Life After Religion – Now What?
One is not resigning the function of faith, but rather the mythology attached to it.
So you’ve dropped off the Jesus bandwagon. Now what? This post is dedicated to all of the freshly minted skeptics whose first impulse is either to seek revenge on all of those who are responsible for their indoctrination or who go off on a binge to make up for all the sins they did not get a chance to commit. Even if faith alone is unwise, it does not mean you have to be.
Cognitive Pendulum Effect
In the previous post, I spoke about how our cognitive evolution is slowly drowning our faith. The obvious side effect of this exponential increase of cognitive development and the decline from succinct religious practice to moderate belief, is that people tend to swing very hard to the left, at times going a bit overboard. There is also the temptation to believe that religion is intrinsically evil, thus assuming that everything about it, irrespective of use, is then useless. I call this phenomenon the Cognitive Pendulum Effect because it’s a polar fluctuation of thought.
I’ve seen young girls give up their faith only to resort to a lifestyle lacking sexual moderation, incurring incurable STDs in the process. I have also seen some men relinquish their faith and promptly return to drugs, drinking and other such vices. Others have gone as far as to wage personal wars against their former church membership. To what end is this useful to anyone?
The Candor of Atheism
The key problem with these types of individuals is that their religion of choice had long given them the impression that morality and faith are inextricably linked, or at the very least, are causally related. One who chooses to resign their religion is not required to also reject their sense of candor. This seems to be a recurring theme among a very particular breed of atheist.
Just because you no longer believe, it does not mean that you are no longer obligated to enforce some degree of morality in your lifestyle. It also certainly does not mean that you should reject the ones you love or go out of your way to disrespect those who may disagree. This was one of the key things that turned me off about some atheists — their lack of candor.
Thankfully, not all atheists are without merit. The trouble is that like with most other religious movements, it is the minority of their adherents who give the rest of the population a bad name. My first experience with adherents of the Rational Response Squad for example, was not exactly consistent with what I would have considered a rational response to anything.
In fact, I met so many foul mouthed, arrogant, obnoxious, belligerent individuals in that movement, that I was compelled that I had jumped out of the pot and into the fire. Why were they so angry? I had a very hard time differentiating between their temperaments and that of the angry theists they are against. Shouldn’t they be distinguishing themselves from that lot?
Even television’s most famous atheists, Bill Maher and perhaps Penn and Teller are in on the militant over zealous propensity. While their contributions may merely be a function of their act (which I’ve come to understand is ‘always on’), it does not do anything more than create a flawed impression of atheism similar to how some angry Muslims do in their defense of Islam.
My biggest problem with such atheists is that many are spawned by religion and so they become militants of rational extremism — lacking the practical moderation of true skeptics. Many are driven by the fact that religion exists, as opposed to simply being an adherent to rationality. While the term “atheist” was first coined as a pejorative, many have embraced the term as a rallying banner, ultimately rendering them no different from most religious zealots.
Therefore, before you decide to reject your faith, you must examine your motivations for doing so. I’m in no way suggesting that you change your mind about putting your religion to rest. Rather, I’m suggesting that doing so requires a certain degree of enlightenment; one that based on my dealings with many self proclaimed atheists, does not appear to come readily.
Without this enlightenment, one becomes like an animal released into the wild after spending most of its life in captivity. It is quickly gobbled up by the first thing to fill the ideological void that is left by suddenly abandonment of their faith. Religion tends to hobble one’s reasoning ability by encouraging intellectual laziness. Resigning it means first shoring up that capacity.
In other words, it’s not enough to simply not believe. You also have to understand why it may even be necessary to begin with. For one of the things that many atheists fail to understand, is that in their haste to shed themselves of their religion, they’ve created an all new one it its place. Very few atheists actually understand the difference which means most are simply lost.
The Real Reason for Unbelief
Religion was mankind’s first attempt at understanding universal causality. Through it, man tried to unify every system of belief under one school of thought. We’re not doing anything radically differently today with science, since theoretical physicists are doing precisely the very same thing with Unified String Field Theory — they’re developing a single theory of everything.
When religion proved to be insufficient, we started to alter the ways we went about proving things, firmly holding to a disciplined measure that could be evenly quantified by everyone. This process is what eliminated subjectivity from our dealings with each other and therefore our ability to be better stewards of our fellow man. This solved several religious problems:
- No one could claim their myth to be better than any other without effectively disproving the other. That eliminated religious contention, strife and war.
- No one could put forward an idea in which faith was required to accept until thoroughly examined by his peers. This eliminated sectarianism within a school of thought.
- If an idea that required faith can be adequately proven to be false, then it was summarily discarded. This systematically eliminates dogmatic ideology.
- Elevated concepts like morality and justice are bound by utilitarian principles based on research using the above three methods. This eliminates preference and prejudice.
Because we rely on a system of verifiable proof, every principle that is put forward for the sake of governance must be teleological in nature. For now our concern is no longer with the satisfaction of some god (for such a thing is unprovable) but rather for the good of mankind. This eliminates the prejudice of theistic infallibility where religion presumes itself untouchable.
Even so, as said in the previous post, we retain the fundamental premise behind our cognitive evolution: Faith. We are only certain of our discoveries until we can prove otherwise. That is why when one opts to relinquish their faith in religion, one is not resigning the function of faith, but rather the mythology attached to it. For myths that are unprovable are untenable.
If you have not begun to appreciate the significance of these concepts just yet, then you may be putting yourself at risk of missing the original point of your religion by rejecting your faith. The original function of religion was an exercise in faith for the greater good of men. Over the years, it has become more preoccupied with the dogmatic myth than the lives that served it.
Rather, consider yourself to be one who rejects mythology as opposed to one who rejects god. For all Christians are technically Muslim atheists and all Muslims are technically Hindu atheists. Therefore it is difficult to take a Christian seriously who only criticizes Islam for all the same reasons why it’s also difficult to take an atheist seriously who only criticizes Christianity.
This is why I can never take potty mouthed atheists like Penn Gillete and Bill Mahr seriously. They’re nothing more than cowards who only attack Christians because they won’t fight back.
For what you are rejecting is not Christianity or Islam. You are rejecting mythology. You are rejecting a system of belief that is little more than a breeding ground for atheism for anyone who dares to examine it. The object of the process is not to become an atheist. Rather, it is to now strip away the dangerous ideas that have long impaired our capacity for good judgment.
What do we do now?
It may take you months, even years to get over a romantic relationship gone bad. However, deciding to get out of your religious entanglement can haunt you for decades. This seems to be the driving force behind many militant atheists. If you consider that Richard Dawkins was molested as a child by Catholic Priests, then his campaign to dispel religion is not inscrutable.
The point is that our obsession with the subject will not end with our rejection of the faith. Consider me for example. I lived in fear for much of my childhood because of what is now known as “fire and brimstone” doctrine. I spent so much of my childhood hearing about how bad hell was that it becomes particularly difficult for me to recall hearing about heaven at all.
Dawkins was right when he asserted that such environmental conditioning is tantamount to child abuse. When I was about 15 years old, I got tired of living in fear of my religion and thus launched a pre-emptive two year intensive Bible study campaign to once and for all discern fact from myth. As it turns out, I discovered more myth than fact as my elders then confirmed.
That’s when my fear disappeared — precisely because knowledge dispels fear.
It’s been over a decade since I’ve become psychologically and emotionally disconnected from my faith. It’s something I basically grew up with all my childhood and a portion of my adult life. It wasn’t something that happened overnight for me. It took years of denial and wallowing in cognitive dissonance before I could finally develop the courage to see it for what it really was.
But try as I may, I cannot, in fact, I couldn’t separate myself from my family — which is why I would never suggest that you do the same, unless your family is like the over fanatical Phelps.
If you have religious parents like I do, telling them that you’ve lost your religion would be the same thing as shooting them through the forehead at point blank range with a nail gun. Try to understand that religion is all that they know and all that they understand. Asking them to understand you is like trying to teach the principles of quantum mechanics to a newborn child. It is a fascinating subject, but ultimately irrelevant to a mind still preoccupied with breast milk.
Similarly, religion is a survival issue for your parents, much in the same way the cargo cults of the South Pacific are to its acolytes and human sacrifice was to the ancient Mayans – despite the detrimental side effects of such beliefs. Their primary preoccupation will likely be with the salvation of your immortal soul after you die, not the well being of your life while you yet live.
In that moment, you may be forced to decide which is more important to you: your religious abdication or the love of your family. If the latter is greater, then you might want to consider:
Coming out of the Closet
I chuckled the first time I heard an Atheist use this term since it was previously exclusive to the domain of homosexuals in hiding. However, over time I’ve come to respect it’s far broader applications. Because of cognitive evolution, more and more teens are trying to break away from their faith without alienating their families in the process. So “coming out” is an apt title.
There is a certain method to this such that it achieves the greatest degree of success while minimizing the impact. It will take a bit of time and patience to achieve this goal. Here’s how:
Step 1: Use the Socratic Method
First of all, it is not necessary to rock the boat. Laying it all out at once isn’t usually a great idea. It will only defeat your objective. Instead, try to start with a conversation that ends with a question for them to ponder. Your job is to ask questions that cause them to think — not provide propositions for them to reject. This can prove to be very effective if done correctly.
Step 2: Avoid stating your position
Never state what you believe. That essentially kills any opportunity for them to empathize with you. If you toss a massive log on a tiny flame, it will suffocate it. Dropping your skeptic beliefs on your religious family will do exactly the same. Additionally, doing so will make you come off as being an arrogant “know it all” — no matter how kindly you phrase your language.
Step 3: Know your audience
As paradoxical as it sounds, some minds are so incredibly simple, that they just cannot accept a concept that is below a certain level of assumed complexity. They see the world through a child’s mind, where things that are sophisticated must be caused by even more sophisticated forces (despite the fact that nature operates in exactly the opposite way). The concept is so profound that it leaves them feeling disappointed in the elegant simplicity of such answers. Your job is to get them to prove rationally why more elegant answers cannot be accepted.
Step 4: Exploit their superstitions
People who are deeply religious are also likely to be instinctively superstitious. It is not their religious belief that predicates their superstitions, but rather their superstitions that channels their beliefs. This can be easily exploited by the fact that most established religions (such as Christianity) are largely incompatible with superstition (which tends to be pagan or culturally idiosyncratic in origin). This can be easily exploited using Bible scripture to your advantage.
Step 5: Exploit Their Ignorance
Furthermore, you will find that religious belief is inversely proportional to actual knowledge. In other words, the stronger the believer, the less they tend to know about their religion. This is quite possibly your strongest coming out weapon — their ignorance. If you use nothing else in your arsenal, exploit their lack of knowledge wantonly and indiscriminately, but always in love.
Step 6: Subtly Direct the flow of conversation
The idea is to simply lay the necessary bread crumbs for them to ask the same questions of themselves. You want them to be able to process these things in bits and pieces — much like you did on your way to this state. If you do that often enough, their subconscious minds will do all of the necessary inductive deductions. At the very least, you will have planted an idea.
Step 7: Never go on the offensive
If they challenge you to verify your membership to the faith, just remind them that you are only asking questions. While it is their job as your nurturer to convince you that your faith is reasonable, it is your job to allow them to continue thinking that way. If you let them believe that they are being challenged, you will be deemed a maverick and they will turn on you with the unrelenting fury of avenging white blood cells on a wayward pathogen racing to its doom.
You will lose — and you will lose badly.
Hell hath no fury like a fool scorned in his folly (unless you prove yourself to be the greater fool). I’ve seen lots of kids join up with the Rational Response Squad and try to take on big religion by going in with their guns blazing. They accomplished little more than starting a shouting match with expletives in tow, where no one left the wiser. That’s a waste of time.
Moral: Don’t get into a religious argument. You’re be better off arguing about politics.
Step 8: Remember that you have nothing to prove
Elders are rarely mature enough to say they don’t know the answers either. This is usually a good thing, because you can exploit it to your advantage. So long as the ball is in their court, they will not expect anything of you in terms of an explanation. The onus is on these believers to justify their belief. This is why it is pointless to suggest what you believe (or don’t believe).
The Family Conundrum
I admit that if you’ve never grown up with a tight family unit or you come from a broken home with an absentee father, then I expect that you won’t be able to appreciate what I’m saying. However, if you love your elders (and you should) never forget that your respect for them is greater than your opinion. They were not trying to harm you — well not intentionally, anyway.
If however you’re just searching for a reason to get out, then don’t let me stop you. Why? Because you’ve already made up your mind long before you decided to question your faith. So you don’t actually need any convincing. However do yourself one last favor before you walk out those doors one last time. Try to think about all that you would be leaving behind forever:
The Peripheral Value of Religion
If you had the same kind of rich religious experience I had growing up, then this contentious affair is not quite as simple as resigning your subscription to the myth. Long before religion became the theocratic force it had developed into over the last millennium, it was largely a cultural phenomenon with many wonderful characteristics. So in case you’ve forgotten, recall:
The religious community is a unique one. While it sports the same usual flaws of virtually any other community, there were rules intrinsic to its establishment that differentiated it from other secular constructs that caused it to function literally like an extended family. This still proves to be an excellent environment for social networking, courtship and raising children. You will be hard pressed to find anything anywhere near as convenient or useful outside of it.
Even though the community’s primary focus was centered around religious myth, recall that the best part of going to church was interacting with hordes of other people who largely shared the same ideas, thought more or less the same way and generally wanted the same things. There is none of the guesswork that comes with forming the same bonds externally.
If you are an amateur musician like myself (or even if you just generally love music for the sheer love of it), then you’ve got to include the joy of the music. Whether it is getting lost in the melodic worship choruses, harmonizing with the all male A Capella group, signing on the choir, or jamming with your buddies at youth camp, the sensory gratification is hard to beat.
If you grew up in church, then you may have amassed a trove of connections, some of which you may have developed a fond connection to that lasts well into adulthood. Since religious circles attract people from all walks of life, this provided an excellent symbiotic relationship between individuals who could benefit each other in every life affair, from career to romance.
Religion is not only a great place to make friends, but it’s also an excellent place to meet a life partner. The courtship process is typically well managed by professional counselors and certified marriage officers, taking a lot of the frustrating trial and error out of courtship. Most moderate Christian congregations have well defined protocols that help facilitate this process.
Despite what the religious significance of these activities were, rituals are fun — unless you care not for such things. But even outside of religion, there are rituals in your everyday life. You can’t really escape their occurrence as they are essentially a facet of human nature. The origin of ritual events like Christmas and Easter may be pagan, but they are no more useful than other dogmatic rituals such as Last Supper, washing of feet or dancing in the end zone.
Okay, so that last one wasn’t dogmatic — but it is no less religious. Sports fans, rejoice.
You have to give it up to the Bible for inspiring what has got to be among the most prolific one liners in English pop culture. Who could possibly forget such pithy cliched phrases such as:
- “Be fruitful and multiply” (Genesis 1:22)
- “Am I my brother’s keeper?” (Genesis 4:9)
- “Sodom and Gomorrah” (Genesis 19:24)
- “sold his birthright” (Genesis 25:33, Hebrews 12:16)
- “Jacob’s ladder” (inspired by Genesis 28:12)
- “coat of many colours” (Genesis 37:3, 23, 32)
- “gird up your loins” (many passages, but most famously: Exodus 12:11)
- “the apple of his eye” (Deuteronomy 32:10)
- “an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth” (Exodus 21:24 — compare Matthew 5:38-39)
- “a man after his own heart” (1 Samuel 13:14)
- “How the mighty have fallen!” (2 Samuel 1:19, 27)
- “to escape by the skin of one’s teeth” (Job 19:20)
- “spare the rod and spoil the child” (coined by 17th century Poet Samuel Butler as influenced by Proverbs 13:24, 22:15, 23:13-14)
- “the race is not for the swift nor the battle for the strong” (Ecclesiastes 9:11, often merged with the latter part of Matthew 10:22 — “…but he that endures to the end“)
- “beat swords into plowshares” (Isaiah 2:4)
- “set your house in order” (2 Kings 20:1)
- “a voice crying in the wilderness” (all four Gospels – starting in Matthew 3:3)
- “no rest for the wicked” (inspired by Isaiah 57:20-21)
- “to see eye to eye” (Isaiah 52:8)
- “Balm in Gilead” (Jeremiah 8:22)
- “Can the leopard change its spots?” (Jeremiah 13:23)
- “like lost sheep” (many places, perhaps famously, Jeremiah 50:6)
- “to be in the lion’s den” (Daniel 6:7-24)
- “Man shall not live by bread alone” (Matthew 4:4)
- “salt of the earth” (Matthew 5:13)
- “turn the other cheek” (Matthew 5:38-39)
- “go the extra mile” (inspired by Matthew 5:41)
- “rain falls on the just and the unjust” (Matthew 5:45)
- “don’t cast pearls before swine” (Matthew 7:6)
- “wolf in sheep’s clothing” (Matthew 7:15)
- “weeping and gnashing of teeth” (Matthew 8:12 – along with many others)
- “new wine in old bottles” (Matthew 9:17)
- “he that is not with me is against me” (Matthew 12:30)
- “crumbs from the table” (Matthew 15:27)
- “sign of the times” (Matthew 16:3 — which also inspired the German word: Zeitgeist)
- “den of thieves” (Matthew 21:13)
- “separate the sheep from the goats” (Matthew 25:32)
- “to wash one’s hands of a situation” (inspired by (Matthew 27:24)
- “a good Samaritan” (Luke 10:33)
- “prodigal son” (the word ‘prodigal’ isn’t Biblical, but is inspired by Luke 15:11-32)
- “to kill the fatted calf ” (Luke 15:23, 27, 30)
- “he that is without sin, cast the first stone” (John 8:7)
- “doubting Thomas” (John 20:26-29)
- “let’s eat and drink for tomorrow we die” (1 Corinthians 15:32)
- “a thorn in the flesh” and also: “a thorn in one’s side” (2 Corinthians 12:7)
- “fallen from grace” (Galatians 5:4)
- “filthy lucre” (1 Timothy 3:3)
- “the root of all evil” (1 Timothy 6:10)
- “fight the good fight” (1 Timothy 6:12)
- “the patience of Job” (James 5:11)
- “all flesh is as grass” and also “your ass is grass” (1 Peter 1:24)
- “Alpha and Omega” (Revelation 1:8)
- “Armageddon” (Revelation 16:16)
- …and many others.
If English is your first language, then you may have used at least one of these expressions loosely without even considering that religion is its source. So even if you decide to resign your Judeo-Christian faith, you can never forget the impact that it has had on our language, our culture, our entertainment, business, interpersonal relationships and society at large.
Until the Large Hadron Collider experiments are successful in discovering the god particle, String Field theory will continue to be no more reasonable than any other religious myth. That is what many atheists fail to understand and what any true skeptic should already know. The point of relinquishing our religion is not to satisfy our convictions, but to evolve our thinking.
However, even after escaping religion, we will never completely cease being religious. It is a functional part of our everyday lives. So we are merely exchanging one type of belief system for another – one that specifically values rational intelligence over mythological superstition. For it is important that we make the distinction between that which feels good and the truth.
■ E-mail: accordingtoxen[at]gmail[dot]com