How It Felt to Lose My Faith

In the 1973 movie, Soylent Green, we see the overcrowded Earth of the future, where the only pleasant experience is death. There are euthanasia centers where you get a “full 20 minutes, guaranteed” to slip away while listening to your favorite music and watching beautiful scenes of the former Earth.

Because Earth’s resources have been depleted, most people subsist on one of the manufactured food products from the Soylent Corporation, of which Soylent Green is the choicest. Supposedly it is made from plankton,  but Charlton Heston’s character discovers the horrible truth.

As he is carried away in a stretcher, Heston begs those surrounding him to listen. “It’s people. They’re making our food out of people. Next thing, they’ll be breeding us like cattle — for food. … You’ve gotta tell ‘em! You’ve gotta tell ‘em! Soylent Green is people! We’ve gotta stop ‘em! Somehow!!

But the crowd just stands there. It’s impossible to tell whether they disbelieve him or do not care.

Panic

That is how I felt in the immediate aftermath of leaving evangelical Christianity. I had discovered the horrible truths about the God of the Bible. Almost panicked, I was trying to get my pastor and others to see what was now so obvious to me, but they were carrying on with business as usual. How could these people be so complacent in the face of such horror!?

Anger

Mixed with the panic was the anger I have already described – anger toward evangelical leaders for being so careless about truth while pretending allegiance to it, and anger toward myself for being a willing dupe.

Guilt

Being a dupe was the least of my sins. I felt tremendous guilt for proclaiming the justice of a God who had ordered genocide, slaveryplunder and rape, among a long list of other horrors — even going so far as to proffer excuses for those specific atrocities. My hands were drenched with blood.

I was also guilty of having pushed away people who had given me ample encouragement to see things differently.

Over time, I have been making progress forgiving myself. I hope those I offended have forgiven me, too.

The Good Parts…

Those were the tough aspects of losing my faith. After that difficult transition, I was surprised by how many up-sides there were. (And let me emphasize to my evangelical readers that I did not leave the faith because I was seeking these benefits. They were totally unexpected.)

Relief

As a Christian, I hadn’t fully realized what oppressive cognitive burdens my faith had placed on me. What a relief it was to no longer have to puzzle over why worthy prayers weren’t answered, why science and scripture don’t line up, and why God’s ways must be higher than our ways as he allows all sorts of horrible things to happen or even actively brings them to pass. I didn’t realize how much emotional energy I had chronically spent on issues like these until I was out from under it all.

It was also a relief not to have to second-guess my every decision: “This seems wise, but is it really God’s will? Do I think it’s God’s will because it really is, or because I want it to be?” And on and on.

Wonder

A totally unexpected boon has been the pervasive sense of wonder I have about the world. The story of how everything came to be is so much more fascinating than “God did it.”

Just this week, I was driving to work and found myself marveling at how we humans have arisen from the inanimate stuff of the Earth and now we’re dragging more stuff out of the Earth after ourselves, to build roads and cars so we can convey ourselves from place to place. What’s more, we have developed an aesthetic sense so the driver ahead of me evidently likes navy blue cars, and I do, too.

How can you feel depressed when everywhere you look there is something that amazes you?

Aesthetic Satisfaction

In the same vein, I vividly recall hearing a choir on the radio singing a lush, 19th-century work and my thinking, “How incredible it is that these collections of molecules (the singers) have arranged themselves to vibrate other molecules (the air) so they bump into yet more molecules (their own eardrums) in such a way as to initiate a chain of chemical events that brings them pleasure!”

Even more amazing is that my own set of molecules has finally arranged itself so that it has some clue about how the universe works. I get a lot of aesthetic satisfaction out of that — more than enough to compensate for having lost 99.999999% of my future,

Tolerance

At some level, we’re all just molecules bumping and adjusting. There are patterns of behavior that deserve the name evil, to be sure, and we want to discourage those. But I have a much greater tolerance than I used to for people who are just trying to find their way.

Purpose

It’s not that I don’t care. In fact, one of the big surprises about my deconversion is that I now care more about things in this life. As an evangelical, my prejudice was that non-believers have no reason to care about anything. It turns out that’s not true, and I wrote a short series of posts on the subject, if you’re interested.

My purpose, in a nutshell, is to enjoy the one life I know I have. I learned enough from my time as a Christian to know that true enjoyment is not found in selfish, hedonistic pursuit. I enjoy my family, the life of the mind, and the beauty that is everywhere.

After a tumultuous exit from faith, I can now say most heartily, “Life is good.”

22 responses to “How It Felt to Lose My Faith

  1. Pingback: Why I Left Evangelical Christianity, Part 6: The God of the Bible | Path of the Beagle

  2. This is perhaps, your most profound post out of this series, although all were significant! Seems to me, you could do a whole series of posts out of this one, elaborating a bit more on each of your points…. if that interested you. I know many would enjoy reading it.
    Thank you for writing this blog. :)

    • Even at a summary level, I left a lot out of this post. For example, I had included a couple of paragraphs titled “Divorce from Self” about how I felt ripped apart. I cut them because the post was (and is) too long.

      At a detail level, maybe I will write more in the future. In the meantime, the posts to which I linked in this one might serve that purpose.

      I’m glad you enjoyed this post and the little series.

  3. thanks for sharing your journey, i have a bit of reading to catch up on

  4. Soylent Green is a comparison that I hadn’t considered. The one that occurred to me was Battlestar Galactica (TV series starting in 2004). In that series, some people discover that they’re artificial organisms, i.e. Cylons. Suddenly, they realize that they’re members of the group that they view as their worst opponents. And none of them can change that fact because it’s now part of who they are. Due to my doubts I was a virtual atheist for a fairly long time before I could finally bring myself to admit that I was “one of Them, an atheist” despite the evangelicalism of my outward appearance and my life up to that point. I’ve grown much more comfortable with the idea since.

    • I haven’t seen the BG episode, but I love the comparison! I did indeed discover that, like the rest of the human race, I was not inhabited by a Holy Spirit. Inasmuch as I was just a collection of molecules, one could almost say I was a Cylon. Yet — surprise! — I still felt just as alive as before, if not more so. That’s something that sill amazes me, three years later.

  5. Can you explain to me like I’m very daft this property “inhabited by a Holy Spirit” that you are surprised was not a requirement to “feeling alive?” Are you claiming that you’d been inculcated into the idea that the emotional state of “wellness” was contingent a spiritual property across all humans and therefore, no one could feel “well” without sufficiently satisifying that predicate?

    • I was using “alive” in a figurative sense: alive to the joys and possibilities of life. Evangelicals believe that if you are “born again” God’s spirit comes to dwell in you, but non-Christians don’t have the Holy Spirit. I had believed that people without the Holy Spirit ought to descend into nihilistic despair — or even if they didn’t, they ought to. When I became an unbeliever and therefore without the Holy Spirit (either because I was an apostate or because there was no such thing), I was surprised that I felt even more alive to the joys and possibilities of life than I had as a Christian. Does that clear it up?

      • As a long-time atheist, this is my guess as to what “Holy Spirit” means.

        I’ve done zazen meditation for some time now. It consists of stilling the mind and stopping thoughts, and for me, it is just about possible to be in a state of attention and awareness without thinking. Perhaps this is what our consciousness was like before we developed language, say 100,000 years ago. It is a sense of immediacy and presence that is difficult to speak about, and more importantly, the words aren’t the experience.

        I think that this experience has been used, again and again, as the basis of religions everywhere, but because of its ineffable nature, those religions have varied greatly in how they have described and interpreted it. I suspect that the Christian Holy Spirit is one such description.

  6. Well, I for one do not feel your posts are too long at all. They always leave me hungry for more. ;) Please keep writing! Your audience is growing, and its clear people appreciate the way you are sharing your experiences, emotions and thoughts.

  7. Regarding the sense of wonder… have you ever watched Carl Sagan’s Cosmos? If not… prepare to be amazed:

  8. Jacqueline Speir

    What a delight to find your blog! I found it when I googled ‘beagle’ because we recently adopted a beagle-mix rescue (a little guy who’s full of life and fun!) In amazement I read your deconversion story and recognized my own story over and over.

    I was raised in a fundamentalist Christian home, married and raised my children in a fundamentalist church and Christian school. One of them graduated from a Christian college. Then my marriage failed, and in time I fell in love with a wonderful man and we moved in together. A dear Christian friend took me to lunch one day, and with tears, expressed her sorrow that now I was destined for hell! Awash with guilt and shame, I begged forgiveness from God. But a question nibbled at my mind: why would a good and loving God reward me for staying in a miserable marriage, but send me to hell for finding happiness? The journey began!

    I first read books by Christians: ‘Love Wins’, by Rob Bell, and books by Brian McLaren. But it seemed to me they were not addressing what the Bible literally said about hell but were desperately trying to find ways around it. When I finally began reading books by non-Christians, even atheists (gulp!). They made more sense than anything ANY Christian was saying ANYWHERE.

    Long story short, I no longer believe. Like you, the relief and wonder, satisfaction and purpose took me by surprise! And like you, I can now say, ‘life is good’.

    Thank you for sharing your journey, so much like mine.

    • I’m tickled pink that you found my blog by looking for beagles. If you haven’t read my About page yet, you’ll get a kick out of it as the adoptive ‘parent’ of a beagle-mix.

      Also glad to be related to you through a common life-journey!

      • Jacqueline Speir

        Went too your About page and read about the beagle: “… single-minded and determined… ” Yep, that’s our Buster! We call him the Squirrel Sheriff! Once on the track, he’s relentless. As for being strongly food-motivated, yesterday the sneaky little stinker waited till we weren’t looking, then ate a whole bag of Puperonis! I would have sternly scolded him if he wasn’t so cute:-)

        • Jacqueline, I just need to invite you to another of my favorite websites… Dogforum.com Its a great place to come and talk about your pup! I am “Tess” over there.
          Regards,
          Sue
          PS. Beagle, I hope you don’t mind this post!

  9. Nice post. I shared some of your feelings at the moment of losing faith. For me, the realization that evolution was true instantly anesthetized me. I had lost all meaningful cogitative ability. Thoughts were nothing but televsion snow. In time I was able restore my awareness and with a little introspection I realized I lacked belief in God. Sometimes the bareness of reality seems peaceful, calming. At other times I feel like reality has a stranglehold on the dreams, hopes, and cohesive bonds that a belief in god affords.

  10. Pingback: Zubeidat Tsarnaev and the Black Hole of Reality | Path of the Beagle

  11. I would like to know more about how you dealt with the consequences of your loss of faith in terms of your relationships with others – members of your family, Christian friends, people at church etc.

    • Bridget, my relationships certainly took a hit. All of my best friends were at church, and I don’t see them anymore (that’s as much my fault as theirs). I try not to say too much about my wife and kids on this blog, out of respect for their privacy, but they have adjusted as well as could be expected, and in some cases better. My family of origin are not evangelicals, and my relationships with them are better than they were.

      I have started to rebuild a network of friends, but it has been difficult. That’s one thing that’s good about a church: you can just show up and you instantly have a large room full of friends. Virtually all of them share your core convictions about the most important things in life. Virtually all of them trust you. You see them every week. If you need something, someone will be glad to help. There’s coffee and snacks after every sermon. It’s pretty sweet, and I haven’t found a good replacement. I could go to a Unitarian church, but that would be too much like … well, like church. The bad associations are still too fresh, four years later.

  12. Pingback: No Rest for the Wicked? | Path of the Beagle

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