Sunday, May 17, 2009


When one begins to question long held beliefs about religion one of the hardest parts of the decision to let go of your theology is the loneliness, anger and frustration that can come with it.

Very often this is a journey that must be made alone. And unfortunately very often this is a journey that can result in the loss of friendships, family relationships, and a tight knit sense of community that comes with being part of a religious congregation.

Once someone gets to the point of learning, either by education or epiphany that they are losing their faith and religion and facing the path to atheism it can be liberating. Knowing that you are doing good things for the sake of community as apposed to fear of something that isn’t there becomes worth the effort.

It can also be scary.

It can be frustrating.

It can lead to anger.

It can be scary because you are facing the unknown. Leaving the warmth of religion and the folds of your congregation can be a hard choice to make. Some never make it. There are atheists in churches. They like the people and the support of a religious structure. But it is hard to live a lie once you know the truth.

Frustrating because you wish you could show others the truth you have learned. Especially for friends and family you love so much. But everyone must find their own path. They will probably think you are just as crazy as you think they are. You should try to let go, not of the relationships if possible, but the religious connection of those relationships or it can destroy the relationship.

We are all the sum of our parts.

Realizing that religion is such a small part of which most of us are can make this easier. Most atheists have friends and family who are theists of some kind. This can be hard if fundamentalism is a part of the equation. Some people will leave you and the relationship because of your decision to become an atheist. I say it is their loss, not mine. But I do understand the need to stay in the closet by many atheists. Sometimes that is the best if not only option. Anger because you have been lied to.

When I left the Catholic Church I was angry at the church and my family for lying to me. I eventually realized I couldn’t let this consume me. They didn’t do it in malice. They believe (d) they are right. They believed they were teaching me what was right. It ties into the frustration of knowing what you know and there is no way to force someone to follow you.

Learning that you are alone and no longer part of a collective is one of the toughest parts of becoming an atheist. There are ways to remedy that. You can join local atheist organizations, secular societies or even Unitarian Churches. You can seek groups on the internet.

However, once you move past the anger and frustration you can learn to continue to love and be a part of your friend communities. You come to know that religion isn’t the be all end all of who you are or were. You might even make some new relationships along the way. You continue to be a part of society, work, school, and home. You are the same person, just with one less god.

And that is the opinion of this one single atheist.


Traceytreasure said...

I didn't expect the anger and loneliness part but it kicked my ass.

Thanks for helping me through all of it!


Sarah said...

I not one to ask for help often. I don't know if it is a pride thing or just plain stubbornness. But Tracey wrote a post about two days ago that has stuck with me and I think I am in same place she was over a year ago.

I am tired. I am tired of being angry. I am tired of wondering why my "god" decided that having 2 children with autism would be good for me. I am tired of not having any direction.

When I moved back to Wheaton...freaking Footloose in real life, I rejoined the church I was baptized in. My parents were thrilled. Matt couldn't have cared less---disillusioned Catholic. When Emma and I would attend services, I was more consumed by the looks she received because she bounced in the pew. People were pissed. How fucked up is that??

I don't know where to turn anymore for strength...not sure what to do....

gotdoubts said...

Hi Sarah. I am glad you are asking.

I can completely understand your anger. Like most of us you were brought up to believe that there was a god who loves you and cares about you. And when bad things happen to good people you wonder why? Why would such a loving, caring, all powerful being do that?

For me I came to my atheism by trying to understand my own church and religion. As I dove deeper into the bible and the study of how the church came about I began to learn that catholicism wasn't something new, it was a new religion based on older religions that were based on myths that as humans we used to explain the natural world around us and the things we couldn't understand yet.

I couldn't understand how Zeus could be a "myth" yet God was not. Didn't they serve the same function.

It would probably be easier for you to accept that "God has blessed you with these unique children because he knows you can handle the challenge". Sound familiar?

It might be harder to realize that autism is a disease that your kids have. That is just the reality of your world. It isn't anyone's fault, it certainly isn't a blessing. It just is. And some days it sucks for you. That is all natural. Disease happens, it isn't pleasant, pretty or nice. But it is necessary. If everyone were born and lived forever we would all die of thirst pretty quickly.

It's hard sometimes for you I'm sure, to realize that you can only do the best that you can. Sometimes that means stepping away from the kids for awhile to take care of yourself. But know this...just as there isn't a god who caused this life for you, neither is there one who will punish you for needing a break from the kids sometimes.

This is your life Sarah. You can only make it the best you can for you and your family, because it is important for you to raise them to be the best members of the human community that you can because you love them. Can you change it? Sure you could, you could run away, or give the kids up for adoption. But you won't do that, because no matter what, you love them BECAUSE of who they are, not in spite of it.

As for what to do, you need some support. You might not be able to find it in a small town, but even if you could find other parents with disabled children you could maybe take turns spending an hour or something babysitting so that you can take a nap or go grocery shopping (grin) or something just for you. You can't take care of the kids if you don't take care of yourself first. But I am sure you know that already.

Even if you decide to stay christian and attend a church, perhaps you could find a church that might be a bit more welcoming of kids who are different. And that could maybe give you more emotional support.

I personally think that it will be science and medicine that will one day find a cure for autism. It won't be a god, because there isn't one.

I am going to mention you comment to the others here so they will be able to share their thoughts with you. If you would like any of us (or all of us) to e-mail you please feel free to e-mail me and I will pass it along. Gotdoubts at gmail dot com.

I hope this helps if even a little bit.

gotdoubts said...

So I just saw this on Twitter tweeted by Vjack, via denyreligion...

Atheism doesn't require faith, it requires courage.

Sarah, it will for sure take a lot of courage to come to a realization that your kids aren't "blessings", they are your kids. They are difficult. But it makes society a good place for them if you do your best to take care of them. You love owe it to them.

Traceytreasure said...

Sarah, I'm so glad that you stopped by. I will not pretend to know what your days are like. I think you're a remarkable woman for staying upbeat and being a pillar of strength for your children, keeping your family together and strong all the while loving them all with your whole heart.

For me, it was more of a frustration and anger over my unanswered prayers. I was confused about religion in general. Go to church on Easter Sunday because Jesus was crucified, then he rose from the dead, 3 days later? WTF? The older I got, the more that just sounded impossible. I was tired of my prayers not being answered and I was ready to rebel against all faith and religion and accept things in a more factual way.

I started taking action instead of waiting for my prayers to be answered. I didn't expect God to answer all of my prayers and grant me all of my wishes but dammit, if he had answered ONE of my prayers, I never would have started doubting faith or questioning religion. There'd been a lot of talk about alter boys being molested by Priests and I couldn't see how any God could condone such behavior. When we lived in 'Vegas, some mothers were getting rid of (killing) their unwanted babies by throwing them in dumpsters and I thought "How could God let THAT happen?"
You know most of my story and it's been a tough, rocky road and I felt like I was entitled to some sort of help from God if I was faithful and prayed. NOT! I wanted God to help a particular person in my family to want better for herself. I've realized that no one can make that person want better for herself. We're all responsible for our own actions and we can't change others. Those people have to want to change.


I wanted better for myself so now I rely on myself to make things better. I take action, I seek answers from people who are free thinkers and when there are tangible facts backing up the answers, they're a lot easier to believe.

You have my personal email address, Sarah. Don't be afraid to use it! I have my original email to the Doubting Faith blog and I still have the responses. Let me know if there's anything you want me to elaborate on, okay? I'm so glad that you came by!
Hugs and love,

Traceytreasure said...

I'm shocked to hear how you and Emma were treated in church. Shocked and disappointed.....

evolveintobirds said...

I understand how you feel Sarah. My eldest son, now 16, was diagnosed with ADHD and ODD when he was 4. He would have these huge, violent tantrums from the time he was almost 2 till he was over 6. He actually broke my nose once headbutting me.

Having a "difficult" child as a devout believer made me question what god's plan was for my life. I vacillated between feeling like I was being punished for all my past sins and feeling like I must be some kind of saint since He only "tests" us according to our strengths. When you cherry pick scripture it's not too hard to find some quote suitable for any occasion. Now, two kids later, I have learned that I had so many unrealistic expectations with ds1. I no longer pray for strength to cope...I accept and embrace their differences. I no longer pray for guidance in how to raise my child according to god's will...I love them, accept them as they are, and try to treat them as individuals worthy of respect. It has made all the difference in my relationship with kids two and three.

As for direction...that's a tough one. When I felt like god had a plan for my life and had blessed me with certain gifts to give me purpose...even then I couldn't help but wonder why every day had to be such a struggle. Now I still have my bad days but for the most part I feel like *I* choose whatever direction I take. And sometimes I have no idea what direction to go. But the freedom that comes with knowing that it's *my* choice is pretty nice.

The strength is within you Sarah. Look for it. Trust in it. You will find it.

Bilby said...

I don't feel I can write as eloquently as the other's about the subject in hand. Plus the chocolate I just ate (at least that's the excuse) is preventing me from discussing much about faith, lack thereof or the rotational aspects of the moon in relation to the growing of strawberries (no don't believe in astrology just the chocolate speaking) (actually it's probably just shyness)

E is doing the best she can to regulate herself and is only behaving the way she is to cope in a difficult situation. You should explain this to people who look at her disapprovingly. They should ideally see that and get to know the great personality and human being your daughter is. If they can't accept that they booey on them. Or is that fooey. I've never said it before and I'm to lazy to google..... or maybe I just like not googling until after I post. I wonder what Freud would say about that.... or Dawkins? .......... (will stop rambling now about nothing)

Anyway if they fail to open their eyes and accept the reasons beyond just thinking she's naughty then it's there loss. Prove them wrong. Hold your head high cause you are right and they are wrong. My thought's and many other's will be with you. Draw what strength from them that you can.

Hope we can talk again soon, I've missed talking to you.

PhillyChief said...

Evolve: I'm curious about how you cope with a child with problems. A couple I regularly go 'round and 'round with over the religion thing have an autistic kid. They've never come out and said it, but I think they need to believe their religion is true because then that means there's some reason for their kid being autistic.

I guess what I'm asking more specifically is what would you say to people in that position? Now if it was just a coping mechanism, I wouldn't care, but they've bought in hook, line and sinker, meaning they're anti-abortion, anti-gay, want creationism and prayer in school, and all the other crap that comes with belief, so I can't just turn a blind eye to their magical coping method. To me, it's the same as if they drank to cope. I wouldn't care, but if they were drinking on the job or driving drunk, then something has to be said.

evolveintobirds said...

Hi PC! oldest son isn't autistic, his "autism spectrum disorders" are mild in comparison to full-blown autism and he fortunately has grown out of the "worst" symptoms now that he's 16. People with "normal" kids can't begin to understand the experience of parents that don't have them.

That being said, I've known lots of families over the years with difficult children. Many of the religious ones tried very hard to look at it as a blessing. When you have a difficult child, it's universal to cope by believing that no matter how hard things are, no matter what awful things your child *have* to look for that child's strengths and special qualities. I think the best parents, religious or no, choose to not just accept their childs differences but to embrace their uniqueness and love them completely (even when you feel like you are at the end of your rope).

I could never fault a parent for believing in crazy ideas as a way to cope. And I am generally of the school of thought that no matter what my opinion of any parents style, it's *their* situation and *their* choice in how they respond. I offer advice when asked but unless I believe a child's life is being endangered, I zip it. I don't believe indoctrination in religion is child abuse. I don't believe that being parents being homophobic, racist, creationist, vegan, child abuse. So, I wouldn't see it as my place to say something. But I can certainly raise my kids in a visibly different way and interact with theirs in such a way that I provide them with food for thought.

evolveintobirds said...

***I just want to add that I came from a family with a racist, illiterate mom that sometimes put Pepsi in my bottle; both pack-a-day smokers; my dad was a drinker; I was harshly punished (belts, soap); forbidden to have black friends; fed the most INSANE version of Filipino Catholicism my entire childhood and on and on and on.

I turned out okay DESPITE all that.