Life after Faith: Now What?

My process of de-converting from Christianity in one word: gradual. The earliest hairline doubts cracked through around puberty. I tried re-evaluating what I believed and living with the tension of beliefs that harmed more than they helped. Each patch seemed to work for a few years. And then one day I’d come back and find only the gummy residue of old hope.

Some former Christians who have become non-theists approach their de-conversions with glee. They’ll switch from evangelizing about Jesus to proselytizing the tongue-in-cheek virtues of the flying spaghetti monster.  There’s nothing wrong with doing this, of course. It just isn’t how I reacted when I finally admitted to living in the religious grey zone.

Beyond the relief that follows honesty after a long internal battle came a question:

Now What?

I’d grown up with the belief that faith brings meaning to one’s life and that people couldn’t be genuinely good without that external compass. It was something reinforced so often and with such authority that I didn’t even recognize it as an assumption until this point.

What was I going to do without it? Would I suddenly start drinking every weekend, lying, stealing, cheating, fighting, ignoring those who asked for help?

This may make those of you who didn’t grow up in this sort of religious environment chuckle…but they were things that passed through my mind. Over and over again as a child I heard testimonies from people who said that God was the only thing in this world standing between them and all of the horrible things they wanted to do.

What if I had just stepped away from this same protection?

It wasn’t something I worried about forever but it was in the back of my mind as I slowly inched into a new worldview.

What happens after faith? Most of the time it’s the same sort of stuff that mattered before in the smallest and biggest ways: the love of family and friends. a crisp new book from the library. a long hike in the woods.

I’m as (un)likely to harm or help someone else as I was in my Christian years. Worrying about my purpose in life isn’t something I do as much these days. If there is one I’ll figure it out when the time is right. In the meantime I’ll love and be loved and that isn’t a bad place to be.

Ex/non-theists and spiritual seekers, what is your “now what”? How do the pieces of your lives come together?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

0 Responses to Life after Faith: Now What?

  1. I haven’t de-converted as of yet. I still have that inner struggle in my mind. One minute I’m questioning everything, the next I’m singing “I Love You, Lord” in the car on my drive home.

    “I’d grown up with the belief that faith brings meaning to one’s life and that people couldn’t be genuinely good without that external compass. It was something reinforced so often and with such authority that I didn’t even recognize it as an assumption until this point.”

    In my mind I thought these same things. But when I’m honest with myself and look around me the people who seem to be the most loving, genuinely good people are those who either don’t have faith in the Christian God or who don’t take their faith all that seriously. I internalized that concept for myself, not necessarily applying it to others. I didn’t believe I could be genuinely good or have meaning in my life without God.

    Now what? That’s a good question. Now I have to navigate figuring out what it is I believe, find new meaning in life, and know I’m not just a “filthy rag” of a sinner. I have to find a new compass for figuring out right and wrong. I don’t mean sex, drugs, and rock ‘n roll. I mean in the little everyday things I used to rely on my faith for.

      • I’m not sure at this point. My emotions and my intellect are playing tug of war. I do know that what I believe going forward can never be the same as what I believed in the past. Honestly when I first began to have doubts I told myself that doubt was just an opportunity for greater faith. The more I look at things in the Bible with a critical eye and really examine what I’d put my faith in, the more irrational faith becomes. I know that some have taken a more mystical approach, but I’m not sure the way my mind processes things that I can do that.

  2. I always enjoy reading stories like this, especially from someone who has an approach such as you do, not an antagonistic approach. The internal process of deconversion was gradual for me as well , but the problems is that I didn’t admit it to myself or others during the process, so it did not appear to be gradual to them, and they needed time to adjust.

    I came from a secular background originally, so for me it was like I had stepped through a doorway, spent some time there, and then stepped back outside again. Back into a comfortable pair of shoes, and with my extended familywaiting for me. I still have the same kinds of questions I had before I became a Christian, I just don’t have the hard and fast answers I thought I had found in Christianity. And while I might reject the same theses about God that I did before I was a Christian, I have more educated and through-through reasons for rejecting them than immature me did 20 years ago.

  3. My process of de-converting from Christianity in one word: gradual.

    I know, I know. This is totally off topic, but I can’t resist.
    …gradual… ditto… same here. Ultimately, the fact of the matter is that there is a great amount of myth (TRUTH) in my ‘theological’ background. I just need to learn how to steal it back from those fucken’ Christians who stole it from me!! (…sorry ’bout the language).

    God was the only thing in this world standing between them and all of the horrible things they wanted to do.

    What if I had just stepped away from this same protection?

    ….well…. we’ve have this converation before, and you know where I stand on it. I believe humanity is innately good. (…I’ve gone through some pretty excuciating pain to permanently remind myself too!!..)

    Ex/non-theists and spiritual seekers, what is your “now what”? How do the pieces of your lives come together?

    ahhhh… Good questions. I’m not sure how to answer you this one. I’ve never asked myself this before. (I don’t think).
    Put a feather in your cap. It isn’t often someone catches me with a questions I’ve not asked myself before.

    …hmmmmm…

  4. My decay into atheism was asymptotic: much of the faith eroded away quickly, and the lingering hope gradually tapered off to zero. It was a hope, a desire to believe despite the facts, a desire to live happily ever after in the fullest sense of “ever after.”

    I did not share the same concerns about going off into a wasteland of sinfulness, as the long decay line was a bit of a security blanket against that. I pretty much realized long before the complete end of my faith that I would keep on being me.

    So that sameness you had, I did experience, at least for a while.

    In my “what now?” though, I have changed. I realize that there is no great deity there to offer His benevolent forgiveness, and so, in turn, i realize that I need to get it right the first time, or make it right on my own in this life. It has driven me to an even higher moral code than I had when I was Christian, and a greater sense of responsibility and ownership for my own mistakes.

    To me, I’m the same, only better. Better to my family, my friends, and everyone I meet. At least i try to be. 🙂

  5. Like you, I am in many ways the same person now that I was when I was a Christian.Differences? Sure. Far more tolerant.my sin list is much, much smaller.I get to sleep in on Sunday.

    I must admit I still deal with baggage from the past. I see a counselor every two weeks. Seeing a counselor has been extremely important in my life post-conversion.

    Truth is if I was still Baptist pastor I wouldn’t be friends with you and Drew or your mom and dad. I had to lose my religion in order to love people as they are. (and the same goes for loving my self)

    I hope this makes sense.

    Bruce

  6. my “now what” is surprised by the lack of desire to do anything “sinful”, and also by the power of unconditional love. It’s tough to be unconditional when there’s all sorts of conditions to gain God’s approval for entrance into heaven. 😉

  7. I know this is a really old thread. I can really relate to your post. I was a “born again christian” for 25 years. When I was 16 in high school I became a Jesus Freak after making some new friends at a faith preaching church. I felt a real change in my life and a feeling of purpose and many moments of joy. I guess when you’re 16 and your parents ignored you, plugging into a system that accepts you like family is very rewarding. I was very radical and called myself a fundamentalist and believed in the bible literally.

    I started a career where I started listening to a lot of radio, then talk radio, then science podcasts. I was so into science.
    At church, about ten years before I lost my faith, They had a special evening event at church. Christian vs Atheist debate. It was piped in via video from California. I was stunned. I thought the Christian was completely owned by the Atheist. I never heard the concept that the bible is just a bunch of stories. I remember looking at another church member after the debate to see the look of fear/defeat in his eyes. After that I remember trying to avoid the topic if it ever came up. My rational muscle was already fully developed at this point. So my faith was continually getting whittled away. First the bible as the literal word of god. Then believing in evolution and finally the problem of evil in the world. Soon all I had left was Jesus and the great example he was. Surely he was the real deal and the church was just screwing it up. The final step was a decision to finally follow the truth no matter where it lead. A few months later I was in a serious crisis of faith. Dennet, Harris, Hitchins and Dawkins helped me see the light. Oct 25th 2011 I sat in my car and cried out to god, “where are you, this is fucking serious?!” Of course I heard absolutely nothing. Not a sign, whisper or anything. I’m a guy who doesn’t cry but I did that day. Since then I have struggled with purpose and living with friends and family who all are believers. Sometime I feel like a spy. I even tried to believe for a while. That was the worst idea. It was causing me to go crazy. Once I gave up my faith again I started feeling better.
    I have decided that life is too short to live a lie. I’m not combative with my lack of faith but won’t lie about it. I think if people know you’re an atheist, they can reach out to you when they lose there faith.

    • It’s great to hear from you, Ben GK!

      What religious ideas (if any?) were you raised with before the age of 16?

      It’s amazing to see how much knowing an Atheist affects people. I think it’s easier to stereotype any group when you (think you) don’t know anyone from that group. Stereotyping a friend, neighbour or family member is much more difficult. Sometimes it still happens, of course, but when you know someone as a multi-faceted human being it’s harder to hate them.

      • I would have described myself as a normal church goer. I went to church because thats what you did. I started out mostly catholic then episcople. My mom became a christian when i was 7 years old after watching Jesus of Nazereth on television. Her parents were atheists the but my grandma also eventualy became a christian. My mother was always into “spiritual” things. She used to read tarot cards. I still struggle with “what if youre wrong about god” feelings. My brain was wired that way for 25 years so im sure it will take a few years to adjust. The more i educate myself on the subject the better it has been getting.