Sometimes, all of this just doesn’t feel real to me. My atheism, my deconversion, my emergence into true rationalism, my forsaking of superstition, turning my back on cognitive dissonance. When I sit down and think about it all, I can easily remember why I gave it up. It’s the times when my mind is distracted, venturing elsewhere, that I catch myself falling back into old ways of thinking. It’s like a reflex. When those times come, I can’t help but think I am pretending. As though I am living my life one way, professing to believe something, but when my conscious mind isn’t looking, I actually believe something else. It’s like I am living a lie. Do I really believe it all?
Old habits die hard, I guess.
I was lucky in that I never had particularly negative experiences with religion. I firmly believe that religion had a negative impact on me, but it was never from the people. I was never abused, shamed, ostracized, coerced, or anything of the nature. I did suffer from self-abuse because of my religion though. The christian mindset fed my already present self-loathing. It gave justification to the voices in my head calling me useless, worthless, tainted, destructive. I believed I was inherently harmful to everyone around me, everyone I loved, and my worldview gave credence to all of that. I truly believed that I was despicable and not worth anything. This is where the concept of grace had a strangle-hold on my mind. It wasn’t until I was able to conquer my depression and silence those voices that I realized I didn’t need grace. I am worth it for my own merits!
Despite the self-hatred I faced, the bulk of my religious experiences were quite positive. I loved the community. Believing in something larger than myself really did provide a sense of comfort. When faced with the unknown, it was nice to just believe that a supreme being who had my best interests in mind was looking out for me, somehow. In fact, one of the most tumultuous times in my life, when I moved from my small hometown in Oregon to university in the suburbs of Vancouver, British Columbia, with no clue how I was to pay for it, god was an intense source of comfort for me. I even carried around a little card with a picture of Jesus and the Serenity prayer from Reinhold Niebuhr used in the Alcoholics Anonymous twelve-step program.
“God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
The courage to change the things I can,
And the wisdom to know the difference.”
I cannot even begin to explain how much this comforted me. Looking back at it, I realize I made it through university by my own perseverance and will power, not by the grace of some supreme being. When money was short, I looked everywhere for scholarships, loans, work, etc., to pay for it. I didn’t give up, partly because I had faith, but mostly because I wanted my education more than I had ever wanted anything in my entire life. Sure, when unused scholarship money popped up, I saw it as god’s intervention, but in reality, a school like mine always had scholarship money left over. I was a good student, a very good student, it wasn’t a risk for them to give it to me. I simply needed it, and it was there, like it often was. I just had the gall to ask the administration if there was anything they could do.
But this is exactly my point. I can rationalize everything that happened when I think back on it. But it is incredibly difficult to shake the feeling of divine protection, of grace. My feelings about those situations still push me back towards god. Towards religion. That is a struggle I face every day. I face a situation the outcome of which I cannot be sure, and my mind reflexively returns to the idea that it will all be okay because god is looking out for me.
This is why I am so outspoken in my disbelief and why I hugely support atheists, particularly deconverts, in their speaking out against religion. Often the argument is made that atheists shouldn’t be so outspoken, the reasoning varies vastly, but the conclusion is so often the same: “just drop it, the more you speak out, the more it looks like you just aren’t convinced of what you are saying.” Or some such statements. I speak out and support speaking out because I know how easy it is to fall back into old habits, to regress. Sure, perhaps I haven’t experienced direct abuse from the church, but many, many of us have. It wouldn’t be overly detrimental to my well being to backslide, but it would be hugely so for many of you. I often use the example of getting out of an abusive relationship. All too often, suffers of abuse return to their abusers, for a myriad of reasons, but they return nonetheless. It’s not at though they don’t remember the abuse they received, but emotionally they can get drawn back. Seth Andrews over at “The Thinking Atheist” has an AMAZING video on this subject that you should definitely watch:
That right there is why I fight. Not for myself, though it does help remind me of why I left, but for ANY of my fellow deconverts who are escaping what can only be described as abuse, continual and habitual abuse, direct or self-inflicted and informed by your religion. You deserve SO MUCH BETTER. You are better off without christianity (or whatever religion you left, obviously christians aren’t the only ones guilty of this). You left for a reason and I can’t let you forget what those reasons are. I know how easy it is for me to backslide, I can only imagine how much harder is for you. Regardless of the things that threaten to draw you back, remember the closing words of Seth’s video: “You are FREE.” That is what matters.
Maybe it isn’t such a bad thing to fight those feelings that pull us backwards with logic and rationalism. Afterall, isn’t that how many of us got here in the first place? It certainly can’t be a bad thing to remind ourselves the reasons for leaving. They are good reasons. The draw back is only natural. It is the fight against that draw that sets us apart; that makes us great. So stand strong. Seek support when you need it. But above all, remember why you left, whatever the reason. It was strong enough to shake loose your shackles back then, it is more than enough to give you strength now!