Freedom had been hunted round the globe; reason was considered as rebellion; and the slavery of fear had made men afraid to think. But such is the irresistible nature of truth, that all it asks, and all it wants, is the liberty of appearing.
~ Thomas Paine, Rights of Man, 1791 ~

Monday, October 12, 2015

The High Cost of Leaving Your Faith

When your entire life is built around a religion,
leaving it means leaving your life and starting over again from scratch.

I did not write the article I refer to here, but I can relate to so much of it. I'm sure there are other former believers out there who feel the same, and who may benefit from reading this article and realising that we are not alone. Our struggle with faith need not be in vain, and it doesn't need to end here. There is life after faith.

Anyone who has struggled with their beliefs and ended up questioning and then abandoning their entire belief system in search of the truth about reality knows how difficult this process can be. The article captures the mental anguish and the process from first beginning to question your beliefs through to the painful choices that are forced upon you. I will be offering some comments around the article as it relates to my journey, but I encourage you to click the link above and read that article in full before returning here (if you choose).

Welcome back.

I wonder how many people this describes:
I cannot overstate how powerful a deterrent this is to people who already have seen enough to know better than to remain in their faith.  They have enough information to critically analyze the beliefs they were taught, but they push the questions down, holding them under like trying to hold a beach ball under water.  It can take a lot out of you, but it must be done or else you could lose everything—your friends, your family, your job, your marriage, your kids…you name it.

The article powerfully describes some of the challenges you face when you start realising that things you once believed to be absolutely true no longer appear to be sitting on solid foundations at all. The questioning of one's beliefs may seem academic, but there are very real and practical side effects.

The problem is that they’ve spent years, maybe decades, building their lives around one particular religious subculture, and if they leave it they will quite possibly lose everything they hold dear.  All of their friendships may be based on sharing a common faith.  All of their closest family may be committed to the same beliefs as well.  Their jobs may revolve around the propagation of this faith.  Even their marriages are likely predicated upon a common commitment to the same God, the same faith, and the same ideals and passions so that losing those means you’ve just lost the foundation of the most important relationship in your life.  This is sheer terror.  If your marriage was not built upon a shared passion for a common set of religious beliefs then you have no idea how painful it can be to honestly grapple with your own intellectual questions.  You see the issues.  You know they are there.  But you just can’t keep looking at them because if you do, your life as you know it could soon be over.

I think I followed this script almost to the letter, without realising it of course. I tried hard to deny that this would happen to me. It's difficult to imagine how life could go on when you stand to lose so much. I'd like to think there was an element of courage, but the truth is that I was scared. Everything I had been taught was a lie. I felt disoriented. I couldn't trust anyone. My world as a Christadelphian was collapsing from within and I couldn't tell anyone about it. To confess my doubt meant facing being disfellowshipped. That meant public shame and humiliation. If I had committed some terrible act, I might have understood, but I hadn't. I had simply questioned my beliefs and found them wanting. I acted out of honesty and integrity and I paid a high price. It also turns out that some people will throw you under the bus or distance themselves if it means preserving their own public image.

In 2013 my life changed forever. The article once again hits the nail on the head.

If you’re like me you get to a place where you cannot lie to yourself anymore.  Your need for reality becomes stronger than your fears and you find yourself suddenly, finally, on the out
side.  Once you’re there I hope there will be others with you, hopefully even those closest to you, who can hold your hand and walk with you into the unknown.  The opposition you will face could be intense, and you may find yourself starting over again from scratch.  If your spouse can walk through this with you, consider yourself fortunate beyond words.  Not everyone will have that support.  For those who don’t, dark days lie ahead.

Indeed. Oh, how those words ring true...

But there are some positives as well. All is not lost, though it may often seem like it.

But there is life on the other side.  There are people there, some of whom have gone through exactly what you’re going through, and I challenge you to start hunting for those people now.  Make some new friends.  Maybe even travel to see them if you have to, but whatever it takes, build for yourself a network of people who do not need you to think the same way as they do in order to accept you into their group.  Find people who will not judge you for being a critical thinker, but rather who celebrate your inquisitiveness and consider skepticism a virtue.

Some great advice there. I still have a long way to go, but things are ok for now. I have a lot to be thankful for.

It might be tempting to think I left the Christadelphians because of the way I was treated, and there is some truth to that. The way I was treated by Christadelphians in positions of authority did change my perspective on what it means to be a Christadelphian. The label became a negative thing, an insult even. I didn't want to associate with a community that behaved the way I saw so many of its members behaving.

But I want to distinguish between leaving the Christadelphians and leaving my faith. I still considered myself a believer for at least six months after leaving the Christadelphians. I still accepted most of the BASF at that point. But I refused to lie about my beliefs. The BASF is pretty specific on a number of points. There is no way that 50,000+ people all truly believe exactly the same things on all of those points. I suspect many people just lie about it, and even more probably don't care either way and just vaguely say "I agree" and move on. I'm not like that. For better or worse, what I believe matters to me. A lot.

I did not leave my faith because of the way I was treated. When it came to my personal beliefs, there was no emotional rebellion against God, or against other people. For me it was a matter of seeking what is true, using evidence and reason. This was a process that had begun over a year earlier. During that time I had questioned and thoroughly examined my beliefs, and I had eventually concluded that I no longer had good reasons to believe that any of it was true. The more I sought evidence and reasons, the more I was led to an agnostic position. About a month or so later, I became aware of soft atheism, and at that moment I realised I was an atheist. Atheism doesn't define who I am. It just means I don't hold a positive belief in a god.

I don't have all the answers, and I never will. I'm ok with doubt, and I'm not afraid to ask questions. There is no fear of being disfellowshipped from humanity. I share the same DNA with all my fellow humans, even Christadelphians. The need to disfellowship others is only for people who live in small boxes, and who can't tolerate differences. The world I live in is much bigger than the Christadelphian world.

I no longer want to be Jesus. When I think of Jesus now I picture an angry guy with a whip, chasing people out of the temple. The world has too many people like that. I just want to be me.

I no longer need to be told what to think, because I've discovered how to.

I'm putting the pieces back together slowly, with science, evidence and reason.
Basically, I believe what can be demonstrated to be true.

 The cost is high. But in the end it’s worth it to have a personal relationship with reality.