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.

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