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.

I had 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? Anyway, I chose one nearby, dropped the kids off at their respective age-appropriate 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. 

Well, “cry” doesn’t really convey the incredible, visceral response I had to being there. I had zero control over my emotions. I felt lost and at home at the same time. I could not understand why it all affected me so strongly. Could it be that I still yearned for this? 

The short answer is no. While it took considerable reflection, visits to several additional churches, and a few more years {yes, years} of untangling, I eventually realized my deep-seated reaction was not a plea to nor a sign from Jesus, or 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 had been set in motion. I wasn’t distraught because I wanted to turn back, I was relieved because I was finally free.

Thanks so much for stopping by today. If you enjoyed this post, I would love to connect with you on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, or Pinterest.

10 Comments

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?

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 as we know it 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 find a way to 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 along the way, and share a bit about how I discuss this issue with my own kids. 

Grief is an intimate and personal timeline. I cannot promise anything you read here will assist your own process. I can only hope the knowledge that dealing with death as a non-religious person is something others have struggled with will help you feel less alone.

Single tree with changing leaves reflected in a body of water against an evening sky.

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.

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 had tried to prepare them {they were 8, 6, and 4} for the inevitable given the situation with my dad, but I was 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. I mean, that’s what people say, right? 

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 inquiries. 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.

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.

Thanks so much for stopping by today. If you enjoyed this post, I would love to connect with you on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, or Pinterest.

10 Comments

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.

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, and 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 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. It just takes time.

Thanks so much for stopping by today. If you enjoyed this post, I would love to connect with you on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, or Pinterest.

6 Comments

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.

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.

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.

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. 

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.

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.

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.

Thanks so much for stopping by today. If you enjoyed this post, I would love to connect with you on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, or Pinterest.

16 Comments

Why Everyone Should Study World Religions

I honestly believe everyone—from an early age—should be exposed to as many world religions, mythologies, creation stories, and folk tales as possible. It is beyond eye-opening to watch the similarities unfold. 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 is definitely an enlightening experience.

Side view of an open book with pages turning.

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. Can you imagine what a different world we would live in if future generations were instead exposed to myriad mythologies and as they grew were encouraged 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, so my students can appreciate the lessons offered in these stories without bias. Sharing 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—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.

Not to put too fine a point on it, the Agents do not believe any one religion to be true, but are quite fascinated by the different beliefs and worldviews folks hold. 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 try to tell them that their spiritual place is wrong, incomplete.

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, growing up in a culture where virtually everyone you know is of some religious stripe or another {mostly Christian/Catholic, in my case}, and following the religion of your parents is expected and encouraged, this is not something most people even have on their radar. I certainly did not. It took much contemplation and time to internalize this as a worthwhile and legitimate viewpoint.

Thanks so much for stopping by today. If you enjoyed this post, I would love to connect with you on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, or Pinterest.

0 Comments

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.

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. 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.

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. 

Thanks so much for stopping by today. If you enjoyed this post, I would love to connect with you on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, or Pinterest.

0 Comments

End of content

No more pages to load