On the discussion page under the latest Unbelievable podcast (a place I spend way too much time), a Christian asked the atheists on the board if they miss their relationship with Jesus. I had some thoughts about that, and wrote a lengthy post that might show up here at some point in the future. But the best answer came from Sarah, whom I have featured hear in the past. I will post her answer in its entirety with her permission:
The remainder of this post is written by Sarah. As always, Sarah, thanks for your contribution.
This is a fair question to ask which I pondered when seeing ex Christians. Surely, their lives lost meaning and there was a great void at their core, one they willfully suppressed? Surely, right?
Belief is often something many of us have grown up with. In my case, at least 3 generations of family on both sides were protestants. It is tied in to identify, family ritual, traditions, our everyday talks and actions. As a child it is all you know and you learn to filter everything through that lens.
Leaving it is a wrench and costly. It hits at the core of who you are as a person, what you believe and your entire world view. It is not easy or taken lightly, save maybe for those who were just “nominal Christians”.
However, if you were invested heavily, a real believer, it is hard work. I wonder what you as a Christian make of apostates? I would have trotted out the usual – drifting away (backsliding), the need to sin and willful disobedience, deception, laziness as being some of the reasons. Implicit in my evaluation was ALWAYS that the person still knew there was a god, but they preferred their sinful life.
In reality, this couldn’t be further from what I found to be the case when I read people’s ex-testimonies. They were honest non resistant unbelievers. Most wrestled and pleaded with god for faith and assistance. Furthermore, they did not go on mass killing sprees after de-converting. Why, they even seemed happy. It was intriguing to the point of me wanting to learn why they had left. This unexpectedly set me on the path of deconversion, as these people spoke my language but could articulate without shame all their disappointments. So be careful Joyce what you ask! 😉
Yes, I do miss certain aspects. It’s nice (though I discovered not essential, to healthy self esteem) to believe an all powerful Being who loves and cherishes you. It makes some logical sense and appeases are hungry cry for purpose driven explanations (the world was made this way for us, God is the reason!). The promise of an afterlife is reassuring no matter how bad things get down here on earth. In some ways this can foster such qualities as perseverance, patience and delayed gratification, which are not bad traits.
I miss that feeling of, no matter where you go, you have people who believe the same thing. There’s a type of complicity no matter where you travel around the world, that’s bonding. That said, it was often countered by suspicion of another group who had slightly different doctrines.
I am not one for traditional practices, be they secular or religious, neither for singing and organised groups in general, so I don’t miss in the slightest, the services and worship. I was usually bored, being told things that were quite obvious and with hindsight quite annoyed at myself for giving up huge swathes of my time on a Sunday. I left church long before I deconverted and I’m sure that this plays right into the Christian’s view of someone backsliding and pulling away. I had to do it for my own sanity though.
The inner dialogue with god is something you miss in the sense that you don’t do it anymore. It’s absent and there’s no longer that conversation with the divine who ‘speaks’ into your life through thoughts and what you read. But that’s the point, there never was. I still have to catch myself automatically sending a prayer up when things start to go pear shaped. It’s such a reflex, and actually very revealing how much we abdicate our responsibilities and hope to a higher power. Now, I stop myself and re-centre around what can I do about this, what can I learn and grow from this, and I’ve found the lack of prayer has made not the slightest of differences either way in outcomes.
It’s easier in some ways to express what you don’t miss or the positives you’ve gained from throwing off the shackles of faith:
- There’s no master plan, no cosmic intervention. This life is it. It’s down to us and we need to roll up our sleeves and tackle population growth, poverty, climate change etc.
- There is so much less cognitive dissonance. You no longer have to twist yourself into pretzels to reconcile the irreconcilable. Nor be grateful that you’ve grasped some nonsensical issue as being your own personal revelation of god’s ‘mystery’. It is all a muddle when it comes to god. And I found it does not serve you well to interpreted this as mystery.
- Generally I am more at peace, more motivated to help mankind, less judgmental, more accepting and free to explore everything. There was no way I would look at yoga or eastern religions for fear of being assailed by some demon or deception. My soul was in constant danger. There was a cosmic spiritual war raging. There is a never ending need to discern and evaluate; Is this from god? is it just me? is it looking like god but masking as the angel of light? It’s a minefield of which you’re never free.
I appreciate, this might not be everyone’s experience unless they were in a charismatic setting, but most people will talk of feeling led/called, prompted to something and attribute it to god. I have seen it go badly wrong, time and time again. Hearing from Him is fraught with problems. It needn’t be if there was a god, of course. And occasionally Christians tackle the hiddeness of this Being, but retreat quickly into interpreting it as great mystery, something which is to be revered. It’s not. In fact it is one of the crueler aspects.
I’m slowly getting freed from this and it has been nothing but a good, mind expanding thing. But yeah, sometimes I’m nostalgic for the old days.
Hope that gives you an insight.