It is good to see that stories like yours have a happy ending .... cheers
I just joined Atheists Nexus, partly because I felt so moved to reply to this discussion. I just found Atheist Nexus by coincidence (or was it?), ha, ha. I had, I thought, pretty much comfortably broken away from religion until recently. Till I was 9, I lived in a Spiritualist community and my father's mother was a Spiritualist minister and medium. We grew up going to seances and getting messages from the "spirit world." Years later I went to the Spiritualist church in San Francisco and had trouble breaking away for awhile. I think I am pretty much recovered from that religion now though. It is the Christianity from the much bigger surrounding culture that I have not broken completely away from.
I recently got on Facebook and found a bunch of old friends. For some reason, most of them are conservative both religiously and politically. I honestly fear that if they look too closely at my profile they'll think I'm some kind of freak. I found out one good old friend's daughter has a spot on her lung. They are still waiting for the biopsy results. My friend asked people to pray for her so I said I would to make her feel better. Then, I felt I had to keep my word, even though she wouldn't really know if I did or not. I have actually gotten down on my knees a few times to pray recently, for the first time in a long time. Then another old friend whom I talked to for the first time in 40 years said she is now a "Prayer Warrior" and is going to pray for me whether I want her to or not. Then I mentioned I had prayed recently and she said, "Good for you." I felt resentful, because it seemed to imply that people who don't pray are bad. But then I wondered why I had even told her that I had prayed in the first place. Was it because I secretly wanted her to think I was "good"? I have been being hypocritical, not true to myself, which may be why I have felt a little confused and "out of it" the past couple of days.
But reading this discussion has made me realize why. After finding these childhood friends again, I of course want to be accepted by them. I think wanting to be accepted and not ostracized, or even attacked, is one big reason people are religious. Wanting to be "good" is another, especially if, as in my case, being "bad" as a child meant, among other things, being beaten and punched in the face. Also, as one other person commented, God can be like an imaginary friend, one who, by the way, always listens without interrupting, criticizing you, or disagreeing with you. How many flesh-and-blood friends will do that?
Also, I once went to a mental health clinic where the director became a Spiritualist and believed in the "spirit" world. No wonder I wasn't helped by going to his clinic. Also, ironically, if I'd told my therapist there that I heard spirit voices, I could have been labeled as schizophrenic and locked up. Yet, if you belong to a religion that supports belief in spirits, angels, whatever, you are protected. Another example of religious discrimination in the mental health field is the fact that if you can prove you're a member of a religion that doesn't believe in medication, such as Christian Scientists, you can legally refuse medication. But if you refuse medication just because you personally don't want it, you can't.
I'm sorry to have rambled on so much, but I think, for me, just knowing some of the reasons I haven't been able to completely let go of religion, and recommitting to being upfront about my secular humanist beliefs, regardless of others' disapproval, will help me do so.
Yes, as far as reading the scriptures, I would advise you to do so but with a skeptic's mind. Start from the very beginning. It is strange how different the same stories I read as a child, appear now that I don't have faith. I started making fun of the different stories on my website, not out of any anger toward Christians but to help cure me of my background. Laughing at something does take away its power.
Even if god was real, would you want to worship him? Seriously, he advocated horrible things. He wants people to admit that they are worthless and spend an eternity just praising him. What a douche', the god of the bible is. LOL I ask myself all the time, could he be real but then I think, the ethical thing to do-if god was real-would be to refuse to worship him and go to hell. Thinking that usually destroys that moment of 'what if' for me.
Rachel, your post has helped me. It is hard for me to stop praying. It was something that I did most of my life. Hearing that other people have this issue really helps me feel less weird, if that makes sense. Logically, I know that there is no god but emotionally, it takes time. I haven't read Dawkins yet but I really get why religion woudl be compared to a virus.
I'm late to the conversation, but I thought I'd put in my 2 cents...
My journey to atheism took about 18 years of searching for god after I left the church. Many things you describe remind me of the things I went through as I deconstructed and reconstructed my beliefs multiple times over the years. There were periods where I was one step away from needing to be institutionalized. Perhaps I should have been. I wish I hadn't been indoctrinated to distrust psychiatry/psychology, but that's key to the indoctrination. A few years of therapy would have probably helped me get where I am a lot sooner but what is done is done. What's important is we are here.
I'm sorry, this response took on a life of it's own LOL,I got into a short version of my life story after this, if I haven't bored you thus far & you want to skip it it ends at the*
I have the experience of being indoctrinated from being a tiny toddler until I was about 13. I started questioning Christianity and by the time I was 14 1/2 I had left it never looking back. I developed a hatred of Christian doctrine and recently (over the past several months) was puzzled as to why I returned to the worship of Yahweh in my early 20s.
My parents were just liberal enough to teach me that people that follow blindly often meet nasty ends. And my father instilled a love of science in me. They came right up to the edge of free thought and backed away for whatever reasons, I'm assuming it was their indoctrination. It wasn't until I was in Jr High that I was first exposed to rational/free thought. I have to thank my Science teacher for his patience while I was bombarding him with Creationist fallacies. Asking his help to make sense of the conflict between the sciences that I loved (cosmology, geology, biology etc.) and "creation science" But after that period I fell into the pseudo-science clap trap. Spending several years trying to escape that. As frustrating and at times terrifying as it was I think I have made it.*
I no longer pray, I stopped that a couple months before I realized I was an atheist and hadn't even noticed. I still catch my self saying "Oh god" and "Only the lord knows" Some habits are hard to break. I know they are empty words and are no more then expressions acquired by the language I had inherited. I have been trying to curb it though.
A thought I came to, while inspired by the books I have recently read (God Delusion, The God Virus) a few lectures and such on the subject, was not only the first 13 years my of life's indoctrination had a major influence but our society's reverence for religion and "spirituality" is just as much a part of it. I've known people who grew up in non religious homes that became fundies in their 20s. They never bothered looking at religion and it's effects so it makes sense that they fell for it when they were finally exposed to a strong strain. Religion and "spirituality" is everywhere you turn, and we are expected to make special concessions for it. How can we not be infected unless their is a influence in our lives teaching us how to be free thinkers?
My indoctrination rears it's ugly head at times trying to make me fearful but I have found that rational thought easily defeats it. The first attack, within minutes of it dawning on me that I was an atheist, was what if we become a theocracy and you are persecuted for not believing. And my thought/response was Nothing is worth believing if it's not true. I'd rather be dead then to live my life as a lie.
It sounds as if you became an atheist while still in the church or shortly (meaning a couple years) after it. (If I made an ass of myself by assuming I apologize.) Without help and the neccesary tools it took me 18 years of struggle, drug abuse, and at times near insanity to fight the grip that my indoctrination had on me. Don't give in and get help if you need to. Feel free to drop a line anytime. I go through periods where I don't check in very often but I will respond if I receive a email alert to a PM.
I think sometimes, it is easier to deal with what we have known, and are used to. We were taught certain things when we were young, and letting go of them can be hard. There is a comfort level, and a familiarity, even if we know what we were taught isn't what we believe now.
Also, there is the difficulty many of us have when we start talking to people about what we know now doesn't help. For instance, if I told my mother I don't believe in God, that I don't believe what I was raised with, and that I don't believe in heaven and hell, she would start preaching at me, and start trying to reconvert me.
I think it is hard to let it go because most societies all over the world teach some belief in a higher being and this has been going on for all recorded history. A belief in a higher being has always been part of the fabric of every society I know of (if anyone knows of an atheist society anywhere in history please let me know).
It is part of most of our up-bringing and is still very pervasive in most countries. To just throw it away is very hard. I still wonder at times about a 'divine' being, but when I look at my own specific religion (an off-shoot of Christian protestantism), I see a lot of logic problems that just don't go away. I think for me this is the predominant thing that keeps me away from religion; that it doesn't make sense when you compare what the bible's various writers have said. When you also look historically at how the bible was put together (all the debates among the early Catholic church at what books should be in and what shouldn't), it just can't help make you stop and wonder, if you at all are sceptical.
I think that what it comes down to is that whatever your individual society conditions you to believe, you will accept. And when a circumstance arises that makes you question that belief it will still be hard to let it go because there is always some kind of logic in it that makes you think, "you know, there is a certain amount of sense to it."although when you play it out in the big picture, like I tried to explain in the above paragraph, it doesn't hold up. It is mostly conditioning.
Just look at the huge number of different beliefs; and not just religion; political systems, family structure, values, etc. All believed in very strongly by each group. We can believe anything. Our brain has developed to sense a need for structure of some kind in many different facets of our life and religion is a structure that is very hard to let go of until we have something to replace it with.
Sorry for my rambling; I'm getting these thoughts out as an on-going part of my personal healing, de-programming; whatever you want to call it.
Rachel, I don't know if this is still relevant to you but if not it is maybe helpful for someone else.
I am currently reading a really good book which is called "Leaving the fold" written by Marlene Winell. It is a guide for former fundamentalists and others leaving their religion. It deals with the recovery process (5 Phases), manipulation techniques that are used in fundamentalist churches, why it is so hard to let go and helps to create an own life and personality after this was highly suppressed before. I am half through it and I highly recommend to read it. I just left my fundamental christian church 3 month ago and that is really tough when you are the first in the extended family and you are bombarded by emails, calls and letters telling you how much they pray for you and how much they love you :/
I even recommend therapy sessions if it doesn't get better and you got stuck somewhere in the recovery process.
I think Rachael's beef is with her own negative experience with religion, as well as other's she has known who share a negative experience. It's unavoidable to point a negative finger at a belief system you have had a negative experience with, especially one that claims complete authority over everything, which most religions do.
The Judeo-Christian god claims complete dominance over the whole universe and everything inhabiting it; including the right to tell us how to live our lives and what to think. That is what the bible proclaims. This isn't just a matter of, 'oh well, this belief didn't work for me' and move on happily to something else. Leaving the belief that there is an omnipotent being can really rupture your mental state (unless you never deeply believed there was such a being).
Most 'believers' give lip service (as far as my own experience goes); if some doctrine or religious principle comes up that comes into conflict with how they want to live their life they put on blinders to it, and really never consider the impact of what those doctrines and principles really mean.
The bible is about mind control. Pure and simple. If you take it seriously, as I did, it has enormous impact on you. And a life you could have lived without it won't happen, since you are trying to live according to the bible; remember the passages in the bible where we are supposed to let His will and not ours be done?
It sounds as if Rachael took her belief very seriously and now is having difficulty putting it away, as I am. To many religion is just associating with a church that you enjoy going to that makes you feel good and has nice people to associate with and doesn't condemn you or what you like to do. If you don't like it you look for one that suits you.
For others, it's about searching out the Truth of God and obeying it because it is all real. You change your life to suit God, not the other way around. This perspective is the one that can really damage you because 'all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.' This is where the guilt and self-doubt come in.
You mention where the bible says 'the truth shall set you free'; for many who had believed, it WAS true. When you find out it isn't and you know that it has disrupted your life and others you know, you WILL say that it is a negative thing. It sounds to me as if you were'nt deeply wound up with it as Rachael, or myself. I used to speak at my denominations' churches up and down the East Coast for years before finally admitting my doubts to myself that it all didn't make sense. To me, and others, religion is either true or not. There is a god or there isn't. If there isn't, shed the guilt and drop the ceremonies; why practice something that isn't true?
There are churches who merely function as vehicles for socialization and comfort, but mine and others like it stated that you needed to accept the bible as literal and obey it or you were damned. Nothing comfy or cozy about that.
Anyways, I've gone on too long. I'll just say that if what you believe makes you feel good, helps you make positive, healthy choices and it doesn't condemn others, fine. If it automatically puts you in a position of condemnation (original sin), and encourages you to condemn other's beliefs, than that is negative. Unless those beliefs bring about negative actions, ie terrorism.