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TV/Media Commentary and Societal Insights. With a Beard.
Growing up means things change. Your experiences shape your perceptions, and eventually you stop seeing things the same way and realize you might not believe in what you used to believe. Just like you thought Dragonball Z made sense or you could grow up to be a tiger-training astronaut, some people grow up and question whether or not they truly believe in God, and sometimes come to the conclusion that the religious organization they’re part of is wrong. While there are plenty of complex, tragic tales out there regarding loss of religion, for some of us, it was much simpler: we realized we didn’t believe it, wanted to get out, and want to move on with our lives. But sometimes, that’s the hardest way to go.
(Please note that, while I’m addressing religion of all types in the general sense, my examples and references will be predominantly related to Christianity, simply because that’s where my personal experiences lie. ALSO I’M ‘MURIKAN, AND ‘MURKIA IS CHRISTIAN NATION!)
Religion is a touchy subject that gets people pissed off reaaaally quickly, and as such many viewpoints will be very abrasive and without compromise. It often seems like you must be either a godless heathen or a religious fanatic. On either side of the overarching debate, it’s hard to just believe or respect; you either have to be an angry atheist or a biblethumping evangelist, even if you claim to be cool with either opinion.
The thing that many people miss the point of is that leaving your religion doesn’t automatically mean you did it out of anger or hatred. Those types of situations certainly exist, but like any stereotype, it doesn’t go for everyone. And frankly, if anyone does harbor resentment, they probably do for a specific reason. In my personal experience, I don’t feel that anyone outright lied to me or intentionally wronged me, because my family and the people in my church believed what they were saying. I just didn’t believe it, and I would be lying if I stuck around pretending like I did. It would be disingenuous to remain part of something solely based on faith when I had no faith in it myself. But trying to explain that is close to impossible, because to someone who wholeheartedly believes it’s the truth, the only reason I’d neglect something so good would be for bad reasons, like Satan or pornography or Crocs.
I don’t actively try to discredit my old religion, or even Christianity or religion as a whole, unless it’s part of a very valid argument when I feel the certain religious organization is doing something wrong (though, sadly, that happens more often than not.) Even then, the argument isn’t “all religion sucks” so much as it’s “this particular denomination’s ritual is totally fucked up and wrong and it really should change that.” If a type of church does something really goddamn stupid and I call them out on it, that doesn’t mean I’m automatically fighting for stripping away all religious faith. People don’t like aliens being in the fourth Indiana Jones, but that doesn’t mean they hate all movies with aliens in them, or hate all Indiana Jones movies. It just means they think it was a bad move to have aliens in Indiana Jones.
And look, I get the religious. I understand the positive part of it; I don’t think any person of faith is inherently brainwashed or stupid or crazy. Faith means you can believe the craziest shit thrown at you, but it still matters because you feel it in your heart. It’s a double-edged sword, and that’s what makes it kind of poetic; you’ve got a higher likelihood of being wrong, but something in you just knows it’s right. I respect that fortitude a whole damn lot, even if logically it sounds nuts. The problem is the fanatics and the psychos who justify horrible things with faith. Having been a mostly devout person myself for the longest time, I know that believing in it doesn’t automatically make you one of those crazies, it’s what you do and how you act in it. And also, being one of those crazies makes religion your bitch, and that’s what ultimately creates the most problems.
But explaining this point of view, especially to your family, is nearly impossible because…
Statistically speaking, about 1 in every 1 person was born to some combination of parental units. Chances are, if you were raised in a religion, you were raised by parents who believed in that religion. And while there are plenty of people who pretty much disassociate from their family once they grow up, there are just as many who do stay in some form of contact with them, or even continue to live with them. A family that, of course, no longer believes the same things they do.
The “all-or-nothing” thought process from before is still in play here—an initial reaction, generally, is: You left because you hate God. There’s nothing more to it than that. You are clearly on a mission to destroy our faith. If you manage to convince them that isn’t the case? Then that must mean deep down you want to come back, you’re just being pulled away by Satan and it’s my job to bring you back. So, if you convince them that you aren’t a complete heathen, they’ll likely think you’re willing to come back. This inevitably leads to the many, many opportunities for them to bring up the awkward subject and awkwardly tell you how they or your old congregation misses you, or have a church higher-up awkwardly stop by to “see how you’re doing” and try to persuade you to come back. I guarantee, unless your family is some kind of genetic experiment (or they actually hate you) this will happen. It’s all very awkward, and considering religious subjects can be kind of a big deal, it’s easy to make you emotional and ruin your day just by bringing up something you’d rather not think about.
There’s a median that people don’t really see, and I’d like to think that those of us who’ve experienced both sides of religion and Atheism and aren’t really bitter about it, well, might actually see that median a little bit better. There are definitely asshole extremists on both ends. But guess what? Some people just want to live their lives. If they want to return to their religion, that’s all well and good, and I’m sure they’ll appreciate knowing that the door’s open to come back—but pounding that in over and over only makes it awkward. Because it’s always awkward.
And after all that builds up, you can’t talk back because…
Facing people who do, in their hearts, think they’re trying to help you, and telling them with confidence that you’re fine and they’re wrong is really goddamn hard. Every scenario is different, of course, and sometimes your family or friends might actually be big douchebags about it, so you can call them out. But if you’re part of a family that otherwise loves each other, you’ll always come out looking like the bad guy in the end. To them, you’re falling off of a cliff and refusing to grab their hand to be rescued because the rocks below are too pretty. No matter how insane you might think your family’s beliefs are, to them, you’re the one being completely nuts and missing the obvious truth. So guilt trips are aplenty; your parents feel like you’re hurting them by “hurting” yourself, and they’ll let you damn well know that.
In my own family, the worse part isn’t even direct guilt trips (though those exist), but more the transition from being the “successful one” to being the black sheep. Yeah, it’s certainly better to be the black sheep if all the white sheep are insane, but that doesn’t mean the transition doesn’t make you feel like total shit. My sister is in her 30s, has no job, and still lives at home on disability with no hope at moving on. But, she’s heavily involved with her church. That last part is what’s important—no matter how far up I climb and successful I get, it’s not going to matter for me. I’ll still be looked down on, even if ever-so-slightly, because I’ll be missing what, according to them, is the most important part of my life. And the fact that I can’t make my parents proud because I’m sticking to my own convictions and doing what I think is right is the absolute most frustrating thing in the fucking world.
It’s made only worse because it’s not even about me being a disappointment; it’s out of legitimate sadness. I’ve touched on this before, but the worst thing to combat is their idea that they won’t see me in their variation of a heavenly reward.
It’s unfathomable how that must feel for them, and how could I possibly refute that? Sure, it’s easy to get a list of everything wrong with any given religion from the internet and read it off, but if their minds are completely set on their faith, it won’t be easily changed. They’ll just be more reaffirmed that I’m so completely far gone that I’m trying to destroy their faith too. Every way you go, you either feel like shit or are thought of as an evil shit.
But even if you’re someone who isn’t facing your family, you’ve still got problems with yourself because…
If you never believed in a religion, then it’s probably plenty easy to adjust because you aren’t really changing your routine. But when you believe, you believe wholeheartedly. This isn’t just a part of life, it is your life. It’s the entire foundation of the way you live and breathe, and there’s very little in the world that could replace it in that way, so it’s a constant struggle to figure out how to live your life without it. You aren’t just pulling one rug out from under you, you’re bulldozing the entire floor and then destroying every floor store in the country.
At least four days out of my week had some churchy routine; three of those were actual church meetings, and one or more would be some door-to-door stuff (yeah, I was one of them.) That’s more than half of the week’s nights/mornings where I was physically at and utterly devoted to my church, not counting the fact that I was still taught to bring it up at every moment it was applicable. So, being free of the religion means more time nowadays, right? Well, sure. I won’t argue that it’s a plus. But even years after, I still freak out on Sunday mornings sometimes. When I’m making a work schedule, I have to stop myself from instinctively saying I can’t work Tuesday or Thursday nights.
Not only that, but in many cases, you’re constantly playing a game of catch-up with things you missed in your childhood. I was raised in a Christian household without birthday parties, blood transfusions, political participation and patriotism, or holidays aside from, like, Arbor Day, just to name the big restrictions. Some people in other faiths have even more restrictions, or took longer to leave than I did, and therefore lived far into their adult lives with their respective restrictions. But no matter what kinds of things you did differently as a kid, it’s always a type of culture shock to suddenly realize that these previously evil things can actually be a part of your everyday life. And it’s weird.
To this day, singing “Happy Birthday” is really uncomfortable for me. And I’ve still yet to figure out if I should put my hand on my heart for the National Anthem or recite the pledge of allegiance at events.
Not praying naked was the hardest rule to break, though.
Even if the logical part of my brain no longer believes God is dictating what I can and can’t do, the thought process is so ingrained into my psyche that it’s painful on a more abstract level to do those things. I know I’m not disobeying God by doing anything like that, but deep in my subconscious/heart/soul, it still feels like I am, because that’s been life for two decades.
Now, I’ll admit, some of these aren’t huge downsides, and they’re the kinds of things that will certainly heal over time. But, well, the title says “irritating after-effects” and not “fucking wrist-cutting hellfire death apocalypse after-effects,” you criticizing jerk. But also, you have to understand, while some of these things may be minor, any of them would be yet another insecurity thrown on top of a lifetime of insecurities, spawned both from this religion and life in general. There’s already basic insecurities like “I hope I don’t look awkward” and “I want to find love” coupled with more specific ones like “I hope I don’t look awkward when people find out I’m a furry” and “I want to find love even though I’m a furry.” Tossing in work, money, friends, and every side of stress you could ever get, something as small as questioning your life choices, even for that millisecond, can be goddamn brutal—especially if you’re still young enough to be figuring out your life, and even more especially if you’re struggling to change your entire mindset from your religious days.
But ultimately, the loss of these habits and routines are only a small part of the larger problem…
The hardest thing to truly describe to people is how big a part of you religion really is when you honestly dedicate your life to it. People don’t always understand that it isn’t like quitting a job—it’s abandoning an entire lifestyle. Living in a household where your mom hung up a cross or two and would tell people “I’m sending prayers” over Facebook isn’t the same as bending your schedule around regular worship, isolating yourself from numerous “ungodly” events/holidays/entertainment/people and plotting your future with your beliefs in wholly in mind.
It’s likely that part of the reason some Atheists spend so much of their free time crusading against the religion they were once part of is because that fills the hole. Making it their mission to bring down their old religion is the meaning they have in life now, because they needed something to replace the meaning they used to have. It’s a hole that simply wouldn’t exist if it weren’t for the religion.
To someone who’s never been heavily religious, it probably doesn’t make sense to be so desperate to find “meaning” instead of just living. But the thing is, when you were raised with a very specific, pointed reason—to serve God eternally—once you lose that meaning, it takes a lot of work to simply stop worrying about having a meaning, or being even the slightest bit content without one. It’s like if Sarah Connor accidentally got hit by a truck after the Terminator went back in time to kill her; all it could do is shut itself down because, according to its programming, killing Sarah Connor was all it existed for. But unlike the Terminator, we can’t just spontaneously deactivate when the mission stops existing (well, we can, but it’s kind of a bigger deal for us.) And in terms of replacing that meaning, what could honestly equate to the very concept of God in your life?
In the end, it’s just something we all have to figure out—whether we fill the hole with children, art, TV, tattoos, whatever—it’s a personal matter. And that, ultimately, is the crux of it all: faith, and the lack thereof, is extremely personal. While it’s nice to have help, the path that’s taken lies solely in your hands. There’s no clear-cut or easy solution, and whether or not it involves a book or deity is completely up to you. You have the freedom to choose, so long as your choices don’t intentionally hurt people. And as long as you do, so does everyone else, so please don’t push anyone one way or another unless they ask. And frankly, outside of this article, it’s none of your damn business.
(Don’t give a crap about my TV posts, but like these kind of life-comedy articles? All of these are in the Life and Society category!)