Losing your faith can be scary, but it doesn’t have to be

Another comment on the post criticizing Greta I talked about yesterday: Frodorr says that Greta wants to “make most of the world’s population suffer the trauma of losing their faith,” which assumes that losing your faith is traumatic for most people. And I realize that losing your faith is often very scary. But it doesn’t have to be. In particular, it’s a lot less scary once you realize how much of the scariness is the product of religious propaganda and the behavior of religious believers.

Back when he was writing Common Sense Atheism, Luke Muehlhauser wrote a couple of good posts about this:

A LOT of people think you can’t have morality without God. In fact, when I was younger, I was raised a Christian and I used think you couldn’t have morality without God. I thought: Don’t you need a God who is watching your every move so you can be MOTIVATED to do good? I mean, without the fear of HELL to keep them in line, those crazy atheists must be out there doing whatever they feel like, like eating babies or having orgies or giving drugs to chipmunks and stuff like that.

But then, a few years later I did some studying and I lost my faith in God and I lost my fear of hell, and strangely, I didn’t suddenly want to eat babies or have orgies or give drugs to chipmunks. I still wanted to be honest with people. I still wanted to treat people with dignity. And I still wanted to, like, help save the world or something. And it wasn’t because I wanted to please God or because I feared hell, it was just because those seemed like good things to do!


The loss of faith was terrifying for me and many others because my religion had trained me to be terrified of losing faith in an effort to ensure that I never would. I was told that non-believers would be tortured forever after death, that they could have no objective moral code, that they had no meaning or purpose, that they were angry and sad and rarely found happiness…

As someone who has been through a scary crisis of faith and came out the other side happy, fulfilled, and passionate, here is my advice to those facing a crisis of faith: Don’t panic. My own loss of faith was a nightmare. I thought the whole universe had shattered, and all meaning and purpose had been swept away. But it wasn’t true. Millions of non-believers know it’s not true.

Another reason losing your faith can suck is that non-believers can end up socially isolated, especially in “red” parts of the country where churches are the main social organizations. If that’s your problem, just be ready to make new friends, look on Google or Meetup.com for an atheist group in your area that you can go to for support, and also get ready to get the hell out of the small town you live in to a larger city.

If your parents would disown you over losing your religion, consider playing along until you get out of high school or even get out of college (if they’re helping you with that). But after that, put your foot down and don’t let them get away with making their love dependent on accepting their religious indoctrination. No matter what insane things they claim to believe about non-believers right now, and no matter how much of a tantrum they throw in the short-term, odds are they’ll eventually decide having a relationship with their kid is more important than their religious beliefs.

It’s important to stress that whether the problem is general social ostracism or fear of being disowned, the trauma of losing faith is mostly the product of crappy behavior by religious believers. Just like fear of Hell, or the lie that atheists are incapable of being happy or moral. And a lot of the trauma is avoidable if people would just realize they’ve been lied to and realize they can break out of the religious social bubble they’ve been living in.

Tim Minchin: “I don’t know how to say that nicely, but…”
Why I’ve decided to start deleting jerky comments more often
Abolitionism vs. reformism
Arguments for the existence of something that sounds kind of like a god
  • Jeffrey

    I had a tough time leaving Christianity for many of the reasons in this post. Most of my friends were Christians, and I didn’t want to lose them. I also didn’t want to break my parents’ hearts. Most of all, I didn’t know any other way to live. It was not just frightening to lose friends, but I had never learned to make good friends outside the church. So it took me a long time to break away; the advantages outweighed the disadvantages.

    I now wish I broke away sooner. When I got a family and children, I realized that I didn’t want to train them to think Christianity was a viable option, especially if it was all just for my own comfort.

    Fortunately, most of the people I was so worried about before have busy enough lives to not care too much about their frend or relative’s apostasy. But it’s still a little scary, yes.

  • otrame

    My nephew’s girlfriend was almost in tears when she realized she could come out around his family. She had been an atheist since she was old enough to understand that Mom and Dad weren’t always right, but her family has treated anyone who even switched to a different flavor of Christianity pretty badly, so she is afraid to do anything but keep her apostasy on the DL.

    She loves them and is convinced that they will utterly reject her. She is not ready to understand that if they do reject her then they never loved her– they just loved a false image of her that made them look good to other people. Loving parents might be upset at an atheist child, afraid for them, but total rejection of them is a pure sign that love is not what they feel for the kid.

    She’s still very young. I think that actually meeting people who are either atheists or who have no trouble hanging with atheists (not everyone in my family is atheist) has been a big help, but it may be quite a while before she is able to take the plunge with her family. I hope when she does that she finds out that while they are not happy about it, her fears of actual rejection are unfounded. And she might find out she isn’t the only one.

    While I do believe that every single “out” atheist is a big help in the project to remove the stigma of being atheist, and usually encourage people to be out, I don’t think it is worth being in danger, losing a job that will be difficult to replace, or, if you need them badly enough, losing the support of family. It has to be a personal choice, based on individual situations.

    That being said, the fact that you MIGHT lose a job, or the love of your family, or even put yourself in physical danger by simply not believing in a god, really should tell you everything you need to know about religion.

  • http://www.UsuRgqdjMJVEHdCkjUndFrScr.com Jackie Clelland

    I admire what you get completed right here. I love the part where you say you are doing this to give back but I would assume by all the comments that is working for you as well. Do you have any much more details on this particular?

  • Noelle

    I have to say coming out and fearing punishment is not nearly as painful as losing what I thought was my bedrock, so it actually is traumatic for some people. You can say don’t rely on an outside source all you want but that can be easier said than done. Is it religions fault for teaching you that in the first place? Maybe. But this is a scary world and I see why people choose to believe in something more.