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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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Appropriate Conduct for Christians

Twice in the last three weeks I’ve been witness to two different Christians in group settings openly ridiculing atheists and science. I’ve also in the past seen believers ridicule other believers of a different sort, a double standard by my book.

The first was at my favorite coffee shop, I was there early in the morning and a group of 12 or so men were having a Bible study. I was a little early for work so I decided to sit down for a bit and finish reading The Blind Watchmaker. I overheard one particular gentleman comparing any non-christian with dogs by saying that he expected  bad behavior from non-believers and other faiths because that’s just who they are just like he expected a dog to lick his behind. The same gentleman later said, “What takes more faith; believing that we crawled out of a swamp, or that god created us?” to much agreement from the group.

In this situation I patiently held my tongue, though I couldn’t help but shake my head in disgust.  I did later send an email to one of the participants that I happened to know, and last week I attended the study myself. Turns out these guys are really nice, were open to my discussion points on the parts of the Bible they were discussing, and welcomed me into the group very openly. I’ll continue attending. (I do intend to discuss their offenses eventually and write about this entire experience here on the blog.)

The second offense was from a guest pastor that held a moment of reflection at an event I volunteer for every couple months, a live music show that benefits my local arts guild. The pastors first words were a quote of Psalms 14:1, “The Fool hath said in his heart, there is no god”.  He continued to deliver a plea for salvation at a clearly secular event. I’ve yet to email this gentleman but I intend to explain that he need not pity this fool.

The point I’m trying to get to is that for some reason it’s ok to make fun of people and beliefs that aren’t your own in the Christian world and to even do so in a public setting, often with the assumption that those beliefs are so rare in your community that there won’t be anyone particularly offended by such things (and for those few that are, well – obviously they deserve it).

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The Appeal of Holy Books

Fred Phelps, the repugnant leader of Westboro Baptist Church and the  “God Hates Fags” protests at fallen soldiers funerals has one thing in common with Martin Luther King Jr., the most important figure in the civil rights movement of the 50’s and 60’s who died in pursuit of equal rights and treatment of all people. That one thing they held in common was that they both believe(d) that the Bible is the Word of God.

There aren’t two people that I can say are more different than these men, yet they are both believers in this supposed “holy” book and consider it the inspiration for their life’s work.  How can two people so unquestionably opposed to one another in every way believe that this book is inspired by their same god?

From the outside looking in it can be rather bizarre for the non-believer to understand why books like the Bible and the Qur’an hold such wide appeal, so much so that they are  the most printed books in the history of print and because so many people have faith in their words they are the most trusted and believed works of all time. What drives people to these books? Is it simply the tradition or do they hold some great advantage over other books to embed themselves into societies?  Most surely it’s a combination of things, but I’d like to examine why it is that the books are so beloved as well as why such seemingly different people can and do adhere to the same texts.

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Truth over Comfort

If you had to choose between truth and comfort which would you choose?

My last post talked about the very clear deception that occurs in Charismatic Christian churches, it was the truth but when I began recognizing this truth it was anything but comfortable.

Comfort, in my own words, is when your understanding of the world is something you are OK with. It’s when your way of seeing the world doesn’t have to be changed by anything because it doesn’t conflict with the way you want the world to be. Don’t get me wrong here, I’m not saying that a life of faith doesn’t have it’s challenges – what with denying your carnal desires and working to please the man in the sky all of your life – it’s tough for many that care enough to pursue it fully – but the idea of an afterlife of niceties kind of outweighs those cons.

I’ve always valued Truth…so much that I’ve often capitalized it as if the word Truth were just as good as the word God (actually, it’s better), the way I determine what is true has changed dramatically though; as I used to believe that if the Bible said it that it must be Truth. I didn’t even have to question that conclusion, my faith allowed for that to be so…it was comfortable to me and I had no reason to question it.

I remember when I first started feeling my doubts, it was very uncomfortable – kinda like sleeping on a bed of nails uncomfortable, it won’t kill you but it’s not a Serta™. It was at that point that I had to make a decision:  I could hush my doubts and try to forget that they had ever began…I could be comfortable where I was before or I could embrace the standard of evidence that I had been fully aware existed but ignored most of my life – I could pursue Truth despite comfort.  I didn’t know where it would lead me, I never expected to become an atheist but without fully knowing what the consequences would be – I told myself that it was Truth that I wanted, even if it hurt.

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Popular Misconceptions: Knowing Truth

In my last post I talked about how difficult it was to move from absolute belief not holding any belief and how, despite everything you know being turned on it’s head, that your experience can truly get better.

Today, I’d like to talk about the nature of knowledge. When I was a believer my understanding of knowledge was something entirely different from what it is today. I think it’s important that we rightly define it in order to understand what the word knowledge actually means. I know this probably sounds absolutely nuts to those of you that have never lived in the world of faith – but this was probably the most massive change in my psyche during my deconversion.

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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.

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Is Debating Theists Futile?

Many atheist activists take the time to debate and discuss religion with theists while others often assert the futility of such discussions.  I spend a good amount of time in discussion with theists and aside from the fact that I truly enjoy this type of discourse I personally find that the exercise is more often healthy for all parties involved than not.

Consider the following three examples:

Here in the deep south, in a small town where there are almost as many churches as people – many believers have never been exposed to such fundamentally differing opinions as my own rejection of the faith worldview in exchange for a naturalistic and evidence based approach to determining truth. In my discussions with “real life” people here I’ve come to realize that the vast majority of believers are under-prepared for this level of debate and in many cases find themselves admitting that they are ill-prepared and under educated in the tenets of their own faith.  Most of the time I’m the one that has to explain what the Bible says about any certain topic and I think that this fact has had an impact on many local believers in-so-much that they frequently commit themselves to better understanding their faith and even other view points.

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Moral Obligations: Reducing Faith, Increasing Understanding

Ever since I was very young I’ve felt an unexplainable drive to seek out , discover, and even defend truth, whatever that may be.  I think somehow this desire translated into a fervent religious belief through my teen years and a lengthy role in defending that belief.  That drive still exists, though my methods of determining exactly what is and is not true has changed entirely (from the view that truth was dictated by the Bible to the view that truth is dictated by the evidence is a pretty massive transition) and at this point I feel that the defense and propagation of that which is true transcends mere desire, but has moved into the realm of obligation.

For me,  it seems that the atheists, skeptics, Humanists, naturalists, rationalists,  and scientists of the world may even have a moral obligation to see that truth is not only spread (peaceably) but also defended in a world where the rational or empirical are often scoffed at – or worse.  When religious or otherwise irrational society largely dictates both social standards and the political environment there are some pretty severe consequences for virtually everyone that has to share space on this planet with them.  From homeopathy, to fundamentalists who refuse medical treatment for their children, to proponents of the Don’t Ask – Don’t Tell policy, and the denial of equal rights to homosexuals the majority largely decides what the rest of us can and cannot do, additionally these people will make victims of anyone and everyone in the name of their god.

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