Note: When letter writers sign with their first names instead of a pseudonym or nickname, I randomly change their name for added anonymity.
I’m a female in my mid to late 20s, not exactly an atheist, but definitely losing my religion for a variety of reasons only some of which are mentioned here.
I’ve spent most of my life as a Christian of varying religiosity, but I grew up in a conservative Christian home and was home schooled using a number of Christian textbooks in an overall Christian community, until I went to public school my senior year of high school. I then went to public universities for the rest of my education, still believing off and on in god: sometimes a god that cared, sometimes a god that didn’t. But I believed and did what I had been taught my whole life, no matter where I was in my thoughts about god. I now work at a Christian college, which pays the bills.
Right now I’m pretty angry about spending my life and time trying to not be human so god would love me, since that’s the only measure of worth that mattered. Don’t lust. Don’t lie. Always put others before your own needs and desires, and always be humble towards others because you are not your own. Don’t question because doubt is a sin. Don’t criticize the church, but make it better. It was like it didn’t matter what you did, you were doomed anyway for something. I’m mad that I spent so much time repressing my very humanity to fit into some mold that makes no sense, and what’s more, that it seemed like the only option.
When does the anger at wasting your time and energy go away? Should it go away? How do you let go in a non-religious context? I’m tired of being angry about this, especially since it’s over, but I can’t seem to stop.
Thanks for reading,
Since you are not fully done with the process of “losing your religion,” you are in transition from your old way to a new way of seeing things. So you will probably have a great deal of conflicting and confusing thoughts and feelings. I think if you accept the fact that for a while you’re going to be feeling mixed up, paradoxically, your mind may settle down sooner than if you resent it and fight the confusion.
I’ve noticed that many people who are in the early stages of letting go of their religion often have sadness or grief for the loss of the guiding structure and the comforting reassurances that religion and belief in gods can offer. Often people with strong personalities, for whom strength and toughness is important will not express their sadness directly. Instead, they will shift the emotional energy of their sadness into a feeling that is more acceptable to them, anger.
So one thing to do would be to look into yourself, and see if sadness or grief are the root of your anger, and if so, give yourself permission to feel and express those emotions directly. If you experience any bottled-up feelings without translating them into a substitute feeling, you’ll get through them faster and more thoroughly.
However, you may also have straightforward anger, the anger of someone who has been tricked or duped into wasting time and energy on a false pursuit. It needs to be said here that anger is not intrinsically a bad thing. It’s a legitimate human emotion like all the others. What can be bad is negative things we might do either to others or to ourselves because of our anger. The irony of your situation is that now you’re continuing to waste time and energy being angry at having wasted time and energy, etc, etc.
So how do you get out of that hall of mirrors?
Don’t fight it, transmute it.
You listed a few religious injunctions that were a constant source of repression and frustration for you. Turn them into to a positive, from an authoritarian rule that subdued you to something more like a humanist goal or guideline that validates you.
So take: “…spending my life and time trying to not be human so god would love me, since that’s the only measure of worth that mattered.”
And transmute it to:
Accept and embrace your humanness, flaws and all, so that you can be more empathic, compassionate, forgiving and loving to other humans, because while not the only measure of worth, your loving kindness toward others is one that matters a great deal.
Lust and desire are not intrinsically evil, but what we do about them may be constructive or destructive, and you can learn wisdom from how it turns out. Go ahead and lust for the wonderful person or thing, but avoid lusting just for its own sake. That would be a circular process, a kind of addiction.
Then there’s: “Don’t lie.” Instead, try:
Love the truth. Keep it your friend. The truth is a terrible enemy to have, because it never gives up trying to get out. Once in a while you’re going to walk away from your friend and lie because you’re human. Just don’t lie to yourself about how it wasn’t a lie. That way it won’t become circular inside you, growing stronger and more habitual. Find your friend again, and start anew.
Then take: “Always put others before your own needs and desires.” Change it to:
Be mindful of everyone’s needs and desires as best you can, and try to fulfill your own without interfering with those of others. Having your own needs satisfied, desires become less important. Without so much inner conflict, you’ll probably find that you have an unexpected surplus, and you can share it with others.
Next one: “Always be humble towards others because you are not your own.” Change that to:
Always look for the harmony, the commonality, the bond between you and others. Then notions about are you better than, worse than, higher than, lower than, more or less worthy than, become irrelevant and fade away from your relationships. You do this precisely because you are definitely your own, and are fully responsible for your own conduct.
The next injunction is: “Don’t question because doubt is a sin.” Transmute that to:
Question everything, BUT when you get a better answer to your question, hold it very lightly in your hand. Don’t grip it, or you’ll become trapped by your new certainty. Certainty is the beginning of a fossilized mind. Like truth, make friends with doubt. It protects you from arrogance and ruthlessness. The worst things are done by those who do not permit themselves doubt.
Finally there’s: “Don’t criticize the church, but make it better.” You’re not really part of the church any more, but that one can apply to your life in general:
Some people criticize others just for the sake of feeling superior. If your intention is to actually effect a better situation, then your criticism will be accompanied by a clear suggestion for improving what is deficient. Always try to include a solution when you complain about a problem. The same idea applies when you look into yourself. Spend no time harshly criticizing yourself. That usually makes you less likely to change for the better, not more. Punishment is not a remedy. Fix the problem, not the blame.
Roberta, I’m confident that your anger will fade away in time, simply because you want it to. You’re not defending or justifying it, you’re just giving us an explanation for it. Some people nurture and cherish their anger, polishing it to a fine luster like a golden prize. It becomes their treasure and their prison after the original cause is long dead. Consider my ideas if any make sense for you; they might speed things up, but the most important thing is to focus on the here and now, and how you are continuing to build a more positive life. Keep going. It does get easier.
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