From the Mailbag: Shedding the Burden of Suffering

Earlier this week, I got a lengthy letter whose author gave me permission to share it with you:

Dear Ebonmusings:

I gave a glimpse to your musing about the carrot and the stick – I didn’t expect it to talk about morality, mainly because I realized that the latest part of my life as a christian was about pursuing a carrot and a stick.*

Allow me to share my story. Sorry if it’s a bit depressing, but I can assure you that I’m much better now (and much better than before, since I embraced atheism and got rid of many prejudices and sick attitudes).

I had always been a devout Catholic. My devotion was fed in a positive feedback loop by my own spiritual experiences. I had thought God loved me and considered me so special that he had given me some visions and experiences that I read about in the works of Catholic saints. Today I just realized it was mere delusion.

Anyway. My problem was when, for health reasons, I had to leave a hellhole called seminary. I was going to be a missionary priest. I couldn’t even finish the first year because there was no doctor there and I got ill more than once – worse, I lost around 20 pounds of weight from malnutrition. To make things worse, they made us work and live in very unsanitary conditions – once, the pork we were going to eat was left to rot for around three days under the sun, without us even suspecting it. I fell ill and had to take whatever antibiotics we had at hand. Eventually I got better. During the mission, I slept less than five hours a day for more than a month thanks to my brothers, who always stayed late, and I had to be the one who would wake up first to be able to take a quick shower before Mass at 6 AM. Eventually I got the flu and had to leave everything.

When I returned home, I realized my father had already given up my home to my sister who recently had gotten married and was expecting a baby. So I had to live in a little storage room that was below the ground level. This was bad because it flooded occasionally and sometimes the sewer overflowed, and I couldn’t get my own apartment because I couldn’t find a job.

Still wondering why God had left me in this situation, I realized I was growing older and I needed to find myself a wife – as I couldn’t stand my loneliness… much less the depression that I was going through. I was tortured by my loneliness and my escapes in masturbation (which meant that I sinned)… at the same time, I was going through such horrible despair that I wanted to kill myself. But I couldn’t because God would send me to hell. I begged him to kill me or give me a hand, a new room, etc.

Eventually I realized I could no longer live isolated in that room (only to come to my parents’ one-bedroom apartment for breakfast and dinner), so I decided to live with my parents and sleep on the couch. There was a little problem… my dad always woke up at 4 AM and I couldn’t sleep well. At one point I began dreaming about having my own bedroom. In the dream, I was so happy but I remembered it was just a dream, and I woke up crying and wanting to die.

During that year, I kept asking myself: “Why, God? Why?” Why was the question that God never answered. And I realized today that I had always wanted an answer as why God was testing me in such a horrible manner. At one point I felt abandoned, crushed and hated by God – I felt there was no other explanation.

I sought help which didn’t come. Even after being able by mere chance (actually, the landlord increased the rent and some neighbors had to leave, so we moved to a two-bedroom apartment) to finally get my own bedroom, my bitterness hadn’t gone away. I kept asking for and expecting a compensation for all my undeserved sufferings. They didn’t come.

A believer’s life on Earth is always carrying a burden of suffering… seeking a carrot named “help” with a stick named “Faith”. In my case, if I ever dared to question God’s infinite love, or even his existence, I would doom myself to hell. I couldn’t even curse his name (in fact, I haven’t, even as an atheist – except that claiming that he doesn’t exist might be cursing him). So, I was doomed to suffer if I challenged (“tempted”) God, and I was doomed to suffer and wait hoping God would be compassionate towards me otherwise. Also, because I was such a sinner, I felt that God was punishing me and I couldn’t get any help.

This is what I wanted to share. Faith is evil, it forces many unnecessary sufferings on people who seek divine help that will never come, instead of seeking the help of our fellow humans and realizing that if you don’t help yourself, nobody else will.

Finally I would like to thank Reddit for sharing so much insight on life and helping me realize there is no God. It’s been a liberating experience.

Please feel free to post this on your site, as long as my testimony remains anonymous.

Thank you for listening.

* In a follow-up e-mail, he explained: “One note about my testimony… it wasn’t a carrot and a stick used to hit (as in reward / punishment), but a carrot hanging on a stick. This is why I called the stick ‘faith’, and the carrot ‘happiness’. You try to move, but the stick moves with you. You cannot get the carrot until you finally get rid of the stick (the faith).”

Weekend Coffee: February 22
ISIS Is Bleeding Human History
SF/F Saturday: Terry Pratchett’s Death
The FLDS Cult Is Unraveling
About Adam Lee

Adam Lee is an atheist writer and speaker living in New York City. His new novel, City of Light, is available in paperback and e-book. Read his full bio, or follow him on Twitter.

  • Charles Black

    One thing I always notice in deconversion stories from Religious to non-religious is how much better their lives have become without the shackles of religion.
    At least when it comes to Christian to Rationalist, but what about Muslim to Rationalist?

  • Peter @ goa homestay

    We can change our circumstances. God helps those who help themselves. Personally, I don’t pray too much. I know that God will help me only if I work.

  • kagerato

    God helps those who help themselves. Personally, I don’t pray too much. I know that God will help me only if I work.

    Here’s the issue: it’s exactly the same for everyone. That means that God doesn’t do anything, for anyone, at any time. Now, why would that be, knowing that God is omnipotent, omniscient, and omni-benevolent?

    There’s a consistent explanation and you’ve purposefully chosen not to see it.

  • penn

    Actually Peter, saying “I know that God will help me only if I work.” is directly contradicted by Jesus’ own words. The idea of god helping those who help themselves isn’t found in the bible. Jesus actually says the opposite. He says that you should trust in god for all of your earthly needs.

    Matthew 6:24-35

    25 “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? 26 Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? 27 Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life[e]?
    28 “And why do you worry about clothes? See how the flowers of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. 29 Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. 30 If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith? 31 So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ 32 For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. 33 But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. 34 Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.

    Jesus also opposes your idea of prayer. Jesus specifically says that you should ask god when you are in need.

    Matthew 7:7-11

    7“Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. 8For everyone who asks receives; he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks, the door will be opened.

    9“Which of you, if his son asks for bread, will give him a stone? 10Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? 11If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!

    The clear problem for believers is that anyone who follows this clear advice will soon find themselves homeless and starving. The fact that this advice is so likely to fail made believers come up with truisms like “God helps those who help themselves.”

  • Andrew T.

    Before we get all worked up over Peter’s words, I think it’s obvious he just posted to promote his commercial website. Next…

  • CSN

    Yes, he *could* have changed his circumstances without a change of faith. The point is, religious dogma and his religious mindset gave him reasons not to and reasons for guilt rather than self-actualization. Mental freedom and pride in himself gave him the direct path to a better life.

    And presumably the commercial website is supposed to gain click-through ad revenue as I can’t imagine anyone here actually buying something from this guy…

  • J. James

    Poor guy. I’m glad he’s better. It just goes to show the self-deprecation that religion instills in people, like being terrified of sex, of all things. Sex! I still can’t wrap my head around it. Not to mention it screws with your sanity by making all of life’s misfortunes seem like deliberate acts of God screwing you over because fuck you, that’s why.

  • Robster

    There’s much to celebrate on leaving Faith inc. Sleep in Sundays, yes please. Meat on Friday, bacon and prawns anyday and more than red wine and crackers for Sunday brunch. Cast aside the guilt trip so important to religious belief, get out of the death worship roundabout too, no more embracing a dead bloke on a stick at your local christian fun centre. There’s so much that is positive about getting the religion monkey off your back. Subscribing to the religious nonsense must be stressfull and it offers nothing of value.