By James Fielding —
Most people would probably agree that the hardest thing about leaving a religion is the loss of community. For many of us, we have lived our entire lives immersed in a group of people that think just like we do. We agree on most things and generally support one another. That all sounds great on the surface. However, once you are away from the pervasive and often damaging nature of that kind of indoctrination, hindsight shows you just how detrimental it was.
So, you break free. Now what? Does this mean you have to sever ties with your entire “tribe?” How will these people interact with you now that you are an outsider? It’s probably time to find some new friends. I will admit that I had an advantage when I finally left religion. I had already moved over 500 miles away from my hometown. The issue is that most of us live our lives within 50 miles of where we were born and don’t have that option. You have to build a new community where you are.
Why a Community?
If there is one thing I would have done differently when leaving religion; it would have been to connect with more people early on. I was lucky to find a transitional state in the form of a Unitarian Universalist church. If I still lived in that city, I may actually still attend, if nothing else, for the human connections. I underestimated the power of community. Sure, I had lots of friends. Looking back now, I can see that most of them were like me and were either questioning or had outright rejected religion. However, at that time, I was still largely afraid to talk about it. That fear made me miss out on many formative conversations that could have helped me come to terms with my new religion-free identity. Not having that community and surrounding myself with supportive peers caused my journey to take much longer than necessary.
Find a Connection
While there a few lone wolves out there that will say they don’t need a community, that is not true for the vast majority. We are social creatures and we crave a support structure and interpersonal interactions. Thankfully, the internet has helped connect us like never before. Social media, email, and online forums are just a few of the ways we can keep in touch with people. No matter what your preferred method is, find some way to meet new people and grow those friendships. The support can be so invaluable when things seem hard. As soon as I meet someone like-minded, I latch on. It feels like I have struck gold. It’s someone with whom I can be open and talk about things that bother or concern me. I treasure every new connection I make!
[Editor’s note: this article was written before Covid-19, so you’ll have to adjust some of the advice to fit your social distancing protocol.]
Where to Look
I’ll start with the obvious: RecoveringFromReligion.org. This organization has been a wonderful resource for so many people, including myself. That’s one of the reasons I was drawn to volunteer. RfR has a vast collection of resources to help people find information and community. I can spend hours clicking on the links to read articles or watch videos about almost any topic that has plagued me. RfR showed me conclusively that I am NOT alone!
MeetUp.com is perfect for someone like me that is a very social person. I like to meet people live and in-person. I was amazed at the number of Humanist, Atheist, and Free Thinker groups there were, no matter where I lived. Sometimes I had to drive a bit but it was worth it. Not only did it connect me with new people but it helped me broaden my horizons by getting out of my normal, local routines to try something new.
Social Media has also been a great outlet for me. I personally like to find Closed Groups on Facebook where I feel safe to have discussions without non-members seeing my comments. Sometimes, the interaction is something as simple as a funny meme or satire article about religion. Humor can be very therapeutic.
No matter how you prefer to interact with others, I HIGHLY recommend you find a community. You are not alone in your doubts. There are so many people out there that in the same boat. Some have already reached the shore and can help guide you. While some are still in the water, giving you the opportunity to help them. We are all at different stages of our journeys. A community can help to unite us all so we can all find our way to a happier life free from the shackles of religion.