It’s been well over two years now since I first admitted to myself that I no longer believed in a god. Two years. Wow. That isn’t a massive amount of time by any stretch of the imagination, but when I look at all that has transpired in those two short years, I’m astounded at what I’ve learned, how I’ve grown and what I’ll carry with me for the rest of my life.
As stated before, this blog was originally a way for me to tell others that cared for me about the how and the why I lost faith. What I didn’t expect was how beneficial it would be to me to put my thoughts down on “paper.” To sort through every struggle with belief and faith so publicly helped me land where I have in a huge way. It challenged me on my conclusions and opinions. My personal growth from this blog has been invaluable and to all that have contributed in either agreement or disagreement, again, thank you. I’m a better person because of it.
I posted back in August about how I was smothered by the atheist community and that feeling has subsided greatly due to my voluntary removal of many aspects of debate and discussion in that arena. Stepping back as I have has been as beneficial as being active in it as I could fully take stock of where I’m at in a peaceful way and just focus on getting back to being Nate. It’s been wonderful.
So, I’m here today to lay out some things I’ve learned along the path to atheism in as non-confrontational a way as possible. I hope that believers, agnostics and atheists alike can all take something away from this.
1 – Relationships Will Be Tested
The moment I admitted to my wife that I wasn’t a believer anymore ranks among the loneliest and hardest discussions I’ll ever have. Telling my parents was every bit as terrible, but with the death of one of their sons so fresh in their minds, it was actually worse in some major ways.
Extended family and friends all took it well enough. Sometimes there’s a snide comment made in my direction which is generally harmless, but sometimes can be annoying. Only when they’re in overabundance does it ever bother me, but I generally like to respond with my own barbs about their belief. In some contexts it’s a wonderful way to be topical about our disagreements and I enjoy the back and forth, but sometimes I just wish people would lay off.
2 – You’ll Know Who Loves You For You
I feel extremely fortunate in this category because I feel that while some relationships have changed, I haven’t really lost anybody in my life. I’ve actually gained some new friends that are believers that either tried to evangelize to me or just honestly wanted to hear what I had to say.
It’s odd, but my wife and I decided recently that the reason I’ve been able to hold onto so many relationship with my believing friends is partly due to me being as extroverted as I am and also because I was such a lukewarm Christian. None of my friendships were built with Christ as it’s foundation. Sure that was certainly an aspect of my relationships, but never the pillar on which they stood.
Sadly, I know a good handful of former believers that have lost their entire social circle because of this very issue. If Christ is the foundation of which you associate with people and you lose that foundation, people will have a hard time relating to you on another level. If he’s merely an aspect of it, the primary characteristics of the relationship are largely unchanged.
3 – You’re Going To Bend, But You Won’t Break
Believers used to tell me a lot about doubts that they’d had about Jesus and the bible. About times that were trying. As a former believer, I’d been there myself.
What I can promise is that no believer can fully understand what the process of fully leaving belief is like. The emotional and mental toll it takes on you is beyond exhausting. Not only are you in a struggle for truth and fighting your own mind’s cognitive bias, but you’re fighting off the assault of platitudes and “help” from believers that not only don’t understand what you’re going through, they actually are incapable of it. This is not a knock on believers, but a mere fact that their minds can’t wrap around even the possibility of there being no god. I used to be the same way.
The loneliest points of my life were about 5 months after I left religion. I felt I had no voice and to those that would hear me, they simply couldn’t follow where I was going and frankly, I don’t think any of them wanted to.
Throughout all that time where I felt I was alone, I was on the internet reading and watching debates on YouTube. I found communities of other struggling believers and atheists to talk to. I made friends locally with people that had fallen out of belief.
If you’re in a journey of your own, look for others like yourself. The internet can be your greatest tool. Hold fast to the naggings in your brain that something doesn’t add up. You’ll get through it and you’ll live! You have so much wonder and knowledge to gain!
Even at my most miserable, I tried to focus on an unwavering search for truth or to put it as Carl Sagan did:
“It is far better to grasp the universe as it really is than to persist in delusion, however satisfying and reassuring.”
4 – You Have To Be Brave
The best analogy I’ve heard so far about leaving belief is that it’s like climbing a ladder against a wall your whole life. One day, you realize that your ladder was placed against the wrong wall so you’re left with an enormous and difficult decision: do you turn a blind eye towards these thoughts and keep climbing, or do you brave climbing down the ladder, repositioning it against the correct wall and start climbing all over again?
I had a rather shocking discussion with the leader of a local church a year ago. He was gracious and listened well to my thoughts on religion and the idea of gods. I was beyond stunned when he actually threw in his own thoughts that only added to mine. Then he floored me. He admitted to me that when he was a younger man he hit a fork in the road in his belief. He felt that he didn’t really believe it anymore and took stock of where he was at socially, professionally and within his family. He told me directly that he knew that if he left religion at that point that he’d destroy his social status and circle. He’d be ostracized from family and he’d be alone. He then decided to stay in belief. Yes, that conversation actually happened.
For that man, moving down the ladder and putting it against the wall he felt may be truth was too much pain, trouble and sacrifice. He chose to keep climbing because it was easier.
While I can’t fault him for the path he chose, I certainly don’t hold any respect for his taking the easy way out.
Always be brave in everything you do. Especially in a battle for your mind.
5 – People Will Constantly Think You’re Mad At God
I spoke about this briefly in #3, but believers are literally incapable of understanding what you’re thinking. It’s not their fault. They’ve simply never ever, ever, ever been able to even slightly consider that there’s a chance that their god is simply not real. As I said before, I used to be the same way.
Since they cannot fathom a person actually not believing in a god, they will project their own conclusions onto you. This generally means that they’ll assume you certainly do still believe in god (because come on…how could you not?) and that you’re just mad at him for some misfortunes in your life.
I used to battle these people and assure them that this simply isn’t the case, that I can’t be mad at something I don’t believe in, but it never worked. I finally just stopped trying. They weren’t listening so I stopped talking.
6 – You Can’t Shut Off These Thoughts
This one I can’t stress enough. When your mind is filled with doubts, inconsistencies and problems with your faith, you can’t stop thinking about it. It used to consume me back in college and it almost ate me alive 2 years ago.
Once these questions get a foothold in your head, it’s incredibly hard to get rid of them.
Pretty much the only defense is deciding to keep climbing the ladder and shrug them off. Shut down your mind and just keep living. It’s much simpler than going to the conclusions of your questions.
7 – You Can’t Believe Something Your Mind Rejects
More people told me to just decide to love Jesus than you’d believe. What I tried to convey to these people was that I can’t make my mind believe something it rejects.
It’s like telling someone to decide that the color yellow really looks much more like a purple than yellow. That yellow actually is purple. It make no sense.
8 – You’ll Feel Pity For Your Friends And Family
I say this with no condescension or negativity implied. It’s not a pat on the head type of pity, but more a sympathy for the developmental jail that your loved ones are stuck in.
I’ve had grown men that aren’t members of my family breakdown and cry in public with me. I’ve had countless threats of hell. I’ve been told my family will fall apart because I don’t have Jesus. I’ve been assured that my atheist friends aren’t actually my friends because they lack the love of Jesus. You’ll see family weep at the thought of you burning forever.
It’s at these moments, when you most see the fear aspect of belief rear it’s head that you’ll feel the most sad for your loved ones. Their minds are in a cage made out of fear.
Some will assure you over and over that it’s not about fear, that it’s about a loving relationship with cuddly Jesus, but when your relationship with Jesus is like a wife batterer that says, “Love Me or else….”, you’re in a bad, fear based way of believing, thinking and feeling.
9 – You Can Help Far More People Than You’d Imagine
This was the most positive thing that happened by far. The more I verbalized my unbelief and the braver I got, the more people reached out to me. I’d get private messages asking me more questions. People would open up to me about their great struggles with belief. They’d thank me over and over for giving words to their thoughts and for being someone safe to talk to.
I’d come to find that most people in deep doubt not only felt alone, but they felt shame for thinking what they were thinking. Being vocal about your unbelief stands to help many people around you.
This sounds incredibly brash to believers, but I’ve been responsible for taking more believers away from Jesus than taking people to Jesus. Turns out most of them only needed a push that doubting was okay, that they weren’t crazy and that they weren’t alone.
10 – You’ll Be Much Happier And More At Peace
This is a big one and it’s one I still think most believers find the hardest to believe. I’m actually more happy and at peace now than I have ever been in my life. Hands down.
My mind is at ease without having to cram reality into my religion, but just taking reality at face value. I don’t struggle with the thoughts of the problem of evil or freewill or hell or the failings of prayer. I don’t worry about the souls of my friends and family. I feel free to love people as they are and not what religion taught me they should be.
People are beautiful and amazing. We’re not born broken or into sin. We simply are.
Now, as I’ve stated in the past, is the best part of life: living. I live a life unshackled by dogma or fears of hell and I hope that one day more of you will know exactly the type of living I’m referring to.
My virtual door is always open to discussion on religion, but I rarely debate anymore as it grew especially tiresome. So, if you want to dialogue about belief then lets make it happen! If you’d rather talk at me instead of to me then feel free to move along.
If anyone that has read this would like more information about atheism or even just wants an ear to listen or a support system, please feel free to reach out to me at firstname.lastname@example.org. It’s not my goal to convert people. I just want to help people, even if that means we never fully agree. Live and let live and all that jazz.
Take excellent care of one another.