Ask Richard: Grieving the Loss of Belief

Note: Letter writers’ names are changed to protect their privacy.

Dear Richard,

I have a friend who until very recently identified as Catholic. Her entire family is Catholic, and she had a rather liberal interpretation of the faith, but she believed in God all the same.

A few days ago, she “came out” as an agnostic on a small independent blogging site we both frequent, saying she’s “not sure [she] can believe in God.” Since then, however, she has made another post talking about the hardships she’s facing now that she’s let go of her faith– for instance, she misses the security of believing there was a power that “had her back,” she misses “being certain that someone out there loved [her] no matter what,” she misses feeling like her prayers were meaningful. She claims her “life doesn’t feel whole” now, and seems really down.

I was never religious, so I didn’t experience this sort of deconversion, but it worries me to see my friend so lost and empty-feeling, especially since I’ve lived a happy, rich life so far without God. What would you recommend doing to help her in this transition period? I want to help her discover that life can be rewarding and complete without religion, but I’m not sure how to go about that.

Thank you.
Lewis

    Before I start with my response, your remark, “She claims her ‘life doesn’t feel whole’ now, and seems really down.” makes my old counselor suicide prevention alarms go off just a bit. You don’t need to make a professional assessment about depression if you’re not qualified, just ask her straight forwardly if she is thinking about hurting herself. It’s okay, you won’t be “putting the idea into her head.” That’s not how it works. Things go bad when people don’t ask, so ask. If she has been thinking about it at all, urge her to see a doctor immediately.

    If she reassures you that she’s not in danger, okay good. Whew. If she gets a little indignant about being asked, say that you just care about her. Better that you annoy a friend than risk her death. Then never mind all that, and continue reading the rest of the post:

Dear Lewis,

I mean it with compassion and respect when I say that your friend has some growing up to do. One aspect of her maturity has been hindered. It’s not her fault, but it is up to her to fix it, and you can encourage her.

Believing in a perpetual parent figure can keep people perpetually child-like. Until we fully acknowledge that we are orphans, and that we have to rely on ourselves and on living relationships and friendships that we build, we tend to not fully grow up emotionally.

When the belief in a protector/guide finally crumbles, often there’s a lag time between what the intellect knows is over and what the emotions continue to cling to, and it can be a painful time of grief. Even though your friend’s mind realizes that the “someone out there” is an illusion, she still misses the comfort of the illusion. Until she finally lets go of the last of the emotional attachment, she will be uncomfortable and not able to fully enjoy the freedom and confidence of independent adulthood. In a way, this letting go is a coming of age process.

The Disney animated movie Dumbo is a story of this kind of coming of age. Dumbo has come to believe that a magic feather he holds is what allows him to fly. In the climactic high dive scene at the end, as he plummets to what will be a fatal impact, the feather slips from his grasp. Without his illusory crutch he is paralyzed with fear as the ground rushes up at him. Timothy, his mouse friend pleads with him to forget about the feather, that it was all just a trick to give him confidence, and that he can fly without magic. At the last moment Dumbo tries believing in himself, spreads his enormous ears, and triumphantly soars just above the crowd’s heads.

By posting her feelings on a blog, your friend can relieve some of her pain by simply expressing, and she might get some helpful feedback. There are readers here who intimately understand her feelings, and I hope they will offer not just their understanding, but also their practical experience for soothing, healing and moving beyond this kind of grief. They will also probably confirm that this journey takes time.

But as valuable as that can be, I think the level of sorrow that she’s expressing also needs a three-dimensional response, not just words on a computer screen. She has one resource that many who are in her predicament lack, and that is you.

She needs and has a friend who can do something that her believed-in god was never able to do: Be visible, audible, tangible, and immediately responsive. Flesh-and-blood friends may not know everything, and they may not be perfect, but they can be right here for us far more effectively and satisfactorily than an abstract concept that supposedly cares about us, but from a distance.

Invite her to coffee, to lunch, to the park, or for a hike in the hills. Share with her the real-world things that have enriched your life, not expecting that she’ll like the very same things, but to show her that her own mind is filled with many possibilities for creating joy, interest, satisfaction, and meaning.

Although you haven’t gone through that sort of deconversion yourself, you can still empathize. She describes what she has lost in terms of a protecting parent or a reliable friend. Most likely you have experienced the loss of some kind of supporting figure. You don’t have to say, “Oh I know how you feel because I lost my (so-in-so).” That might come across trite or lame. Just tap into the feeling from your own experience, and it will help to guide you in how you respond.

When you don’t know what to say, you can say, “I don’t know what to say, but I do care very much.” That can be surprisingly welcome to a grieving person. It introduces her to the replacement for her friend-in-the-sky: the solid, earthly friends who have actually been delivering, in their imperfect way, the help that she used to attribute to God.

Your nonverbal communication is just as important as what you might say, perhaps even more. Voice tone, the pace of your speech, facial expression, nodding, pacing her breathing, sighing, and hugging are just a few of the ways that we communicate our caring and our empathy. They can often be far more effective than well-chosen nouns and verbs.

Right now your friend is stuck in a cul-de-sac of “I’m no longer protected and loved.” She’s focused on herself. Respectfully remind her of her relationships with the rest of the world. She said “she misses feeling like her prayers were meaningful.” Like Dumbo’s friend Timothy, challenge her that without any magic, her actions can be meaningful. She can make important positive differences in the lives of other people simply by being just as solid, empathetic and caring a friend as the one she needed, the one she has in you. Then in turn, when she has helped those people to heal from whatever is their loss, they can do the same for even more people. In this way, her very human, very real, very earthly compassion and benevolence will continue to spread far beyond her physical limits.

It’s almost like magic.

Richard

You may send your questions for Richard to AskRichard. Please keep your letters concise. They may be edited. All will eventually be answered, but not all can be published. There is a very large number of letters; please be patient.

About Richard Wade

Richard Wade is a retired Marriage and Family Therapist living in California.

  • Hitch

    Sense of security is a big one. How to cope in an uncertain world.

    Without a deity as fallback other things can help recover that sense.

    1) Self-reliance. The recognition that in many situations one can cope. One can handle it, even if the going is rough. Emotions are just emotions and one can choose to think positively and constructively.
    2) Friends and social surroundings. Most people are nice and helpful. If there is trouble most neighbors will help, and even more so friends and family will. We are not along in this world and people love and care. In fact people love and care for strangers.
    3) Acceptance. Some things are beyond control. To accept that uncertainty is part of life and just recognize that the fear is not productive, is another key step.

    Richard is perfectly right in saying that this in many ways it is like growing up. If the parents are no longer around one has to find the space were oneself is the source of identity, of coping, of problem solving and of appreciation. God can be the ultimate parent, and losing it is indeed a grieving process. Like any grieving process you can help by acknowledging the loss, and by showing how the new situation is really offers new opportunities.

  • Mike E

    I have gone through a similar experience of growing up, even fairly late in life. The ultimate bedrock of all Christian beliefs is that life will work out for the best no matter what the present day circumstance is. Some amorphous force will reach down and scoop us up when all bad befalls us. Even when bad is terminal cancer or loss of a family member, good will still come of it.

    The good news is that this our new belief evolves as we come to understand that we still have that good fortune, only we have to create it for ourselves. No divine being is going to get us the job that we need. No one patches up a broken relationship, unless of course, we do. Ultimately, that reliance on ourselves is what comes from this dark passage way that we have to go through as our new self emerges. In the end however, the belief in our own personal force is better than anything else given by religion

  • http://secularshawshank.wordpress.com Andy

    Richard’s advice is always a model of good Humanism.

    Just as new Christian converts devour the literature of that world (Purpose-driven Life; Joel Osteen; C.S. Lewis; etc.), there’s a whole genre of books out there by folks who have “converted” to non-belief. These books can help someone situate their new life as a non-believer. To someone like the “friend” in the letter, I might even go so far as to recommend some of the new atheist polemics, like God is not Great and Breaking the Spell. Those books make forceful arguments that say, Yes, damn it, there is a case to be made for the non-religious life. And it’s the only rational case. In a way, that might be just what such a person needs to hear. This is part of what Dawkins means when he talks about consciousness-raising: some people simply have not been exposed to the best arguments—especially people who come out of religious backgrounds.

  • bernerbits

    I let go of God 2 years ago. I’ve been in and out of therapy and I still carry around those nagging feelings of inadequacy and uncertainty. Many therapists in my region of the country are subject to a religious bias and perceive my non-faith as a cause of my issues and encourage me to re-indoctrinate myself.

    Thoughts?

  • Bob

    I suspect what Lewis’ friend is experiencing is the very normal and very human need for validation. It’s not just visible in our choices regarding faith, but in our choices of media and entertainment.

    We watch crime dramas to see justice done. We watch medical dramas to see people receive help.

    But there’s a certain hurtful tone that’s made its way into our societal dialogue. The insight and perseverance of Perry Mason has been reduced to the sarcastic put downs of Judge Judy. We enjoy medical dramas, but we can’t see our way clear to improve healthcare. We indulge in ‘reality television’ that consists of screwing each other over for an advantage or for cash.

    We fill our days with useless information and media speculation on the motives of our politicians and celebrities, we stand in judgment of their worthiness or physical beauty or intelligence. Is it any wonder, then, that we’re finding someone plagued by doubt and fear in the absence of a daily dose of praise?

    But the truth is, the world is no less wonderful for the absence of a deity. Rainbows still happen, and they’re still a sight to behold. People can still possess of charity and innate goodness.

    Believers like to attribute the presence of deity to matters of complexity. A Michaelangelo sculpture, clearly, didn’t happen entirely by chance; but there are things that happen at random and end up being the hallmark of our lives. Meeting the right person, for example. Hearing a new composition or discovering a new artist.

    The world isn’t less special, nor is your friend. You just have to open your eyes a little more, and embrace those moments when they happen.

  • http://godless-me.moonfruit.com Karen, RN

    Richard…golf clap! You are spot on not just from a humanist perspective but from a psychiatric perspective as well. I too have experienced this sense of loss…it really is quite gut wrenching…I mourned the loss of my faith for over a year. That was over 10 years ago now and I can honestly say it was the best decision I ever made (although in addition to a good support system I also opted for therapy as well which ended up being quite helpful).

    I now spend my days in pursuit of my Doctor of Nursing Practice degree in Family and Child Psychiatry. Some things just leave a lasting impression, so much so it can have a powerful effect on your course in life.

    I wish Lewis’s friend much love and support as she transitions into life without God.

  • Nikki Bluue

    I am going to get a lot of flack, but here goes! :-) I am atheist with no religious background, so I cannot fully relate to her loss, but I believe her loss is just as real.

    Sweetie, there is spirituality after “god”. One can be spiritual without the belief in “god” or any of that mumbo-jumbo woo-woo stuff like angels, if she isn’t into that new-agey cr*p. I agree with Richard—Actions speak louder than prayers-on-knees. ‘Prayer’, so to speak, can still be done via actions, like volunteering or helping othrs in need. I am part of a growing # of folks who call themselves “spiritual-but-not-religious”. I still see a lot of hope for this woman who feels so despondent.

    However, do be very mindful that one does not “fall into the mindtrap” of spirituality. Critique what you read and hear others say they believe.

  • Nikki

    My “deconversion” didn’t lead me to feelings of inadequacy or uncertainty – it made me feel so responsible for everything! A keystone to my life philosophy is, human beings have the ability to solve human problems if we get off our a$$es and DO something. But that means, ME TOO! It was really overwhelming at times.

    However, it also made me appreciate what is around us, and everything we actually CAN do to make positive changes.

  • muggle

    Oh, boy, can I relate! Not only are Richard’s remarks spot on as usual but I’d add Hitch’s and Andy’s above. My friends having my back helped and reading Dan Barker’s “Losing Faith in Faith” was the first of many atheist reads and an eye-opener. I particularly liked parts that showed when Dan went through some struggles doing some things that look crazy in hindsight that I think we all do in little ways losing our faith, like letting god direct him where to drive his car. I think when we start questioning, we do little nutty but not too nutty tests of god in that kind of way.

    It took me 10 years to go from Christian to Atheist traveling through Judaism and Agnosticism en route. Even when the day came that I said out loud there is no god, it took still longer to let go of the notion of a soul and even longer to lend any credence to evolution (which seems so stupid to me now but was also in part due to a deplorable lack of education in our public school systems about evolution).

    Childhood indoctrination is a tough, tough thing to overcome and if it was thorough, I think it is done mostly in baby steps. There’s no letting go all at once if it runs deep at least for some of us. First, I came to the conclusion that Jesus couldn’t possibly be the Messiah. It took six months of synagogue and studying for conversion, examining what I felt was the root of even expecting a Messiah, to get to the notion of maybe there isn’t a god, let alone Jehovah, and four more years from that to there isn’t one.

    All that said, I’m not sure what to make of Richard’s warning. I was suicidal when I believed. Leaving belief and my mother’s home took care of that. Both were so freeing that it was immediately uplifting. I think it’s also that I no longer felt pointed at and called sinner all the time, mainly because much in that rule book went against the grain of what I felt to be right. The morals in the buybull are questionable at best.

    I’d heed Richard’s warning and advice — as he says, better safe and sorry — but showing your friend how free and happy her life can be and that she can now be in control of it and make decisions on what makes sense instead of an ancient rule book will probably do wonders for her. Be a friend and show her she’s not alone and she won’t be shunned for little sins/wrongs. That it doesn’t take god to forgive her when she messes up and it doesn’t take god to be strong and know right from wrong. That, in fact, knowing her own mind often works far better in that regard.

  • schnauzermom

    While not necessarily appropriate if we’re in crisis mode here, if and when she’s able, sit down with her and watch Julia Sweeney’s “Letting Go of God.” Sweeney comes from the same place as your friend, religiously speaking, and details gently and with wonderful humor the process that allowed her to let go of god. As an ex-catholic myself, I really related and appreciated it. Also, just being there for your friend, listening and offering support, will help her immensely. Good luck to you and to her, and give her my best.

  • http://godless-me.moonfruit.com Karen, RN

    bernerbits,

    “I let go of God 2 years ago. I’ve been in and out of therapy and I still carry around those nagging feelings of inadequacy and uncertainty. Many therapists in my region of the country are subject to a religious bias and perceive my non-faith as a cause of my issues and encourage me to re-indoctrinate myself.

    Thoughts?”

    You know, finding a good therapist is like finding a good piece of fruit :) you have to pick and sort and hold this one and that one and put it down before you finally put the best one in the bag.

    As a psychiatric nurse, I know enough to know that your involvement in your course of treatment is vital not only to respecting your person but in finding a solution that “fits” your beliefs and lifestyle in order to be both effective and lasting in it’s effects.

    I too mourned the loss of my faith (I have another post here that talks more to that) and it took me over a year to just quit mourning then several more to feel empowered by my choice. Transitions are always difficult and this kind of transition is life changing…as you work this out for yourself and recognize your own power and belief in yourself you will find great comfort in knowing you can comfort yourself :)

    I cannot say I understand as everyone’s situation is unique to them, but I can say I empathize with your pain. Find a therapist that recognizes and respects your beliefs…no therapist should be proselytizing to you and encouraging you to re-indoctrinate…this is beyond un-professional in the worst way. I am embarrassed that this is your experience with “professional” help.

    There are some good therapists out there…

  • Hitch

    @bernerbits: Keep shopping for therapists. Don’t settle for one that you do not feel comfortable. Don’t feel obliged to stay with a therapist. In your first consultation session say explicitly what your expectations are and observe the response. If the answer is not compatible with your needs move on. Also consult with local secular self-help groups. You may be able to find someone who can recommend a suitable therapist.

    There are other ways to help shopping for a therapist as well. I’d recommend going to the local public library and seeing if they have “how to find a therapist”-style books on the shelves. They explain different schools and good approaches to shop. I would highly recommend that. Often one can simply by screening the web page or data-base entries which therapists will likely not work and which are promising.

    Most regions have a good number of therapists and with perseverance you have a good chance to meet someone who is compatible.

  • Daniel

    I remember when I deconverted. I think every devout Christian who deconverts thinks about suicide. I don’t know how many actually go through with it.

    The biggest thing that helped me was realizing that, while I “needed” God, he wasn’t there. I felt like I deserved God, but I realized he wasn’t there. He was never there.

    For anyone who has just deconverted, I recommend friends for emotional support, but you alone know your mind, and you are the only person who can kill the tyrannical monster inside who doesn’t want to let go.

    I also recommend taking things one step at a time. Don’t listen to people who say you aren’t entitled to beliefs that don’t have evidence. Let go of God first, then if you feel you need to, let go of the idea of an afterlife, then the idea of a soul, etc.

    Once you’re God-free for a few days, it gets easier, and you can move on. You look back on how it was before and you realize how abusive your religion was.

    Better than anything, you realize that all those times you prayed and asked God to help you, and you thought he did, were actually your own power.

    God didn’t get you through college, YOU did(and perhaps your parents with financial support). All your accomplishments that you used to accredit God with you can now rightfully take credit for.

    Hang in there.

  • BrianE

    “Believing in a perpetual parent figure can keep people perpetually child-like”

    Oh I am so blatantly stealing this line it’s not even funny.

  • http://laughinginpurgatory.blogspot.com/ Andrew Hall

    Wow Richard,

    I applaud your attention to potential suicidal thoughts/actions of the person in question.

    However, the first paragraph (after the Dear Lewis)just sucks. Growing up to do? When a person who has taken god(s) seriously disposes of the idea it’s pretty serious. It isn’t just a case of needing to grow up. It’s more like a person who has lost a family member and they need to mourn. Now your actual advice for “being there” for the person is correct but the first paragraph really sets the tone of being callous and arrogant. You exacerbate this tone by comparing the person to Dumbo (it’s not like the character is named Smarto).

    I just want to say that this is a common problem with Atheists. We assume we are rational and the rest of the world are snots. This attitude “leaks through” in a variety of ways (such as the ones I touched on above)and gives all of us a bad name.

    In terms of advice for the person who is de-converting – find a local Humanist group and plug into the support of many like minded people.

  • Stephen P

    @Andrew Hall:

    However, the first paragraph (after the Dear Lewis)just sucks. Growing up to do? … the first paragraph really sets the tone of being callous and arrogant.

    When I finally put religion behind me, I did indeed experience it as growing up, and I know I’m not the only one. I did not experience it as mourning. Maybe you experienced it differently. Fine – you are free to share your experience. But at the moment you are the only one coming over as arrogant.

  • Demonhype

    Very excellent post, and I also applaud your keen eye for the potential suidical thoughts. That went right past me.

    Dumbo is a great metaphor. Another would be the Toy Story movies. Buzz Lightyear is born with this delusion that makes him feel wonderful, and he crumbles when he finds out he is really a toy, but then Woody explains to him all the joy and meaning he can find in life–real joy that can give life far more meaning and solace than a comforting delusion. Although Buzz’s delusion is a bit more about power and importance than comfort, the basic idea is the same. In fact, all three Toy Story movies have a great atheist-friendly message that underscore the beauty and love you can find in reality as opposed to some ideal delusion or potential immortality (Toy Story 2–great metaphor about the sacrifice of this life for some promise of eternal life later).

    Maybe going on about TS is a little OT, but they’re great to watch when you want a little positive atheist pick-me-up, and might be a great tool to use to help your friend. I’ve helped my brother (who struggles with similar issues) in the same way, by discussing beautiful and positive movies that are relevant to the issues he struggles with. Of course, it works best when you’re talking about the merits of a pro-secular film and not criticizing the stupidity of the pro-fantasy films, especially if the person in question is kind of fragile at the moment.

    It doesn’t even have to be Toy Story–it can be any relevant movie that the two of you would enjoy. There are some great movies out there that underscore the joys reality has to offer over fantasy–though the messages tend to be a bit more subtle than the much more common pro-fantasy type of story. Its a great tool tool to use for this sort of situation because it provides some framework for discussion, a metaphor that might help separate subjective issues from more objective ones, and a great way to broach the subject.

  • Maryann

    A few thoughts: Religious programming is very effective especially Catholicism which begins even before one is born. “Losing one’s Faith” is not only a source of grief but also quite scary due to the threat of eternal fire. However once one realizes that the whole religious world including Catholicism is based on made up human stories there is a tremendous relief. I do miss the story, the prayer etc. but not the constant anxiety and fear of what comes after death as in hell. I did and do still grieve at the loss of ‘security’, but paradoxically have more peace and calmness since leaving religion. Life here and now also holds so much more for me as I can live it without so much fear of something that does not even exist! I have more ‘faith’ in life and reality than I ever did in religion. To continue my ‘recovery’ I read, look to the atheist sites and am making new friends who are like minded. I’m even coming out more to my friends who are still in religion and my family. I was Catholic for 63 years so do have a bit of programming to get through but wow is it worth it! It is never too late, sure I missed a lot in religion and grieve that, but not so much that I miss out on life right now. Continue the recovery!

  • nankay

    Ummm..Dumbo’s real name is Jumbo Jr. The Dumbo moniker came from a group of bitter female elephants. Just sayin’. I can’t in any way see that Richard was calling the ex-believer dumb by any stretch of the imagination.

  • http://www.skunque.com Skunque

    no time to type more, just wanted to say great advice, particularly on the growing up/parent angle.

  • http://annainca.blogspot.com Anna

    The original seems to have disappeared from the Internet, but Kevin Klapstein wrote an interesting article called Toy Story: A Humanist Parable. You can still find it archived here:

    http://corvallissecular.org/newsletter/2000/wf2000_10.pdf

  • Matt

    Personally, I thought the Dumbo metaphor was spot on. I always had a soft spot for that movie (my favorite when I was a child). God really is a “magic feather”. A crutch. Sure, maybe a really important one you don’t think you could live without, just like a father figure (exactly as Richard suggests). I’m not detecting any arrogance or disrespect by telling the truth.

  • bernerbits

    I cannot say I understand as everyone’s situation is unique to them, but I can say I empathize with your pain. Find a therapist that recognizes and respects your beliefs…no therapist should be proselytizing to you and encouraging you to re-indoctrinate…this is beyond un-professional in the worst way. I am embarrassed that this is your experience with “professional” help.

    Well, it’s not the whole of my experience. My father’s an LPCC and from what I can tell, very professional, and I’ve had good therapists in other parts of the country. However, I’ve been in private counseling sessions here where one of the first things my therapist said was about God, and even back in New Mexico where I sort of believed but was non-practicing my therapist encouraged me to go visit churches and prayed with me on occasion.

    My wife and I had a very good marriage counselor here during our first year, but I would feel weird going back to her for individual help.

  • Alex

    In fact, all three Toy Story movies have a great atheist-friendly message that underscore the beauty and love you can find in reality as opposed to some ideal delusion or potential immortality

    They’re toys. That are alive. Sounds like some ideal illusion to me. :P

    I’m just playing though; Toy Story definitely does have that positive message. (No spoilers on #3 please!)

    I think the movie (or book) Contact does a good job of showing the beauty of rational thought.

  • http://religiouscomics.net Jeff P

    I can’t say that I can relate since I’ve been non-religious my whole life, but definitely accept that what she feels is real to her and show patience and compassion. Perhaps give her a copy of the Dumbo movie along with an actual feather to tide her over…

  • Will

    I went through the same thing. She should let art, literature, and music take the place of religion. I think these are what give religion its power because of the emotional responses inherent in good art. This is what i did and still do. It works really well.

  • chaimsmom

    Great article, and very well timed for me. I spent way too much time yesterday with people convinced that “god has a plan” and “god never gives you more than you can handle.” I came home quite despondent. Thank you for helping me reframe my thinking – god didn’t get me through tough situations, I did and I can do it again. What a self-esteem builder! BTW, I really like the Dumbo metaphor.

  • Nikki Bluue

    Another idea is resort to art therapy?

    A little cheap watercolor pad or Crayola and a art sketch pad. Perfection need NOT apply here—art isn’t about perfection. I did this the night before my surgery cuz I wanted to ‘grieve’ properly over a loss before the surgery and it did help me very much with the grieving process.

    There isn’t any right or wrong way to go about art. If Friend likes colored pens, then use those. Art therapy can be helpful in the process, but it cannot be the only way to process.

  • Hitch

    @bernerbits: Ask your marriage councelor for a referral explaining the situation. Therapists are usually very well networked and know each other’s style and preference.

  • http://miketheinfidel.blogspot.com/ MikeTheInfidel

    When I first began to doubt what I believed, I was angry at myself for being so gullible and at others for catering to my gullibility. I was also devastated to think that all the golden promises my faith gave me might not be true after all – that everything would ultimately work out for the best, that I would live forever, et cetera.

    But then I realized that it didn’t make any sense for me to be angry with myself, and the other people were in the same boat as me – they just didn’t realize it. If God isn’t real, he isn’t real for everybody, not just me. So I really couldn’t blame anybody else for just telling me what they’d been conned into believing as well.

    As for losing all the blessings I’d been promised – well, once you realize that the promises themselves were empty in the first place and that you aren’t really losing anything real, it gets easier to recover.

    It always strikes me just how differently people respond to losing their faith. For some, it’s a life-changing event. For others, it doesn’t really seem to change much at all. It can hurt, and that hurt is definitely real, and I’m pretty sure that a lot of it comes from a sense of shame and frustration over having believed something that wasn’t true for so long.

  • Heidi

    Make sure to tell her that *you* will always love her no matter what.

    As for art therapy, if she’s more of a digital type, you can get free 3d art software at DAZ3D.com or e-on software.

    (What I do when I’m not wandering around atheist blogs.)

  • muggle

    demonhype, that’s a really great suggestion. Taper the movie to the person’s tastes, there’s so many out there. I’ve never had any desire whatsoever to watch the Toy Story but I’m suddenly glad my grandson likes them!

    Two other truly great movies for choosing reality over fantasy and feeling great for it: “The Truman Show” (that one’s truly fantastic for it, imo; hell, he’s named true man, for Pete’s sake) and “The Wizard of Oz” and does anyone out there not like the latter?

    Nikki Blue, great suggestion! Old jokes about breaking out the coloring book and crayons aside, it really is therapeutic. I recently discovered some color by number with colored pencils and all that were really something (you blend colors and everything) and the numbers are on a separate chart so they don’t show through and not as cheesy as the paint by number sets usually are or as messy. But, as you said, the end result isn’t the point, the calming effect is.

    Heidi, thanks for the links! I am so going to get lost in those sites this weekend when grandson goes to his daddy’s house and I won’t be interrupted. They look really cool. I’ll throw on my friend’s blues station and have at.

  • Heidi

    Welcome, Muggle. Be forewarned, it’s addictive. LOL. There are more freebies for both programs at Renderosity. There is also for-sale stuff, but that can get really expensive if you end up addicted. If you need any help, just shoot me a site mail over there. I’m ButterflyFish at DAZ, and butterfly_fish at Renderosity. :-)

  • Anne

    I don’t have any stellar advice. I think therapy is a waste of time in most cases. You spend so much energy trying to find a therapist at a time you can ill afford it. I guess the only thing positive I would say was that when I was depressed enough to visit a therapist, the whole thing was so fucked up that I was forced to cheer up.

    But anyway. What did actually help me was getting involved in a local humanist group that was forming in my area. After 9 months or something the president quit and asked me to take over. So I’ve been doing that for a couple of years now. It’s frustrating at times as this is a largely conservative area, but at least I have a group of people who are also atheists, some of whom deconverted as adults (the majority seem to have grown up atheist). There’s also an atheist group that meets weekly for lunch, and I attend those meetings pretty regularly.

    Recently I’ve also been reading some Buddhist stuff, which I find helpful. Thich Nhat Hanh is one I would recommend, though he does bring up Xian doctrine from time to time (not only to reach Xians but also because he grew up in a country which is Buddhist and Xian, so that is his background). I don’t agree with everything he says, nor is it necessary. But he does have some advice for living in the here and now, and enjoying life without the expectation of living forever, that is very helpful. As are the breathing exercises. I’ve read “Peace Is Every Step” “The Heart of the Buddha’s Teaching (?)” and a book on “Anger” that were all helpful in their way. I would really like to find an atheist Buddhist group to join – contrary to popular belief, many Buddhists actually believe in all kinds of woo woo crap, not to mention reincarnation. I have recently found out several atheist friends also practice Buddhism, so perhaps we will start our own “sangha”.

    It really takes time to get over the loss. Even though I would not wish for a moment to return to my previous belief, it took a long time to let go and to find personal meaning in the absence of the external one I had always supposed was there.

    “Life is better than death, I believe, if only because it is less boring, and because it has fresh peaches in it.” ~Alice Walker

  • prospera

    In terms of advice for the person who is de-converting – find a local Humanist group and plug into the support of many like minded people.

    The support and understanding of an atheist friend helped me greatly in my transition.

    When I decided to give myself permission to question my belief and began exploring my doubts (about three years ago), I also realized that I now had very little in common with my church family that I spent so much time with. Not only did I grieve my faith, I also grieved the loss of my friends. That was probably the most difficult part of this whole process for me — the inevitable loneliness. I loved these people, but I knew that our relationship will never be the same, because they would not be able to accept my atheism and I would not be able to accept their blind faith.

    I think that ultimately, losing your belief is a lonely journey, since no one else can do the thinking for you. However, I don’t know if I could have made it to this point without the unconditional acceptance and encouragement of a dear friend who stood by and cheered me on at every step without judgment.

    Lewis, if possible, you can be that support for your friend as she slowly goes through this process.

  • Demonhype

    @Anna: Thanks a lot, now I have to read that! (Seriously, thanks for posting it. I’m looking forward to seeing what insights he had that might have converged with mine, as well as any ideas I might have overlooked. Too bad there’s a stupid thunderstorm starting up here, or I’d start now.)

    @Alex: I won’t spoil it, but they do tie up all the ends in a wonderful way that continues to stay true to the humanist values of the previous two films. You won’t be disappointed!

    @muggle: It’s particularly nice to have child-friendly movies like these that introduce these humanistic concepts, as opposed to the kind of message you get in The Princess and the Frog, where wishing and believing is so much more important than being logical working towards what you want. (Of course, I’m still thrilled to death they are bringing back 2D, so I won’t be bashing that film all too much despite my disappointment).

  • http://annainca.blogspot.com Anna

    You’re welcome, Demonhype. And speaking of child-friendly humanist movies, one of my absolute favorites is the 1973 version of Charlotte’s Web. It’s thoroughly secular and contains wonderful messages about friendship and the circle of life, along with debunking miracles and presenting a naturalistic view of death.


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