Skimming through search results on this topic, it’s difficult to find those which describe this hurdle as a magnificent stepping stone towards freedom. Many testimonies mention anger, depression, the lack of a moral compass – even hopelessness.
And sure enough, liberation does not come overnight; it’s often a lengthy process, spanning over many months or years. Whereas some people effortlessly declare themselves atheistic or agnostic as they have never fallen into the trap of religion, for others the separation is more painful than an ugly divorce (and divorce is hardly ever pleasant). Writing about such a sensitive issue is bound to require caution; hopefully this post will be more useful than off-putting.
To start with, it makes sense to list a few reasons why quitting religion is so difficult.
- It involves permanently altering one’s grasp of reality, often held since their earliest cognitive development. Some people can’t do that without falling apart.
Religion is not a choice, unless one is an adult. While sincerely believing Christianity was the path to salvation; I didn’t have moral qualms with that, having been taught all my life that not bringing kids up into the faith would lead to their perdition. I justified it by arguing the moral values upheld by it were essential and only good could come out of passing them on to others (which is true to a point, if we exclude the fairytales).
By rethinking the light you see the world in, you know you have to rethink every aspect of your life, past and present, realising the errors and delusions you have been trapped in. That means rewriting your story and reconstructing your identity. Every belief, every value you’ve ever had comes under scrutiny; it takes courage to set off on this journey (and sometimes years to find this courage).
Your faith is not just a psychological bond; it’s an emotional bond; it can be your rock when everything else seems to dissipate. Imagining having gone through difficult times without it might seem impossible. But that in itself does not make religion accurate.
Children are so innocent; hearing them talk about mysticism is the funniest thing ever. My kids once believed Death was dwelling inside the building’s electric panel, as it had a skull and bones drawing on it to warn people. In the same way, they believed God lived in our bedroom ceiling. After laughing it off as silly, I started wondering who was in fact being silly about the factual aspects of this deity – them or me.
2. It involves considering the possibility that spirituality is a fabrication altogether, which to a spiritually-oriented person can feel like life is not worth living at all.
I must confess I’ve never dealt with that fear as my intuition and long account of extrasensory experiences have put my mind at ease that reality as we perceive it with our five senses is not the complete picture (it might be a small part of it in fact). If anything, the doors are now wide open for venturing down any avenue with no worries -ever again – of heresy, eternal damnation and the likes.
3. People are conditioned to think something terrible will happen to them if they become apostates.
Perhaps I should have started with this one. A precious light bulb moment I had was while listening to a former Scientologist describe how hard it had been to mentally detach from the cult; it had been drummed into her head her entire life that the punishment would be immediate and terrible – her plane would crash, her loved ones would die, her entire existence would be destroyed. Her words echoed my own feelings and the reason why I’d had several unsuccessful attempts to break away from religion. When doing so, I’d attributed everything that had gone wrong in my life to this attempted separation. Therefore, if she could feel that way over a false cause such as Scientology, what made me think my feelings were more true to life?
This ruthless conditioning must be what keeps so many people in line (unless one goes the way of Islam and threatens actual murder when leaving the faith).
4. One can find it hard to separate from a kind and loving community, turning into a drifter.
And I’m not talking about proper cults here. Christians for instance are generally beautiful people, aside from a few fundamentalists who use religion as a way to justify their bigotry (and who would behave in the same manner regardless of their belief system). They cultivate the best aspects of the human personality; listing them is pointless as they are well known. When you become aware that Christianity itself is just a story, with some degree of truth to it, it does not make those around you less sincere in their good intentions and exercise of moral values. You can still respect them for who they are and how they live their lives, without agreeing with them regarding dogmas.
However, if they outnumber you and you’re exposed to their ideology on a frequent basis, you can sometimes doubt your choice, thinking you should perhaps revert to their ways, especially if they seem more at peace than you are.
That said (though definitely incomplete as this subject is SO vast), it now makes sense to list the best parts of becoming free from indoctrination.
1.The liberation of spirituality
The reason for listing this first is that spirituality, in some form, does matter to many people – all but those who consider themselves a hundred percent atheistic and only believe in the existence of what is palpable. When dogma is removed, the word “heresy” flies out the window, never to return; so does the fear of thinking or saying the wrong thing, which might be a gateway to your eternal damnation.
Moreover, reminiscent of mediaeval times, inside the bubble of religion it is forbidden to develop and make use of one’s natural extrasensory abilities, this being classed as occultism or even witchcraft. This can cause a person to stifle these abilities, to push them under as dangerous to their eternal soul, which is yet another way of denying their own nature. The joy of finally valuing this potential is likely to help someone overcome any anxiety regarding the “right path” they are supposedly no longer on.
2. The boulder of Sisyphus
This consists of all the small things which stain our supposed purity on a daily basis, leading to frustration and in many cases, I’m sure, neurosis. All the elation one has when getting out of confession, alas, can last no more than a few minutes, until the next sinful thought which basically takes them back to where they started. And so the boulder returns to its initial place and an exasperated Sisyphus restarts the consuming journey. Again. Ad infinitum.
“From this moment on, I will never again…” You can fill in the blank with any hopeless promise to eliminate imperfections, whether it involves swearing, sexual thoughts or the odd extra glass when no one is watching.
All this guilt and shame over trifles can be avoided by simply becoming aware that if we don’t harm anyone and don’t irreparably harm ourselves, there is no one else to answer to. Certainly not for thoughts and urges which are never acted upon.
Both Christianity and Islam argue that every deed, word and thought is recorded somewhere; those who truly believe that must be absolutely scared of their own minds, obsessing over every thought, compulsively praying for forgiveness and for outside intervention for the thoughts to stop (which never arrives, as whatever you resist persists, as Carl Jung noted).
3. Human nature stops being shameful
Mind over matter is an excellent idea, and is very useful when possible. People in extreme situations – such as solitary confinement in dreadful conditions – manage to survive through the sheer force of their minds.
However, asceticism is not everyone’s cup of tea – and needless to say, does not suit everyone’s ability. The obligation to refrain from certain physical impulses for religious reasons is no more than a tradition passed down through the centuries, much like not washing on a Sunday. It’s unclear to me still if it helps improve self discipline or simply proves the extent of religious conditioning, making people potentially deprive themselves of natural needs for fear of being shamed on Judgment Day.
Regarding strange sexual impulses, addictions etc, religion is perhaps the last place to look for answers, as instead of neutral explanations or theories (such as those put forth by psychology), it welcomes people with threats of eternal fire, or, in a softened, less graphic variation, simply eternal loneliness and misery.
4. Everything stops being satanic
One of the biggest scares today for religious people is becoming unwittingly enmeshed with demonic elements through popular culture. There are so many videos “exposing” how a certain musical performance displays 666 in the undulations of someone’s butt when slowed down frame by frame. This obsession with the infiltration of satanism into their minds leads to radical attitudes towards those they identify as potential promoters of satanism or occultism in general. Sometimes, these attitudes are knee-jerk reactions and are not preceded by much thought.
There’s no need for occult symbolism for these people to be a bad influence – just listen to the superficiality popular music promotes. It’s all out in the open; they’re trying to downgrade the human species to an Idiocracy type of dystopia.
But wait – wasn’t Satan musically gifted and able to play all instruments? If these people really were possessed, how come their skills are so poor they have to resort to mating calls to attract attention, like rodents under a bush on a dark alley? How about some craftsmanship FFS? Is Lady Gaga all Satan can do? Maybe he’s been a victim of overestimation.
There is so much more to say and definitely doesn’t fit into one post, without turning it into a short story. The issue is that letting go of religion needn’t be demoralising – not for a single day.