salaries, staff salaries, building mortgages, taxes, and evangelism that simply isn’t focused on helping people in “non spiritual” ways. So little of the donations churches receive actually goes into feeding the hungry that it’s an absolute travesty – I suspect that if most Christians were more aware of the expenditures of their church they’d actually pull out (and you do, by the way, have the right to view the financial records of any church you are a member of – it’s the law). These “charitable” businesses simply aren’t efficient at helping people, even if well meaning members and donors believe they are!

Humanists, atheists, agnostics – the whole lot of us should rethink how we do things. I think I’ve given a brief argument for the way I think we can do good and make our name good:

We can do what they should be doing better than they are. It’s really that simple and it starts with me.


Book Review: Hope After Faith by Jerry DeWitt

Available on Amazon in Hardcover and on Kindle

I first became aware of Jerry DeWitt as he became the first person to “graduate” from The Clergy Project, a collaboration between many atheist and humanist organizations that provides a private forum for members of the clergy looking to quietly pursue a way out of their positions, or simply for moral support. I have friends in The Clergy Project and have applied myself, in fact the last post here on RagingRev was from one of it’s members that has since died.

Jerry’s story has brought a great deal of publicity to The Clergy Project; but I always felt that there was more commotion and rhetoric, one-liners, and hubbub than there should be – a common theme in the meme driven atheist community of today. I’m more interested in Jerry’s story though, which is why I’m so glad to have the opportunity to read his book:  Hope After Faith – An Ex Pastor’s Journey from Belief to Atheism.

Hope After Faith

In his book, the formerly Reverend Jerry Dewitt walks us through his 25 year journey beginning as a 17 year old United Pentecostal (aka Oneness Pentecostalism) evangelist in and around the small town of DeRidder, LA. As his story progresses and various tragedies strike both Jerry’s family and his parishioners he reveals glimpses of his doubts as they slowly surface and as he tucks them away again and again.

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J’s Transition: From Brownsville Revival to Atheist

This is the second edition of “Your Stories” – a bi-weekly feature here on RagingRev.com from my readers featuring your own stories of doubt and leaving the faith. Today you’ll find a reader who wishes to remain anonymous (we’ll call him J), but who I have known for probably 10 years now and how he was converted to Christianity as a young teen at the Brownsville Revival and then was later plagued with doubts and questions.

J and I have known one another as both Christians, and now as unbelievers. We explored many of the questions we had about our faith together along with a few other friends (whom will be sending in their own stories later) together and we’ve seen the transition from men of faith to men of doubt happen.

J’s story is very similar to my own, I remember wishing that I could go down to Brownsville to be  a part of the great Revival happening there. I remember being told by my mentor in the faith that I could be the reason the next great awakening occurred. I wanted it badly enough that I could taste it.

* * *

My childhood was quite chaotic. I moved a lot, living between my parents and my various grandparents. Things were always a bit uncertain but one thing was consistent and that was church. When living with my grandparents I would always go to church, sometimes up to three services a week. I attended Assembly of God churches, Lutheran churches, and everything in between. Pretty much every denomination besides Catholicism. Christianity was engrained in me from a very early age and was the only lens I had to view the world through. During my early childhood I accepted God at face value. As I continued to grow into my teen years I lived with my parents. We would go to church off and on, always during key holidays or visits to my grandparents. My parents were more the “we believe in God” but weren’t overly religious types. Over the years church became a chore, something I found boring. Once I was a teenager I pretty much hated the thought of going to church. My mother had remarried at this point and I was a rather stubborn teen. I hated everyone and everything. I barely got along with any of my family and would constantly fight. Around this time though my father’s side of the family became very religious, much more so than usual. Though this wasn’t your typical “churchy” kind of obsession.

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Letting Go – Sarah’s Story

I’ve decided to start doing a regular segment on RagingRev.com from readers who want to tell their own story about how they came out of their faiths. If you, as a reader, would like to submit your story please use the Contact Me link at the top of the page. This segment will be called Your Stories.

– – –

“What do you do when you are having doubts about God? “ I asked.

“You pray about it.” She replied.

This is the short conversation that took place in my 11th grade Sunday school classroom. I had attended the First Baptist Church in my hometown for as long as I could remember. I was there every Sunday, every Wednesday evening and for most any other church sponsored event every week. When I was eight years old, I made my way up the aisle to tell the preacher that I wanted to accept Jesus into my heart and I was baptized the following week. I never really felt like God was speaking to me the way other people described hearing him speak to them. I only decided to speak to the preacher because I felt obligated to. It seemed like everyone expected it, especially considering that everyone was so happy and proud of my little brother for doing it the week before.

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