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.

This Post Has 6 Comments

  1. Being honest with yourself is so necessary for improving as a person! People often underestimate that!

    1. Valerie

      True. And especially important {although even more challenging} when that honesty goes against your mainstream culture. Thank you for stopping by, Chris.

      1. Another good place to turn is Meetup.com. There are groups with like- minded people and they exist in most every city large and small. I have discovered many new people and friends this way.

        1. Valerie

          Yes, that is another good suggestion. Thanks for stopping by, Bryan.

  2. After walking away, at first, it was freeing. I didn’t offer an explanation – I was a lead parent of an inclusive homeschool group – religion kept out because it was all our own journey. Then I had found a family with some common ground in politics and our kids played together frequently. We tried to be honest about where we were spiritually. It backfired as I wholly misread this parent. We lost a lot of members of our hs group. Thankfully, we rebounded but my lesson was learned. Felt like I couldn’t be my authentic self because it hurt my kids…so l, was extremely cautious of whom I would ever share this information again. Its difficult to find your tribe and quite honestly, has made for a couple of rough years – we left homeschooling, and I felt like I went through an identity crisis. Still recovering, maybe someday I will feel like I’m being my authentic self again…

    1. Valerie

      It is definitely a fine line between wanting to be true to yourself and knowing how much of society implicitly and explicitly judges non-believers. That was pretty much why I developed my “don’t offer, don’t refuse” policy with talking about religion. Luckily my children have had good experiences so far, but we haven’t really been in a group situation where the issue was pushed. I know they will surely face a time where they are harshly assessed for this one aspect alone. I just hope I can confidently guide them through it. Thank you so much for stopping by, Angela.

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