I recently read a post by Godless in Dixie entitled “What Leaving My Religion Did For Me” and it really got me thinking about that particular question. What had leaving religion done for me?
This is a particularly difficult question to answer as I have only truly been free from christianity for a few months. I don’t think that explicitly means that I haven’t been benefited in any way yet, nor am I incapable of exploring those benefits. I am sure that I could come up with a huge number of things I have gained. I even touched on one such thing in a previous post, “Absolute Darkness.” Though to be fair, I had largely given up that way of thinking, even before my deconversion. At this stage in my journey, I would suggest that there is one primary thing that I have gained: confidence. Particularly confidence in myself.
I have mentioned before that I suffer from depression. It is a topic that I do not much talk about, but which shapes and poisons my entire life. People are often surprised at this revelation, as I have become quite adept at putting forward the “fun, sarcastic, outgoing guy” persona. In reality, I am about as introverted as they come, insecure to the core, deeply cynical and depressed. The depression feeds the negative aspects of my personality and my introversion gives me an excuse to give in. (Let me be clear though, I am not saying introversion is a bad thing, I am just pointing out how my introversion often enables my depression.)
Dealing with depression as a christian is hard. Like REALLY hard. Mental illness is not a subject that is spoken about much in church or christian circles. Perhaps because christians too often wish to put on a mask of perfection and mental illness smudges that mask. Perhaps because they believe that demons are real and mental illness is simply demonic influence. Perhaps because mental illness is simply seen as a sign of weakness, lack of faith or a poor relationship with god. Perhaps most christians see mental illness the same way Christian Scientists see any other disease or illness, as a test of faith that must be prayed away. Perhaps thinking too much about mental illness begins to shed some light on the delusions that christians often hold. Any or all of these could be an explanation for why christians don’t talk about it very much, but in reality, it doesn’t much matter. Either way, they don’t.
Thus, as one suffering from mental illness, I felt as though something was wrong with me, as though I had done something bad or was letting some sin form a “stronghold” in my life. I saw my inability to conquer my illness as a failing of my faith, and that only added to the depression. Furthermore, I was never granted any solace or comfort from god. No matter how hard I prayed; how fervently I sought for his favor, I found nothing. I felt like the rich man in Hades from Jesus’ parable in Luke 16:
“23 In Hades, where he (the rich man) was in torment, he looked up and saw Abraham far away, with Lazarus by his side. 24 So he called to him, ‘Father Abraham, have pity on me and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue, because I am in agony in this fire.’ 25 “But Abraham replied, ‘Son, remember that in your lifetime you received your good things, while Lazarus received bad things, but now he is comforted here and you are in agony. 26 And besides all this, between us and you a great chasm has been set in place, so that those who want to go from here to you cannot, nor can anyone cross over from there to us.’”
As far as I could tell, between myself and god “a great chasm had been set in place.” Even a soothing drop of water on my tongue was denied. This verse continually came to mind and all I could reason out was that god had turned his back on me; that I wasn’t worth his time, effort or comfort. I got to the point where I would fall asleep every night begging god to end my life and let me come “home.”
Very little can so utterly demolish one’s self-confidence as complete rejection from one to whom your entire life, identity, purpose and future has been dedicated. I was already fragile enough as it was, and this rejection broke me. If any prayer must be answered by god, you would think it would be that one. Promise after promise is made in the bible about giving good gifts, providing everything one needs and giving of things when sincerely and humbly asked.
These were the things that broke me, but they were also the things that gave me more purpose and confidence than anything previously. No amount of lying to myself about being a “child of god” ever filled me with the comfort and purpose that knowing I am the commander of my own destiny had. To take my life into my own hands, mistakes and accomplishments, meant I could honestly take credit for the things I had done. Sure, I had to forego pawning off my mistakes onto god, but the freedom to say “I did that on my own power and by my own will” was greater than anything I had ever felt.
I still deal with depression. I am under no illusions that part of my life will ever go away. The difference is: I can control it. I decide if I let it control me or not. I don’t need to wait on god to take it away, or see it as a test or punishment. It is a biochemical imbalance in my brain that, while difficult to understand and control, can be. I am on some great meds, which do wonders for me, and have gotten to the point where I don’t have to take them every day.
Even more than that, losing the Calvinist idea of total depravity, which I am quite sure most christians believe in some respect, has allowed me to not think of myself as a worthless, despicable worm unable to do anything right or good no matter how hard I try. Sure, they try to throw grace in there, but it always comes across as an after thought. I don’t need people telling me that at the core of my being, I am flawed and doomed to failure because that little, sinister voice that fills my head already tells me that. I need to hear that I am worth it and can do things correct and do them well.
Atheism tells me that and atheism is right.