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losing my religion

Losing at Losing my Religion – a 10 year perspective

For just over 10 years now I’ve been an atheist, an ex-Christian. After losing my religion I starting sharing the story of that journey, my difficulties with the church, and many of your stories as well. I’ve been talking privately with dozens of people ever since the first time I wrote down my story, and I’ve been touched by what it’s meant to you – and what your stories have meant to me.

During the first few years after I left the faith, I found myself driven toward kicking against the church with as much vigor as I could. I needed to see it’s defeat and I needed it to be done at my hands. I felt like everything leading up to my awakening had been a giant deception, and that was true – people, adult people – had lied to me in order to control me. They used their influence to teach me that my beliefs about god were determining factors in my eternity. I eventually modeled their behavior. I did the same thing to others. I also became as self deprecating as they were, as I learned to hate all the parts of myself that couldn’t meet the standards set forth by my benevolent but jealous god.

Eventually my vigor waned. I became more concerned about social justice; LGBT rights, the lives of black and brown people, the treachery of warmongering and death in countries inhabited by people poorer than anyone reading this can fathom, and the importance of separating church from state. It became clear to me that what was important was not my insistence on godlessness and controversy, but instead on humanity and the philosophical ideology of humanism and what reaching it’s ends would look like for underprivileged people. I thought – and maintain, that the church will destroy itself with no help from me. It will implode by the force of the immense anger and hate machine that churns inside it.

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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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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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The Slowest Process of my Life – Your Stories

The slowest process of my life (besides dying).

By Anonymous

Waking up from religion has been a multi-dimensional, multi-experiential process. You know the whole “layers of an onion” metaphor? In the case of extricating myself from religion, it’s more like peeling back layers of a multiverse with that uniquely painful phase involving the Sun (which hurt just as much as you might imagine). And what I’m realizing now is that, when it comes to esoteric thought or metaphysical questions, I don’t know that I’ll ever complete that peeling back. I’m too fascinated by philosophical questions and the idea of metaphysics. And not to sound whiney because I’m not, it’s just fact that these interests, combined with my rejection of religion places me on an island, playing with a ball I’ve named Wilson, knocking my own teeth out with the available ice skate lying around. But I also wonder if, after so much group time and the resultant group think, if this isn’t actually a good thing. I’m fine with the idea that for the rest of my life, 40-50 years if I’m really lucky, I’m supposed to be learning how to think independently and be okay with myself when other people disagree with my premises or conclusions.

I’ve been waking up from religion for the past 12-14 years. It’s hard to pinpoint a date because honestly I’ve always questioned the presuppositions and events that I was supposed to take on faith that flew in the face of not only science, but actual, historical human experience. I was never encouraged to take any biblical teaching metaphorically. Everything was literal and the Bible was treated as an historical document. An old high school youth group friend of mine recently asked me if I felt that all the beliefs that I, until recently, had been challenging resulted from our shared 2-3 year experience at X Church. And this is where things get tricky because so much of what I feel I was taught was actually taught very indirectly. So indirectly, I’m surprised to find out, that many of my peers can’t relate to my extrapolation of the teachings we were both taught. And I know these beliefs I no longer hold didn’t come from home because while it was an unspoken expectation that I was a born-again Christian who was anti-abortion and pro-republican, we simply never spoke about it. The Bible wasn’t cracked open at my house for family time. It just wasn’t the way my family operated.

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The Role of the Ex-Christian in the Church

Despite my moniker to the contrary I actually try to be the voice of calm reason when I talk to believers; and trust me when I say it, I talk to a lot of believers. Many of these conversations happen with what one might call “infant Christians” or new converts to the Christian faith – I find myself drawn to them because I know that they’ve likely just experienced an incredible emotional high that led to their “salvation” and I want to try to guide them into a faith that is more than just a culmination of feelings that occurred one Sunday morning at church. I’m an Ex-christian now, an atheist even.

When I was a Christian in my early and mid teens I had a mentor that felt it was important to train me up in the doctrines of my faith. He put me under a rigorous method of study, gave me books to read, and introduced me to collegiate level concepts when I was still a teenager. Despite the many flaws of this man he did one thing that so many are failing to do in the church today: he ensured that I knew how to study and think. He knew that this study would generate a thirst for more knowledge in me, and he was absolutely right – it did. Without this mentor in my life I doubt I could have ever studied to the point at which I was able to question the concept of god, much less the basic tenets of my faith. Why is that? and why is this seemingly missing from so many churches today?

I don’t believe an individual can truly question the fundamentals of any concept without having a working grasp of that concept.

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