How Do You Know If You Are Ready To Let Go of Your Faith?

When do you cross the line from believer to non-believer? At what point can you put a label on your new feelings and identity? How do you know if you are ready to let go of your faith?

For me personally—as I suspect is the case for most—it was a long and challenging process. As your thoughts continue to evolve, you might hesitate to say too much for fear your ideas will be dismissed by well-meaning friends and family. So you end up doing a lot of exploration on your own, feeling no one truly understands how agonizing it can be to confront your doubts head on.

Woman with dark hair in a sleeveless long white dress stands at the edge of the shore looking out at the water. Text reads: How do you know if you are ready to let go of your faith?

In spite of what some might imagine, it’s usually not a dramatic, earth-shattering moment that leads someone out of their faith. Often it is just quiet reflection or mundane daily activities that gently guide you right out the door. Once you make it outside, you realize this is where you belong. 

You end up doing a lot of exploration on your own, feeling no one truly understands how agonizing it can be to confront your doubts head on. Click To Tweet

If I had to narrow it down, two primary factors sparked my journey into non-belief: finally being able to admit my own unhappiness with my worldview, and homeschooling curious children who expected real answers not platitudes. After a brief introduction, I will address both of these in detail. 

Why Do I Bother Talking About This?

I share my non-belief journey on this blog is to let others who struggle with questions know they are not alone

You may not be ready to let go of your faith—or maybe you are. I am not here to judge or to sway you one way or the other. I am just here to provide perspective and solidarity. If even one person can relate to and be comforted by something I have written, it is worth it.

Writing also allows me to process my own thoughts, which in turn helps me to parent my own children as they navigate the predominantly religious-leaning world they live in. So to some extent I write so I can better support them.

A Little Side Story

One summer at a family picnic, a relative my kids had never even met walked up to us and the first words out of his mouth—before he so much as knew any of their names—were to ask them if they knew Jesus. As in, he saw they were our kids, made the usual assumptions about our religious beliefs, and felt totally justified in evangelizing them right there next to the potato salad.

At the time I still identified as a Christian, so while I probably found it odd and rolled my eyes a little, I didn’t say anything. Would I react differently now? Honestly, I don’t know. 

However, I do not want my children to feel uneasy in these situations {like I always did} because they are afraid of ruffling feathers. I want them to know it’s okay to say no, thank you, I am not interested in hearing about that right now when it happens again. Because I can guarantee it will. 

I want to help them find their voice. That is why I speak up even when it is uncomfortable. Even when I know someone will read this and judge me {and them} for it. Someone always does. 

When Your Default No Longer Fits

Christianity dominated my mindset for most of my life. I grew up in an area where Christianity {specifically, Roman Catholicism} was widespread. My extended family and friends impressed upon me this was the correct way to understand the world, and I believed it because it was all I ever knew.

I must be a Christian. I had to be a Christian. I was baptized, confirmed, and took communion regularly for years. I went to Catholic church until college. As an adult, I attended various Christian congregations, organized Bible studies, and joined prayer circles. I said marriage vows in a church and later baptized three children in the same church. 

It was absolutely my default programming. I didn’t look for anything else. I had no reason to. I was Super Duper Jesus-y. Or so I thought. 

I credited God/Jesus for every little occurrence and told people to have a blessed day and said corny things like God’s timing is perfect. I read the Bible every day. {Even when I didn’t feel like it. Looking back now I’m just like, why? What did I think would happen if I didn’t?}

I nodded along to my Christian friends’ prayer requests and touching God-stories. I listened to Christian rock music for crying out loud.

The truth is, however, something about my dedication always seemed off. I laughed and cried at the correct times, and played the role felt I had been given, but I never belonged. Maybe some seed of uncertainty always lingered. Perhaps I should have recognized it sooner.

Some might be reading this and assert, aha! that means you were never a True Christian to begin with! And if that is the message you want to take from this, so be it. It wouldn’t be the first time an ex-believer had someone dismiss their experiences in this way.

Regardless, I realized this wasn’t me. It began to feel forced. I started to think of my “faith” in terms of what I had to do, not what I wanted to do. But I honestly had no idea how I could make things better. Leaving my faith altogether—the horror—was still not even on my radar. 

I blamed the ambivalent feelings I had over the years on a number of things: 

I’m too young, I’m too old, my Catholic upbringing, college rebellion, bad past relationships, not finding the right church, not finding the right Bible study, not finding the right friends, not having sufficient roots, being upset over my father’s death, not being grateful enough, not being strong enough, not wanting it badly enough.

It never occurred to me that maybe it is just wrong. Maybe this is just not who I am. 

I honestly had no idea how I could make things better. Leaving my faith altogether—the horror—was still not even on my radar.  Click To Tweet

When I finally admitted that I could still be me without Him, the burden of not being “good enough” dissipated. For the first time I began to believe my existence had meaning beyond belief. 

Lily pad and flower floating in the water, which has a purple hue. Text reads: Losing your faith, how do you know it's time to let go for good?

The Role Homeschooling Played

Unlike a lot of homeschoolers, we have always taken a secular approach. Even as a Christian, I never wanted our faith and our home education to overlap. We used only secular materials, and kept religion and church as completely separate entities.

Still, we wanted to investigate religious faiths as a homeschool subject, from an academic perspective. The school year we began this, it was very early in my own “evolution” so to speak. At the time I had only recently realized I no longer identified as a Christian. I had not yet admitted this to another soul. I was not very confident in my ability to “teach” anything about religion. But I decided I could learn alongside my kids.

I should clarify that even before my doubts surfaced, I knew I needed to give my children the opportunity to figure this all out for themselves. I did not want them to be exposed to one faith because I decided when they were infants that we should go to this place, read this book, and practice these rituals. I did not want them to simply follow along with me {not that I’d be a great tour guide}. 

I knew I could not simply push my version of God or religion on them at an age when they still believed everything I said. Because if I told them, hey from now on we’re going to go to only this type of church and pray only this way and read only these stories because they are right and nothing else is, they would say, okay. And that’s not what I wanted for them.

At this point, we had been on again/off again church goers for years. So they didn’t have a clear reference point as far as “religious studies” from a specific denomination or church family. It never occurred to me that the reason we had so much trouble finding a place that felt like “home” is that we were looking for something we didn’t need to find.

We first began studying world religions in our homeschool when my oldest two were nine and seven. We shied away from nothing {despite my initial reluctance} and discussed complex concepts from the start—the afterlife, how different people believe different things about the world, why we are here, and what happens when we die

I knew I could not simply push my version of God or religion on them at an age when they still believed everything I said. Click To Tweet

My kids were absolutely floored when they learned that many folks truly, honestly believe that their way—their religion, their view—is the only right one. That if you don’t follow the one, perfect, exclusive way you’re out of the club. 

Considering the number of people on the planet, and the number of diverse world views, it made no sense to them that anyone could claim to know the single, correct way to interpret God. 

In 4th and 2nd grade, they already figured out something many people never do: Thinking any one person or group knows the only true way—and everything else is a myth—is foolish at best. 

This was mind blowing for me, because it was truly the first time I really saw it in that exact light. Having to explain religious views to a couple of curious elementary students stopped me in my tracks. Saying it out loud and seeing their reactions enlightened me in a whole new way. Suddenly “this is the way we’ve always done it” seemed like a ridiculous reason. 

After a bit more chatting they somewhat timidly asked me what religion they were. I told them they’d have to decide for themselves. 

Then the asked me what religion I am. I had to tell them I didn’t know. Because at the time, I truly didn’t.

Of course, back then I still believed in capital-G God. Not in a magical, superhero, wish-granter God, but more of an omnipresent spiritual life force. I assumed the presence of a divine element “out there” whose understanding is likely beyond our limited humanness. 

It had not yet occurred to me that not believing was even an option. It seems absurd to say now—I mean, of course it is an option. But back then the idea completely escaped me. 

As time went on, and we researched more beliefs and read more stories {which they quickly discovered all vaguely sound the same} it became clear that we were all heading in the same direction. 

I don’t remember the exact circumstances, but one day we were finishing up a book or a story and one of them looked at me and asked, what is it called again when you don’t think any of it is true? I think I’m that. They were not sad about this. They were relieved to have a word to identify their feelings.

What About the Little One?

Interestingly, my youngest child—four, almost five, at the time the older two kids and I started pursuing religious education more intently—never had any doubts or confusion when it came to his own views. 

He had never been indoctrinated into a particular religious world view, so he had no reason to think any of them were more “right” than the others.

Unlike his sisters, he had no memory of “going to church” or hearing about God or Jesus or Christianity or any other religious dogma. He simply sat with us and listened to a wide variety of world mythologies with interest. When I asked him if he thought any of them were true, he looked at me like I had truly lost my mind. 

What is it called again when you don’t think any of it is true? I think I’m that. Click To Tweet

It was blatantly obvious to my pre-K student that these tales were fictitious. No one had ever tried to convince him of their realism, and so he took them at face value. He knew what sounded true and what sounded imaginary. These definitely sounded “like someone just made them up for fun.”

Of course as he got older and participated more in our discussions, we talked about how many of the people were likely real historical figures, but the mythology had been retold many, many times—like a long game of telephone. This made sense to him. 

What was more difficult to explain was why so many people still believe these stories to be absolutely true.

What Specifically “Flipped the Switch” For Me?

The truth is, nothing. And everything. Some combination of all of the above, I guess.

I have written previously about the exact church service during which I realized my relationship with Jesus was over, as well as a very memorable tearful incident I consider the beginning of the end

However, these moments were only two of many that I chose to write about; there were numerous other examples of uncertainty. Most are just vague recollections without great distinctions, just one part of a huge puzzle.

I honestly cannot pinpoint the exact moment my faith in any god—not just the Christian god—completely dissipated. The moment when you are ready to let go of your faith will be different for everyone. You might not even recognize it at the time. Or you might walk right up to the precipice and turn back around.

Wherever you may be in the process, remember you are not alone.


What Do I Call Myself Now?

The reason I use the descriptor “nice atheist” in my tagline is very intentional. People are typically surprised when they find out I do not follow any religion or believe in any gods. But you’re so nice! Cognitive dissonance definitely at play here. 

I admit I used to be incredibly uneasy about the term atheist. Of course, atheism literally just means without theism. Yet, you and I both know what kinds of connotations it carries. 

Consider this my tiny contribution to normalizing it. I hope that when folks come here and see these words under my blog title, they either react with a chuckle or with curiosity. 

And then I hope they continue reading, maybe questioning a few stereotypes in the process.

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Studying Major World Religions in Your Secular Homeschool

Welcome to Favorite Homeschool Resources—a series sharing our best-loved secular books and workbooks. You can view all the posts in the series so far here.

Even if you are homeschooling from a secular perspective—perhaps especially if you are homeschooling from a secular perspective—your students will benefit from studying major world religions. 

Learning about other cultures and worldviews increases empathy. One does not need to believe the stories to be true to gain wisdom from them.

Of course, there are so many different doctrines it would be impossible include them all. For this post I will focus on Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Islam, Judaism, and Sikhism. 

{You may also want to check out Why Everyone Should Study World Religions.}

Lit light blue candles arranged in a wooden box. Text reads: Studying major world religions in your secular homeschool.

This post contains affiliate links. I receive a small commission—at no extra cost to you—if you make a purchase. I only recommend products and services I have personally used and enjoyed. For more information read my complete disclaimer here.

Overview and Common Questions

The Kids Book of World Religions 
Really Big Questions About God, Faith, and Religion 
What Do You Believe? 

If you need a more general introduction to belief systems and want to learn some basics about the major faiths currently practiced today, these books would be a good start. Most tend to emphasize the six world religions primarily addressed in this post, but they include information on others as well. 

Learning about other cultures and worldviews increases empathy. One does not need to believe the stories to be true to gain wisdom from them. Click To Tweet

Familiar Stories

Traditional Religious Tales: Buddhist Stories 
Traditional Religious Tales: Christian Stories 
Traditional Religious Tales: Hindu Stories
Traditional Religious Tales: Islamic Stories 
Traditional Religious Tales: Jewish Stories
Traditional Religious Tales: Sikh Stories 

This series from Anita Ganeri quickly became one of our favorites. I love that she presents the stories without giving more “weight” to a particular set of tales. I have found it to be quite common in many world religions books for kids—even ones that purport to be completely secular—that the Christian stories come across with more authority, intentionally or not. You will not find that here. These books perfectly introduce the various mythologies without bias.

Long bookshelf that seems to fade into the distance with hanging lights in front of it. Text reads: Talking about world religions with kids, suggested readings.

Through the Eyes of a Child 

This Is My Faith: Buddhism 
This Is My Faith: Christianity 
This Is My Faith: Hinduism 
This Is My Faith: Islam
This Is My Faith: Judaism 
This Is My Faith: Sikhism 

This series by Holly Wallace discusses the main rituals and practices of different religions as told by a young child {around ten years old} being brought up in that faith.

Key Religious Figures

Buddha 
Buddha Stories 
The Dalai Lama 
The Fantastic Adventures of Krishna 
Jesus 
Mary 
Muhammad 
St. Francis of Assisi 

This is a sample of works by the author Demi. The illustrations are amazing and the information provided is thorough. We have also enjoyed her books about historical figures and folktale retellings.

Festivals and Celebrations

Buddhist Festivals Throughout the Year 
Christian Festivals Throughout the Year 
Hindu Festivals Throughout the Year 
Jewish Festivals Throughout the Year 
Muslim Festivals Throughout the Year 
Sikh Festivals Throughout the Year 

Another series by Anita Ganeri we have enjoyed. These texts include information about holidays, rituals, prayers, songs, and more.


Who Was Books

Who Is the Dalai Lama? 
Who Is Pope Francis?
Who Was Jesus? 
Where Is the Taj Mahal? 
Where Is the Vatican? 
What Are the Ten Commandments? 

These books are always a hit around here. As with most of the series, the reading level is mid to late elementary school, but my middle schoolers still enjoy them. 

{Did you know they also offer lesson plans as well?}

I would love to know what other resources you have used when studying major world religions in your homeschool. Leave any suggestions you have in the comments. And don’t forget to check out the other posts in our favorite homeschool resources series.

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Christmas, Simplified

When Agent E was about three and a half we watched a children’s Christmas special {I do not recall which one} that really pushed the whole “be good, Santa’s watching you, yay presents, reindeer fly around the world in one night” narrative. When it was over, she turned to me and scoffed, “That doesn’t really happen, does it? It’s all pretend, right? That can’t happen.” 

A skeptic from the get-go, that one.

So needless to say, we never did the Santa thing with the Agents. It just seemed like a lot of unnecessary work to be honest. We treat Santa, the Easter Bunny, the Tooth Fairy, etc. the same as any other myths. They know they’re just stories that some people have fun with—but we choose not to. It’s not really a big deal to them.

Small craft project snowman sitting against a background of blurred snow. Text reads: Christmas simplified.

This post contains affiliate links. I receive a small commission—at no extra cost to you—if you make a purchase. I only recommend products and services I have personally used and enjoyed. For more information read my complete disclaimer here.

From the beginning we have chosen to simplify Christmas with our kids and it has worked out fine. I am here to tell you that you, too, can simplify Christmas. And it will turn out fine.

Truthfully I think the whole idea of “the holidays” has taken on a life of its own—and not in a good way. Social media in particular has drawn us into a vortex of blog posts and advertisements and Pinterest projects. We have forgotten that not participating is an option. 

But here’s the thing: You can forget about many of the extras you usually stress about this time of year and nothing bad will happen. The world will keep spinning and your kids will still be in awe and excited and joyful.

If you have been overwhelmed by many a holiday season, don’t try to change everything all at once. Think about the areas where you usually overindulge, and pick one or two to cut back on. Maybe this year you commit to a more reined in budget for gifts. You don’t have to make all homemade cookies. A few decorations can stay in storage. Start small and I guarantee you will not miss the excess.

So You Just Have No Christmas Cheer At All?

Ha, no. We just don’t get riled up about making things perfect or pleasing other people and we are totally chill with that.

You can forget about many of the extras you usually stress about this time of year and nothing bad will happen. The world will keep spinning and your kids will still be in awe and excited and joyful. Click To Tweet

It’s not that I personally grew up with no traditions; I did. We always had lots of gifts—from “Santa” of course—and tons of cookies and relatives visiting. On Christmas day we went to both grandmothers’ houses {one died when I was six, but I still remember that being our first stop}. Over the course of the week between Christmas and New Year’s we would have visitors almost every evening. They would ooh and aah at our presents and eat and chat. 

I guess I just never felt the need or the pressure to make this time of year “magical” for my own kids, because to them Christmas is just a fun celebration not worth getting too jazzy over. If they want magic, we go to Disney, LOL. 

Our nonchalance is probably also affected by the fact that we have rarely been living near family since the kids were born, so we cannot be sucked in to the holiday spiral of doing all the things because of preconceived expectations.


Truthfully, we do not really do anything special this time of year, and we are okay with that. Even when I still considered myself to be a Christian we did little more than attend a simple Christmas eve service and add a small nativity scene to our meager decorations.

We still like Christmas. We still celebrate Christmas. But we don’t let Christmas rule our lives for the last quarter of the year. 

{Don’t even get me started on Thanksgiving.}

Close up of wrapped presents. Text reads: Go ahead and simplify Christmas, it will work out just fine.

But What DO You Do This Time of Year?

We put up a tree, sometimes two {a “regular” tree and a small tabletop one in the front room or one of the bedrooms}. The rest of our decor is pretty minimal. We might make cookies at some point. Oh, and stop at Bath and Body Works to pick up fancy soaps so the sinks smell like peppermint or vanilla. We still buy presents for the Agents. But they know they are all from us. And they often pick them out themselves. 

It probably goes without saying that no creepy elves grace our home.

During December we often read about various mythologies, both religious and non-religious. A Solstice Tree for Jenny is one of our favorite books that approaches the holiday season from a secular perspective. We also enjoy The Winter Solstice by Ellen Jackson. 

Of course, we’ll re-read the story of Mary, Joseph, and baby Jesus as well. Agent J has never been impressed with the wise men and their choice of gifts. {She suggested they could have brought something useful, like some diapers or a nice meatloaf.}

We like to look into the history of the celebrations as well, and how they have changed over time. Two videos we enjoy watching are Adam Ruins Everything: The Drunken, Pagan History of Christmas and this one put together by Seth Andrews  {aka, The Thinking Atheist}.

Christmas eve we go to the movies and then get donuts. Then come home and open presents. And eat more donuts.

Are we doing it right?

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The Beginning of My Journey To Non-Belief

When I first began to doubt that Christianity—or any religious dogma—needed to be a part of my life, I had an overwhelming desire to throw myself back into it once more, to give it one last wholehearted chance.

I really wanted to make absolutely sure whether this path I had already begun to head down was my new truth, or if I should just try harder to recapture what I always thought to be true.

Was this the beginning of my journey to non-belief? Or would I feel led back to the God I thought I knew?

Stone path through the grass leading to a grove of trees with fog-covered mountains in the background. Text reads: The beginning of my journey to non-belief.

I attended large, non-denominational Christian churches in the past, but never what could be described as a mega church. For some reason, I convinced myself this would be the way to go if I were going to re-commit myself to this worldview. Strength in numbers, perhaps?

I chose one nearby, dropped the kids off at their respective classes, and found a nice, anonymous spot in the back of the ginormous auditorium.

The catchy, contemporary, Jesus-praising music swelled up to start the service. People sang. swayed. waved their arms overhead. called out. The room transformed into something powerful and surreal. And I began to cry. 

I really wanted to make absolutely sure whether this path I had already begun to head down was my new truth, or if I should just try harder to recapture what I always thought to be true. Click To Tweet

Well, “cry” doesn’t really convey the incredible, visceral response I had in that moment. I had zero control over my emotions. I felt simultaneously lost but at home, like when you dream you can’t find your way to a familiar place, yet somehow you know it’s only a dream.

Why did this affect me so strongly? Could it be that I still yearned for this? 

The short answer is no.

Of course, it took considerable reflection, visits to several additional churches, and a few more years {yes, years} of untangling. Eventually I realized my deep-seated reaction was not a plea to nor a sign from the Christian God, or any god for that matter.

It was a final release of a part of myself, which for too long I denied was a facade. My journey to non-belief began. I wasn’t distraught because I wanted to turn back, I was relieved because I was finally free.

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Dealing With Death As a Non-Religious Person

Do you spend much time thinking about death? What do you think happens after we die? Do you believe in an afterlife? What about angels or ancestors watching out for you?

Have you ever considered what dealing with death as a non-religious person might be like? Are you not religious yourself and looking for where to turn during a difficult time?

The presumed existence of “heaven” and “hell” {or some equivalent places of reward or punishment} is very prominent in our culture. To question their legitimacy is to mark yourself as an outsider—in some ways even more so than divulging you are an atheist. The idea that an afterlife must exist is so ingrained in people’s minds that to even suggest this life on earth is all there is can seem incomprehensible to many.

As far as the myriad ideas on what life beyond death might be like, I personally do not believe any of them to be feasible. Nor do I believe in reincarnation. Or that our ancestors are guiding us. Or that dead relatives can come back to visit once a year like in the movie Coco. {Although, if an afterlife did exist, that seems like a decent setup.}

However, I understand what it is like to want so strongly to assume one of those scenarios must be true. If you previously believed in the mythology and rituals of a particular religion, you may have difficulty wrapping your brain around finality of death. Especially when all your life you have been sold false promises of “eternity” and claims of death not being the end.

While I certainly hope to live a long, healthy life—I am definitely in no hurry to check out—I do contemplate these things. I also talk about them openly with my children {currently 13, 11, and 8}. Dying is not something I want my children to fear. 

Instead of insisting it is not something they need to worry about right now, I want to prepare them to navigate their own grief as non-believers. When the world gives them unhelpful platitudes, I want to help them process their emotions in a way that respects their true selves and prioritizes their own well-being.

While I can’t give you an easy method to follow—there is simply no one way of handling grief—I can let you know some personal things that have helped me with the process of dealing with death as a non-religious person—and share a bit about how I discuss this issue with my own kids. 

Have you ever considered what dealing with death as a non-religious person might be like? Are you not religious yourself and looking for where to turn during a difficult time? Click To Tweet

Grief is an intimate and personal timeline. I cannot promise anything you read here will assist your own process. But just knowing that dealing with death as a non-religious person is something others have struggled with might help you to feel less alone.

Single tree with changing leaves reflected in a body of water against an evening sky. Text reads: Dealing with death as a non-religious person.

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Talk About Death {and Answer Any Questions Honestly}

About five years ago, shortly before my dad died, I had a dream in which I talked to him on the phone. {This in and of itself was surreal, as he had been very ill for almost a year and essentially non-communicative.} 

He asked about the kids and said how much he would miss them. He said that I should be sure to tell Agent A {three at the time} about him someday, because he knew he was too young to remember. In the dream I asked him, are you going to die? and he answered yes very matter-of-factly. Then he told me not to worry, and that it would be okay.

Within a few weeks he was gone. I was 42 years old, and it was the first time in my life I had to seriously confront my own feelings about death. For what it’s worth, I don’t think the dream was a sign. It was simply my subconscious helping me process a very difficult time.

Most people struggle with how to deal with death and dying because as a culture we have been conditioned to not talk about it. Or, if we do discuss it, it is in broad terms and meaningless memes about better places and everything having a reason.

I still considered myself a Christian when my father passed. Oh, I had doubts for years by then, but the big moment when I officially broke things off with Jesus wouldn’t happen for another six months. 

At the time the kids and I had not talked a lot about dying, or heaven, or hell, or any aspect of life after death. The emphasis here being on heaven, because no one likes to ponder what their dearly departed is doing in hell. Heaven as an end result is much more palatable. 

I tried to prepare them {they were 8, 6, and 4 at the time} for the inevitable given the situation with my dad, but I was woefully unprepared myself and just repeated much of the same religious dogma I had learned. I probably passed along some ramblings to the Agents about Grandpap going to heaven—without putting too much thought into it. That’s what people say, right? 

Most people struggle with how to deal with death and dying because as a culture we have been conditioned to not talk about it. Click To Tweet

Of course being the way they are, they did not just accept the idea of heaven being a “better place” where dead people go, and many questions arose:

  • Do you look the way you did when you died? Or are you a younger version of yourself? Do you get to choose? What if folks don’t recognize you?
  • How do you find people? Is there a directory of everybody there?
  • Is it literally everyone—or almost everyone, minus those poor folks in hell—who has ever lived? Are our early ancestors there, in whatever hominid form they passed in? How do we communicate with them?
  • If animals go to heaven, too, does that mean every ant I’ve ever stepped on and every cockroach I’ve ever sprayed with Raid is waiting for me? Or is just cute animals, like dogs and cats? What about dinosaurs? Are they there? {That would be pretty cool, actually.}
  • Who are you reunited with first? If you were widowed and had more than one spouse, is there some sort of protocol? 
  • Do you need to sleep? eat? work? Or are you just floating around in a state of bliss?

I quickly realized I had no good answers to these queries. However, even if your views on religion and death and the afterlife are fuzzy, you should not fear talking to your kids {even very young kids} about your own thoughts. They might even give you more clarity though their processing and questions.

In hindsight I wish I had broached this subject with my children sooner. Although I would have approached things from the perspective of Christianity, any conversation would have been better than none. Perhaps it would have been handled differently if I were already a non-believer when my father died, but it was what it was.

When You Need Encouraging Words {and You Don’t Want To Turn To Religion}

I have a couple of favorite quotes about death. {What; you don’t?} Because I do not rely on scriptures of any kind or prayers or rituals, I find solace in the words of scientists and fellow non-believers. These particular words are just two examples of thoughts that give me all the feels, and I hope they help you, too. 

{In addition—if you don’t mind physics making you cry—you might also want to check out The Physicist’s Eulogy by Aaron Freeman.}

My parents died years ago. I was very close to them. I still miss them terribly. I know I always will. I long to believe that their essence, their personalities, what I loved so much about them, are—really and truly—still in existence somewhere. I wouldn’t ask very much, just five or ten minutes a year, say, to tell them about their grandchildren, to catch them up on the latest news, to remind them that I love them. There’s a part of me—no matter how childish it sounds—that wonders how they are. “Is everything all right?” I want to ask. The last words I found myself saying to my father, at the moment of his death, were “Take care.”
—Carl Sagan, The Demon-Haunted World: Science As a Candle in the Dark

I love what Sagan has to say, because it conveys exactly how I feel about my own father’s passing. Intellectually, I know he is just gone. He’s not looking down on me, he’s not waiting for some grand heavenly reunion—he simply no longer exists. Yet some tiny, visceral part of my being wishes the afterlife were real, and wherever he is, he is okay. I would love to have those ten minutes to let him know I missed him, and to show him how the Agents have changed. 

Sagan’s words make me feel less alone with my grief, and validate my {admittedly irrational} feelings of wishing intermittent communication were possible. 

We are going to die, and that makes us the lucky ones. Most people are never going to die because they are never going to be born. The potential people who could have been here in my place but who will in fact never see the light of day outnumber the sand grains of Arabia. Certainly those unborn ghosts include greater poets than Keats, scientists greater than Newton. We know this because the set of possible people allowed by our DNA so massively exceeds the set of actual people. In the teeth of these stupefying odds it is you and I, in our ordinariness, that are here. We privileged few, who won the lottery of birth against all odds, how dare we whine at our inevitable return to that prior state from which the vast majority have never stirred?
Richard Dawkins, Unweaving the Rainbow

This Dawkins quote gives me a sense of gratitude about our ephemeral existence. 

Honestly, just accepting the finality of it all provides consolation. You might think, isn’t that kind of depressing? No, not really. I think accepting dying as simply a part of the circle of living makes the whole experience more comforting, not less.

I am not afraid of death, for I believe it will be much like it was before I was born—which is to say, I will have no comprehension of my nonexistence. Of course, those I leave behind will comprehend it, and will need to come to terms with it. That is why communication now is so important.

Close up of several daisies together. Text reads: Dealing with death as a non-religious person, three things to keep in mind.

We Might Have This Figured Out All Wrong {and That Is Okay}

Of course, I don’t know what happens upon death—no one does. That’s not to say that I think any scenario other than complete obliteration of your thoughts is likely. And I truly believe that is the better alternative. 

While some look at the idea of an an eternal life after death as a way to alleviate the pain of losing a loved one {so-and-so is in a better place, they are with God, they are re-united with whomever} to me it seems like the worst possible idea. 

It is bad enough that we need to spend the rest of our natural lives grieving those who have left us; do we want to spend our eternity grieving for those left behind until they die, too?

{Please don’t tell me this magically doesn’t happen, that somehow time in your conceived heaven has different rules, and that it wouldn’t be like that. Because, God. If you can invent a narrative to fit your version of death, so can I.}


In all likelihood—whether my end comes tomorrow or fifty years from now—my kids will outlive me. Do I want to burden them with the false hope that we will be reunited one day? Do I want them to bear the pain for the rest of their lives that I’m waiting for them, longing for them somewhere? Of course not.

I think a common misconception about atheists is that death affects us differently. That somehow—because we know life to be finite and we do not believe we were specially created—dealing with death as a non-religious person hurts less or does not produce the same void in our lives. 

This is simply not true. If anything, I would argue the death of a loved one affects us even more strongly, because we know it is just game over. There is no holding out hope for a tear-filled future meet-up. There is no sense of longing to re-unite with the person again someday. It is just done. 

Still, I would rather have that closure—however painful—than any choice of mythological afterlife, with its delusions of eternity in a much better {or much worse} place than earth. To me it offers more peace this way.

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Navigating Life After Faith

Letting go of your faith prompts a visceral reaction followed by much uncertainty. As with mourning any loss, your feelings may be all over the place at first. Even when leaving something behind by choice, your emotion needs time to adjust to your logic.

Part of the process of navigating life after faith will involve practical and self-care matters you may have never consciously considered simply because you never had to. If you followed a religion for as long as you can remember, it likely fulfilled a lot of roles without you realizing.

Following are three questions you might have about navigating life after faith and some suggestions for how to cope with them.

White rope for tying a boat coiled on a dock. Text reads: Navigating life after faith, three questions you might have.

Where Do I Find Support?

If leaving the faith you were indoctrinated into caused you to feel isolated from you family and friends, you will need to reach out and find new humans to depend on. This does not need to be as scary as it sounds. For purposes of this post, I’ll offer some suggestions for group options, although I realize jumping into a new gaggle of people won’t be for everyone. 

The Sunday after I broke things off with Jesus, the Agents and I visited a UU {Unitarian Universalist} congregation. Now, you may be thinking, what? You decided you did not believe one church anymore, and literally the next week you showed up at a different church? Yes. Yes, I did.

At the time I really still craved the unity and support of a church-like family, even though I knew it could not be a Christian church. UU traditions and principles align nicely with humanism. They provide a structure similar to what we were used to without the whole Jesus loves you but if you don’t love him back you’ll go to Hell aspect. 

UU is a good option for a lot of people. However, they tend to be very different depending on the location, reverend/minister {yes; they still call them that}, and people involved. Personally, we had a UU family we adored when we lived in upstate New York, but after we moved to southern California we found we didn’t click with any of the ones nearby. Still, when we move again we will likely give it another try. 

There are also organizations such as Sunday Assembly and Oasis that provide a congregation-like structure for humanists and nones, although neither is very widespread. Again, it is something you would need to try out and see how it feels to you. You can also find humanist organizations in or around most major cities, although YMMV with how useful you find them.

{Full disclosure: We attended a local Sunday Assembly for several meetings, but ultimately decided not to return. I cannot speak to what other groups in different areas would be like.}

What Do I Do Instead of Pray?

What if you have always turned to prayer in time of need and you honestly feel that it helped you? Do you just stop? In time of crisis or worry, what specifically do you do instead?

It took me a while to accept that praying to someone was not the factor that made me feel better. Simply the act of sitting quietly with my thoughts, maybe talking them through a bit, was the key. I could have been talking to my cat, or a stuffed bear, or Luke Skywalker—if you can envision someone listening to your most private concerns, it makes you feel less alone. It works even if the listener is imaginary.

So, on some level, you can still “pray” in the sense that you might concentrate on a specific need or issue or person and seek clarity. Except in this definition of prayer, no deity listens. It is more of a meditative process by which you attempt to better understand yourself and focus your thoughts. 

I could have been talking to my cat, or a stuffed bear, or Luke Skywalker—if you can envision someone listening to your most private concerns, it makes you feel less alone. Click To Tweet

I felt similarly about Bible reading. It was calming, and relaxing, and an ingrained part of my morning routine for years. If I dropped it, what would I replace it with? 

Turns out, most other books work just as well. If you really want to stick with a similar “theme” there are secular devotional-style readings out there. I find that many of the works by His Holiness the Dalai Lama convey a simpler, gentler spirituality without all the god-speak. 

When Will It Stop Feeling Weird?

Being a non-believer in a sea of believers can be overwhelming, eye-opening, and just plain weird—especially when you live in a very god-assuming culture. You begin to notice everything through the lens of disbelief, and to understand just how entrenched most people have become.

This may surprise you—given that I write a public blog where one of the primary focuses is helping atheists, agnostics, humanists, and nones feel less alone—but most people in my life have no idea that I am no longer a believer. 


I basically have a don’t offer, don’t refuse policy: If they ask, I will answer honestly, but it is not necessarily information I hand out willingly. 

Truthfully, it still feels odd to me that I am one of very few in my circle of family/friends who doesn’t buy the whole Jesus story and embrace all the Christian myths. It can be strange to be the only one on the outside looking in. However, I know that I am being honest with myself now in a way I had not been for years, and I feel content.

You will, too. Navigating life after faith takes time. Be gentle with yourself during the process.

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You’re Not Alone If You Don’t Believe

In spite of what it may seem when you scroll through Facebook, read other blogs, and look at friends’ hashtags, not everyone is feeling #blessed. Some of us are just trying to make it through the day being decent humans without worrying about an afterlife of judgment. Not all of us believe in a higher power, and we manage just fine. You’re not alone if you don’t believe.

For anyone who needs to hear this today: It is okay to have doubts about your faith, your god, and the meaning of it all. 

Single pink carnation on a light blue background. Text reads: You're not alone if you don't believe.

It can be difficult to talk about

I do not talk about my lack of religiosity often, because I have learned that when I do I am accused of flaunting it or pushing it on others, even though that is the furthest thing from my mind. Interestingly, all the Jesus memes and pray for xyz posts and yay, God coming through my social media are okay, though. 

To be clear, I do not take issue with anyone’s individual religious beliefs or disbelief. It’s not my place, it’s not my life, and—as long as you are not attempting to force {or legislate} said beliefs on me or others—it’s not my concern. 

But I also know what it is like to feel as if you are the only person in the world who has had these doubts and wrestled with these conclusions. I know what it is like to be afraid to say it out loud.

I do not talk about my lack of religiosity often, because I have learned that when I do I am accused of flaunting it or pushing it on others, even though that is the furthest thing from my mind. Click To Tweet

People will make assumptions

Most people in my life assume I am Christian By Default. They surmise that because they once knew me as someone who identified as Christian, nothing could have possibly shaken that. They conclude I must feel the same way now as I did ten years ago, or five years ago, or one year ago. Or yesterday for that matter. 

And I can kind of understand that. I mean, if I had to completely re-evaluate everything I thought about every person I know every time I ran into them it would get pretty old.

Plus, I am a middle class middle age straight cisgender stay at home mom white woman with military ties living in suburbia and homeschooling her children. Pretty much the definition of Nice Christian Lady.

Except I am not a Nice Christian Lady. I am a Nice Atheist Lady, and that gives many people an attack of cognitive dissonance.

Often even after I clarify—which I only do if asked directly; I do not advertise per se—the response is still disbelief and condescension. Clearly there must be some dearth of knowledge or understanding on my part, and if only you knew more you would agree with me.

Shadow of person with outstretched arms looking into the sunset. Text reads: Not a believer? You are not alone.

This view is valid

But there is nothing deficient about my faith—or lack thereof—as I currently define it. It just is. I don’t need to be converted. I’ve been there. I have read all the same passages, attended all the same services, heard all the same promises. I just processed it differently. 

It’s not just that it stopped making sense to me. It truly never made sense to begin with. I just gave up trying to force it to fit the mold I had created of who I thought I had to be.

This can be difficult to internalize. Especially if you’ve spent most of your life entrenched in just one of the infinite possibilities of explaining the seemingly unexplainable.

Uncertainty is okay

But, is that not what I am doing now, you might wonder? That is a common reaction, honestly. I thought I had it all figured out before, and I think I have it all figured out now, so what if I come to a new conclusion in the future and convince myself that I really have it down then?

The difference now is that I know I could be wrong, and I am okay with that. I spent an enormous amount of time believing I had The Answer, and everyone else must be kidding themselves. I am more accepting of uncertainty now. 


That does not mean I doubt my position. It is not an open window for evangelizing. It just means I am a 6 point something instead of a straight up 7 .

I am not out to turn anyone away from their faith if that is truly what makes them happy. Contrary to what you may have heard, atheists do not attempt to recruit. We won’t try to pull you to the dark side, or talk you into or out of anything. We just want to encourage anyone who feels doubtful or misunderstood or confused and to offer support without judgment.

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Why Everyone Should Study World Religions

I honestly believe everyone should study world religions from an early age. We should expose young children to as many world religions, mythologies, creation stories, and folk tales as possible. It will be beyond eye-opening for them to watch the similarities unfold. I know it was for me.

From the proclaimed deities and religious figures, to the nearly identical tales being told by different cultures, to the overwhelming sameness of the core principles outlined in the various writings—seeing the connected threads in these “unique” religions definitely provides an enlightening experience.

Side view of an open book with pages turning. Text reads: Why everyone should study world religions.

Why do we believe what we do?

Children believe some religious stories to be true and others to be false because we convince them of such when they are young and trust us implicitly. What a different world we would live in if instead we exposed future generations to myriad mythologies and encouraged young people to draw their own conclusions about their similarities, incompatibilities, and logic.

In our homeschool we aim to present many different tales in a neutral way. My students can appreciate the lessons offered in these stories without bias. We share various approaches to how humans have attempted to understand the mysteries of our world—without implying that any one explanation is “more true” or should hold more “weight” than another. This has allowed them {and me} to both appreciate the journey that has kept these words alive throughout time as well as clearly see the improbability of any of them being 100% correct.

Children believe some religious stories to be true and others to be false because we convince them of such when they are young and trust us implicitly. Click To Tweet

What if you don’t believe what everyone else does?

Not to put too fine a point on it, the Agents do not believe any one religion to be true. Instead, the different beliefs and worldviews folks hold fascinate them from an academic standpoint. They know they can extract insights from these myths; the fact that they are fictional does not diminish their value. They note the connections all faith stories share {lots of “a-ha” moments in our reading when they come across a familiar tale, such as the flood myth}.

I want their life path—wherever it may lead—to be treasured, even if it doesn’t look like the majority. I am grateful they feel comfortable with their own convictions, because I was most definitely not at their age.

Of course, inevitably someone is going to come along and tell them their spiritual place is wrong, incomplete. Mostly this will come from a place of good intentions, but lack of understanding. This is why I feel strongly all children should grow up in a world that believes everyone should study world religions, regardless of their own family and community faith.


How can you follow your own path?

While my children readily embrace their atheistic conclusions as valid, I spent years struggling to acknowledge non-belief as a possibility. This sounds silly when you think about it; I mean, of course it is. But realistically, I grew up in a culture where virtually everyone I knew belonged to some religious stripe or another {mostly Christian/Catholic}. Following the religion of my family was expected and encouraged. The ability to break free was not something I even had on my radar. It took much contemplation and time to internalize this as a worthwhile and legitimate viewpoint.

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Farewell

Let me tell you about the day I broke things off with Jesus.

Four years ago this week—on May 3, 2015—I sat in my last Christian worship service. I had doubts prior, mind you—including a tear-filled incident  years earlier—but up to that exact hour I still maintained a sense of hope. Until I didn’t. 

Call it an epiphany if you must name it, but I knew unequivocally it was over. I stayed for the rest of the service because my brain could not even process getting up and walking out. I sat blankly, wondering if anyone could sense my despair.

A young woman with dark hair in braids stands against a brick wall with her eyes closed and her hands clasped near her face. Text reads: The day I broke things off with Jesus.

In that small Methodist church in upstate New York, on an ordinary and unassuming Sunday, I realized I could not call myself a follower of Jesus anymore. For the first time in over 40 years I no longer identified as a Christian. This was it: The day I broke things off with Jesus.

At that moment I honestly did not have any idea where I would end up, faith-wise. I just felt my current path would not take me there.

I stayed for the rest of the service because my brain could not even process getting up and walking out. I sat blankly, wondering if anyone could sense my despair. Click To Tweet

My husband had stayed home with our youngest that day. The girls were in Sunday school in another part of the building. So, as the time to stand and head to the front for communion arrived, I sat alone, contemplating, debating whether or not to engage.

Should I still go along with the ritual a last time? One for the road? Participating seemed weird. Not participating seemed weirder. Awkward and guilt-inducing either way.

I decided to do it. I walked up. I accepted the bread. I took my mini-cup of wine. I said the right words. I returned to my seat. I quietly said goodbye. I cried a little. No one noticed. 

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