Friday, June 17, 2011

Mourning the death of an idea (part 1)

A feeling of loss.

That is all that remained from my walk away from faith. In the early years my struggle was dominated by anger, frustration, doubt and fear. But as the crumbling theist worldview that I grew up with completed its slide into the sea of metaphysical confusion - and as I started to build a new worldview of my own - fear, anger, frustration and doubt dissipated. In hindsight, even though these feelings were so vivid at the time, they were only temporary: brief bouts of flue that passed as I healed.

But a feeling of loss has taken a lot longer to get over. It’s been nine years since I attended a church service as a committed Christian, but at odd moments I still catch myself missing some elements of my Christian life. It has gotten a lot better, especially over the last year, but it’s like a scar that never fully heals, a piece of my neural network that is so ingrained within my psyche that I will never be able to rid myself of it completely, even though leaving Christianity was one of the best decisions I ever made.

What do I sometimes miss about my own Christian experience? A while back I was thinking about this and I came up with the following elements that contribute to my own sense of loss. In the coming weeks I will expand on each of these in the following posts:

Part 2: Hebrews 10:24-25: The loss of a cohesive community. (click here)  

Part 3: Psalm 139: The loss of fully being known.  

Part 4: Jeremiah 29:11: The loss of certitude. 

Part 5: 1 Corinthians 15:54-57: The loss of immortality.

Part 6: Conclusion (Proverbs 24:14).

I welcome any thoughts or comments you might have.

23 comments:

atimetorend said...

Hi kevin, looking forward to reading your thoughts on this topic. In my experience it takes time before being able to be able to go back and look at the positive things in one's religious experience. I still struggle to do that. I think being able to is a sign of coming to peace with it, and of maturity.

Sello Rasephei said...

You know Kevin, I read a lot of atheists' posts (testimonies) and they all have a similar experience. I will tell you about two most scary verses in the bible, if you are an unbeliever. The first says "A man who remains stiff-necked after many rebukes will suddenly be destroyed—without remedy." (Proverbs 29:1). The second one refers to a conscience that is seared as with a hot iron (see 1 Timothy 4:2).

You know what worries me whenever I hear an atheist say "I don't have fear of hell anymore", or "I don't have doubts about my deconversion anymore", is the fact they don't realise that they have played themselves out of God's 'reach'. Maybe you have never heared this, but there are people that God reject (or cease to chase after) for eternity even when they are still living. That's what we hear on Proberbs 29:1. Reality is when you insist to continually reject God then you silence your conscience until it can't work anymore, and no man can be saved without an awakened conscience (see Romans 2:15, Galatians 3:24). Unfortunately this silencing of the conscience is celebrated in atheist circles as victory, and it's used as proof that God doesn't exist or the fact that hell doesn't have any bearing on them anymore. But they don't understand that there are many criminals who don't have fear of jail which makes them commit crmes without fear, yet in the end they end up in the same place they have no fear of. Don't be like that!

I'm glad your conscience is still alive, as proven by your post, but to silence it further will lead to your detriment. Do not go beyond the limits of God's tolerable rebellion or atheism. That has eternal consequences that can't be reversed, even in this world.

Anonymous said...

Hi Kevin,

I still also find great biblical advice in which to guide my life, although it has been about 25 years since I've left Christianity. The passages I lean toward have more to do with general humanity than faith. My favorite is ~ 1 John 3:18 ~ "Dear children, let us not love with words or tongue but with actions and in truth."
I understand what you mean about feeling "unknown". Sometimes it is lonely not having the kinship of faith with some of my friends and family. Weddings, baptisms, and such mostly feel awkward, but I am there to celebrate with them and genuinely feel happy for the honorees of the day. I avoid funerals altogether because it is too unnerving for me to think of afterlife and spirits, but at the same time I understand that people need their faith for comfort...I just find comfort in a different way (celebration of life). But those are times when I most often feel the strongest disconnect, and it can be quite a lonesome feeling and sometimes make me wish I could just believe.
Thank you always for sharing your thoughts. I look forward to your take on the passages you mentioned!

~Dar (formerly Dar Alluding)

Sello Rasephei said...

Kevin, I wasn't in anyway belittling what you are going through or suggesting that the pain and hurt is not real. I now realise that in the context of your article my response is unwarranted. Apologies.

jw said...

At last, you are leaving fideism and religion and coming to the Christian Life.

Now you can begin....

Wendy M said...

You are so very loved by God - even if at the moment you do not believe you can recipricate His love - this does not change or affect such love He has for you. God is a patient God and He watches over you every moment of every day... You will find the same as the Psalmist that there is nowhere you can go to hide or blot out such love because God is there. You may try to leave Him but He will never leave you. One day you will find comfort in this.

sattler said...

Kevin, it's a while since we've been in touch. I've moved house and married since then, so many changes. Being honest there are times over the past several years where it would have been simpler and less painful to walk away from faith. Sometimes faith has seemed more like a wound than anything else. I've often identified with Cain, looking over the fence of a lost certainty and building city walls around 'home' (http://radref.blogspot.com/2011/07/why-cain-wasnt-able.html).

What strikes me about Proverbs 24:14 is that this was written without any certainty of 'eternal life'. The writer had found faith in this life; an open, expansive place that didn't depend on an expectation of heavenly reward. It seems to me that whatever else it is 'healthy faith' should expand horizons rather than pursuing a kind of spiritual protectionism.

Anonymous said...

Kevin,

I left Christianity about 6 years ago. Just like you it was a journey.

I used to go to the His People Churches. I am grateful for their 'on fire' fundamentalism because it very starkly illuminated the absurdity of Christianity as a system of belief.

Your latest post makes me wonder - is it Christianity you miss, or is a lost sense of coherent self that you are mourning?

I always feel like I lost some good years intellectually and sexually.

It is the 'wonder years' that I mourn.

I wonder if this is not what the real mourning is; the 'you' you lost to your authentic and innocent faith and to your firm belief that the Church warranted a hearing in your life.

One is always left with a sense of loss when one looks back on a wasted youth, wasted mostly because even when you doubted, you gave Jesus the benefit of the doubt.

Good blog. We do not have enough South African ex-xian blogs.

Anonymous said...

@SELLO

The funniest thing I realised about leaving Christianity, was that I left it because my conscience would not allow me to be blind to the truth any further.

I didn't like the truth that I had been believing a myth. But because I do believe in ultimate truth, I had to bend towards the truth.

As a Christian you are taught that truth is paramount; yet, only the truth that your specific church teaches is seen as valid.

At His People I was taught to believe things only if they fitted into the Biblical Worldview. That is not how to find truth because it means you will discard what does not fit into those boxes.

We should be open to learning the truth no matter what our pre-existing ideas.

Kevin Parry said...

Hi everyone

Thank you for your all comments. And good to hear from you again, sattler!

To Sello: your apology speaks volumes about your character, and I have much more respect for you as a result. No hard feelings at all on your first comment :)

I guess one of the things I'm trying to do on this blog is to tackle common myths about atheism and about those who leave the faith. One of these myths is that all atheists somehow believe deep down inside that God exists, but they don't want to follow God's moral code, so they use the word 'atheism' as an excuse. This is definitely not my own experience. I left Christianity - not because I wanted to party more, take drugs, get drunk, or whatever (I don't do these things anyway, even as an atheist) - but simply because Christianity no longer made any sense to me.

Keep well
Kevin

Kevin Parry said...

Anon wrote:
I always feel like I lost some good years intellectually and sexually.

Cori and I in fact recently spoke about what we both missed out on in our youth as a result of growing up in a strict Christian culture. For me, I could have relaxed more in my youth: all that energy wasted on needless worry about many trivial issues (e.g., masturbation). I feel I missed out on opportunities to nourish a young, vibrant imagination: I regret not ever playing Dungeons and Dragons, for example.

Yes, I think I do have regrets for living the cookie-cutter Christian life in my youth instead of being fully free to explore the world and discover who I was as an unique individual human being, both personally, intellectually, and sexually.

I'm catching up on lost time, but those years are lost, I guess.

Anonymous said...

Even as an atheist, now, after years of being Christian, and growing up in a cookie-cutter Christian household, I am very grateful for having been so well protected in my youth. Sure, I didn't play Dungeons & Dragons (but that was more because the game seemed really dumb at the time, which hasn't changed for me, through it all!), but I didn't get into drugs either, for example. Count your blessings, even as an atheist.

Kevin Parry said...

Hi Anon

You are absolutely right. I totally agree that there are advantages to growing up in a Christian environment, although these advantages are not the same for everyone. For you, I would think the Christian environment provided some protection against the most nasty elements of society as you found your own feet. I know that this aspect of protection has helped many individuals.

For me, this wasn't one of the advantages. I found the protective bubble stifling to my creativity and exploration of the world. Even if I didn't grow up Christian I wouldn't have lived an irresponsible life (like abuse drugs) as I didn't find - and still don't find - these things appealing anyway.

The biggest advantage for me growing up in a Christian environment was not the protection, but rather the warm acceptance and closeness experienced in a group that exhibited strong social cohesion. This is what I will explore in my next post.

Thanks for commenting!

Bethany said...

As I read your line: "but it’s like a scar that never fully heals, a piece of my neural network that is so ingrained within my psyche that I will never be able to rid myself of it completely," I couldn't help but think perhaps that is because God has purposefully ingrained into the depths of our being a belief in Him that we simply cannot deny because we are made in His image -and because we are made in His image, we can't deny Him because He can't deny Himself. I don't think I can ever turn to atheism because I could never live with the constant torment knowing that I am going against my own inherent, biologically predisposed, moral compass. God's Law is written on our hearts and if we deny Him, He will deny us. I rather live this life as if there is a God than to live as if there isn't and to find out there is one.

Thanks for sharing your thoughts. I think it is important to fully explore that sense of loss you are feeling. I think if I ever turn away from my faith, I would probably grieve all those things too but more than anything else I would grieve communing with God daily. I am not assuming you came from a very legalistic background where it was more about religion than a relationship, but I have met many atheists who turned to atheism because the only form of Christianity they knew was more of a legalistic kind and not at all a personal relationship with Christ (just an observation).

I have also found this study interesting: http://www.theblaze.com/stories/is-belief-in-god-ingrained-in-our-human-nature-a-new-study-says-so/

BC500 said...

Kevin, you are making an irrational assumption here.
“Even if I didn't grow up Christian I wouldn't have lived an irresponsible life (like abuse drugs) as I didn't find - and still don't find - these things appealing anyway.”

1. Had you not grown up a Christian how do you know (to pick an example) that drug abuse would not have appealed to you?

2. As an atheist, can you draw a conclusion as to what drug abuse is, beyond your personal opinion?

3. Do people that abuse drugs, even to their deaths, really believe they are abusing them?

I am going claim that being raised with an appropriate Christian influence provides a very high likelihood of a person becoming responsible. (I know that irresponsible people come out of “good” Christian families and responsible people come out of some of the worst family situations but those the exceptions not what usually happens)

You said you left Christianity because it no longer made sense to you, so what exactly is your world view now? What do you believe? Why do you believe it?

Kevin Parry said...

Hi Bethany

Thank you for your kind words for taking the time to share your thoughts. I hope you don’t mind if I respond to your comment.

Bethany wrote
I don't think I can ever turn to atheism because I could never live with the constant torment knowing that I am going against my own inherent, biologically predisposed, moral compass.

One of the reasons I started to doubt Christianity was precisely because my own moral compass didn’t match the morality practiced by the Christian God. I would never order others to kill children, order the death penalty for victimless crimes, punish a person for the crimes of his ancestors, or condone slavery. But the Christian God does all these things, so his moral code is definitely not the one written on my heart.

Bethany wrote
I have also found this study interesting

Thank you for bringing this to my attention. It is definitely fascinating! But as the article says, it doesn’t prove the existence of a God; it simply shows that humans have a tendency to believe in a god. Belief does not necessarily equal fact. Humans also have the tendency to believe that bad luck will occur if you break a mirror or walk under a ladder, but it doesn’t mean these things are true.

Thank you again for your comment, and thank you for popping by :-)

Kevin Parry said...

Hi BC500

Good to hear from you again! I'm not saying that religion doesn't have a positive influence on drug abuse. I can't say anything about this as I'm not familiar with the research.

But what I can talk about with some certainty is my own life. When I look back, it wasn't really Christianity that impacted my potential use of drugs. Rather, I think the main reason was that I didn't get into the wrong crowd. Moreover, even from a very young age I realized that drug abuse was destructive, so it didn't appeal to me.

Kevin Parry said...

BC500 wrote
so what exactly is your world view now? What do you believe? Why do you believe it?

These are very important questions, and I want to thank you for asking them :-)

I'm very keen to provide answers, but first I want to ask what definitions you use for the words 'worldview' and 'faith'. I ask this because I've seen theists and atheists alike waste hours of time in frustrating discussion because they didn't sort out definitions first.

But I'm very happy to discuss anything you like, and to answer any additional questions you might have.

Anonymous said...

"Even if I didn't grow up Christian I wouldn't have lived an irresponsible life (like abuse drugs) as I didn't find - and still don't find - these things appealing anyway."

How do you know? You'll never know. Count yourself lucky for not having been exposed to that possibility. Count your blessings, like I said before.

Jedidiah said...

Hello Kevin. I want to thank you for your blog. I am going through a similar journey and I find your thoughts very helpful. This last posting is very interesting because I am mourning the loss of those same four things (maybe more). Looking forward to hearing what you have to say about them.

Citizen Atheist said...

I guess I had it easier. For some reason my indoctrination never fully "took" and I was able to walk away after only a week of panic, despair and second thoughts. I now run a blog to help free more minds.

http://citizen-atheist.blogspot.com

Hang in there. There are more of us than I'm sure either you or I realize.

Macrina Walker said...

Hi Kevin, I've just found your blog after getting curious at Amatomu and find it quite fascinating. I won't try and convert you as I never was very good at apologetics, but I am rather horrified at your comment:

"One of the reasons I started to doubt Christianity was precisely because my own moral compass didn’t match the morality practiced by the Christian God. I would never order others to kill children, order the death penalty for victimless crimes, punish a person for the crimes of his ancestors, or condone slavery. But the Christian God does all these things, so his moral code is definitely not the one written on my heart."

I realise that there are all sorts of people who claim all sorts of things in the name of Christianity, but as an Orthodox Christian all I can say is: what you describe is not the Christian God but the worst form of idol that needs to be rejected.

Instead, I am reminded of the words that we constantly repeat in the Liturgy: "For you are a good God and love mankind." And of these words by Saint Isaac the Syrian: "The man who chooses to consider God an avenger, presuming that in this manner he bears witness to His justice, the same accuses Him of being bereft of goodness. Far be it, that vengeance could ever be found in that Fountain of love and Ocean brimming with goodness."

No1Spank said...

One thing I notice on all these atheist ex Christian sites is you all mention the closeness you had to other Christians and miss that connection. I've been a Christian for over 25 years and never had a great deal of that. I have always worked things out for myself which has caused a lot of friction especially in my younger years as I won't be told what to believe. My best friends are all non Christians and I'd say during the years I was away from the church I never missed fellowship that much. What I did miss was hearing the word of God from preachers and being challenged about my beliefs on different subjects at the time. I'm still pretty rebellious and not bothered about the opinions of my Christian brethren, but I'm not here to please men so they will have to live with it.