The Handbook: It. Gets. Better

The Handbook: It. Gets. Better December 29, 2014

It starts, for many of us, with a crystal-clear OHMYGOSH moment where we suddenly see something that simply will never be unseen. A light shines in a dark corner for the first time, and we see what lurks there and can never forget or even ignore it. Exactly what that light illuminates varies by the person, but that’s what it feels like. Suddenly something we thought for maybe our whole lives turns out to maybe be not quite what we thought it was.

English: Foggy sunrise in San Francisco and Bu...
English: Foggy sunrise in San Francisco and Buteo jamaicensis with a mouse (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

That moment is one that many of us will remember our whole lives. It shatters us, demolishes everything, up-ends the entire table.

For a while we end up in a tailspin–adrift–totally off-course. We ignore it as best we can for a while, but then we come face to face with it in some dark moment, some utter blackness of soul where that illumination is suddenly all we can see.

And we struggle. We try to find some explanation that puts everything right again–but the explanations just raise more questions. We try to figure out some alternate way of looking at it–but all the ways we find just make the situation look worse.

Eventually, we stop arguing with that truth and start trying to work with it.

If that truth happens to be about the lack of credible support for religion, though, we’ve got a problem on our hands, don’t we? Because the things we believed put us in a very enviable position as the children-or-spouses of a living deity who doted on us.

Now, suddenly, we are just like everybody else on this spinning rock we call Earth. Suddenly, whatever purpose we feel we have is one we devise for ourselves; it’s not handed to us from on high. Suddenly, we are on our own; there is no deity or angels holding a net under our feet as we go about our days, ready to catch us in case we stumble even a little. Suddenly, our desperate hopes about living after death and seeing our departed loved ones again gets dashed into dust.

It’s disconcerting, to say the least. The very basis of how we know what is true and what isn’t comes under attack and is found wanting. We might feel embarrassed–I sure did. Many of us feel downright mortified when we consider the damage we’ve done to our various relationships or to our private lives because we believed things that weren’t true.

But then…

Slowly the sunlight creeps into that dark room.

It’s slow, but it happens, this illumination.

It gets better.

You’re going to be okay.

Slowly we realize that there was never a net under our feet at all–we just thought there was, and really it’s worse to have a false sense of security than no safety net at all.

Slowly we realize that nobody was handing us purposes in the first place–we just thought someone was, and really it’s worse to have a false purpose than one we arrive at ourselves based on our interests and aptitudes.

Slowly we realize that quite a lot of our worldview was based on denying the reality before our eyes–we were just really good at compartmentalizing and managing cognitive dissonance, and really it’s worse in the end to turn away from reality than to find some way to live with it.

Slowly we realize that there is not nor has ever been support for the idea of life after death in any way whatsoever–we just let our wishful thinking and desperation get the better of us, and really it’s worse to fool ourselves into thinking that we have forever than to cherish the brief time we have while we have it.

It’s slow, but it happens, this recovery.

It gets better.

You’re going to be okay.

Slowly we figure out how to be our own safety nets, and once we construct our first reality-based net we feel that sudden sparkle of achievement that comes from knowing that we aren’t counting on a capricious supernatural being to do what he promised repeatedly to do in his holy book, but rather we start taking care of our own business.

Slowly we figure out what our purpose really is–and we see how that purpose changes as we change, and how we can accrue multiple purposes at once, and once one purpose is done, if that’s applicable, why then we move to the next project. Gone are the days when we agonized about what a capricious supernatural being might want for our lives–and that exultant rush of knowing we’re responsible for our own achievements is something more real than any number of platitudinous prayers.

Slowly we start learning how to tell what’s real and what isn’t, and we learn to live with reality as it is rather than what we wish it was. That’s harder than it seems, but it’s part of what it is to be human in the modern age. We learn to value truth over lies, objective facts over wishful thinking and blind hope.

Slowly we start to cherish this life more and more and more–all the more because we know beyond doubt that it is fleeting and brief and that we don’t have the faintest idea how much of it we’re going to get. We love our friends and neighbors more, and learn what family really means.

Slowly we start to build our identity as ourselves, to cherish our own lives and care for our own needs, and choose exactly what we will allow others to see and manipulate around us and how far we will engage those who can’t respect our boundaries.

It’s slow, but it happens, this growth.

It gets better.

You’re going to be okay.

I know a lot of ex-Christians read this blog. Many of you are recently deconverted. We’re going to talk soon about some of the logical fallacies and cognitive biases used in the religion and some of the flaws in various apologists’ work, but for now, I wanted to start this series off by saying this:

It. Gets. Better.

And you’re going to be okay.

It can feel like a hell of a struggle at first. Sometimes–especially if you came out of a denomination that was really literalist or oppressive–the whole world gets up-turned when you leave your religion. When I left fundamentalism, I had to examine pretty much every single aspect of my worldview–and almost all of it ended up changing, from my political stances to my opinions about society to my ideas about how men and women should behave to to to to… And that’s totally okay. I’d rather re-examine my old ideas than cling to one that’s demonstrably harmful to me or someone else.

It took me a very long time to realize that it’s way better to feel a little uncomfortable but come out the other side of that discomfort with an improved outlook and more fact-based opinions than to cling to comfortable opinions that were harmful.

Some of our growth will never really end, and that’s okay. We’re okay. It’s okay. As long as we keep moving forward and trying to improve ourselves and do our best, it works out in the end.

My friends, we’re coming up on the end of another year. I wish I could tell you how flat-out amazing this year has been for me. It feels like often I end up writing a post that gets me into tears or makes me galvanized in anger or sympathy–or floods me with hope or joy. Roll to Disbelieve is a very personal project for me. And you make it worth every bit of the while. Every single drop I pour out, I get back many times over. Here’s to another year, and to many more like it. I can’t even imagine what next year will bring–but I’m already looking forward to it.


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