Dealing with guilt from past religious "transgressions"

I've had such a great experience so far on this site that I figured this would be the first place I would come for advice on this matter.  In my past, I was a christian - if you've seen my introductory post on my background you'll understand, if not I was a fundie raised person surrounded by devout people.  I've lived and breathed the baptist doctrine and now I'm becoming incensed.  I've been a non-believer, Atheist for about 5 years now but am starting to deal with the consequences of religion, and my actions during that time.

I've said horrible things to homosexuals, other atheists, and even other religious sects.  Of course it's the same things you've read about on here, "you're going to hell", "homosexuality is a disease", "Catholics got it all wrong and are going to hell" and so on.  I have a horrible guilt trip for these words.  If I was even able to track down each of those individuals how many would even accept an apology or much less care? 

It feels better to write about it, but how would you feel if you realized that someone had said those things to you previously and you found out that they had come to their senses.  Assuming I could even find some of them should I even bother to reach out or do you think it's moot? 

I'm thinking more about the Atheists and homosexuals that I have dealt with in the past.  The Catholics can go to hell still. 

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You shouldn't beat yourself up over it. Life goes on. You made a mistake then, now you know better. No one got hurt, other than feelings, maybe.

Most of those people were probably so used to hearing those things that they probably just brushed it off as another day in the life of.

But if you feel that you need to do something to get it off of your chest, instead of tracking the people down, write a blog about it and post it on facebook, or some public feed. Or even write about it and have it printed in a local paper (as long as that won't cause any hate towards you or your family), show some sort of support for a secular organization in your area, or the LGBT community.

By all means, if you feel the need to atone for it, there are lots of ways to do it, and I'm sure the people here are going to give lots of ideas.

Hope some of those are decent ideas for you.

Hi. Had you insulted me because of my atheism in the past and I later learnt you had become an atheist I would have greater respect for you because I would know how completely differently you had felt in the past and so iunderstand how hard it must have been to challenge your own long held perceptions and overturn them. I would think you a person of strong principles and self awareness to be able to do this and do 'kill the fatted calf' (hee hee) for you. I suspect most gay people will feel the same. If I were you I would apologise if you ever see someone you have been rude to and otherwise just support gay rights?

I agree. When you abandon religion you pretty much cease to be the same person. Much like being extraordinarily drunk, you were under the influence. Your actions were the product, at least I assume, or an upbringing of religious indoctrination. In effect, you were a blank slate that was carved into something harmful; responsibility truly lies with the teachers (although they are probably products of the same system). If you were force-fed a harmful drug which caused bad behaviour, it would scarcely be your fault. Much the same has happened to you but with ideas. I would say that rather than guilt--which is irrational and achieves nothing--make at least some effort to protect others from the same fate. Contributing to the growth of the secular community through this website serves this purpose indirectly.

Seems the consensus is that I should perhaps volunteer to teh LGBT community, I think that is a wonderful idea.  I know they aren't synonymous with atheism but their challenges and struggles have some parallels and they do have a well connected community.  Atheism is a little harder to create a community?  I wonder why that is, no direction? 

Those are great ideas, I'll look into what I can do to volunteer some time.  Not that I have any... but whatever I can do to help I'm happy to help with. 

I think a certain amount of guilt makes sense and is even healthy if you don't fixate on it.  It's not like some external agent is guilt tripping you for things you don't really believe to be wrong; it sounds more like this is the product of your own conscience.  It just shows that you've achieved a certain level of understanding and sympathy.

To be honest, I don't really remember any occasions where someone has told me I'm going to hell, or made homophobic remarks toward me.  It's definitely happened numerous times, but it just never left a distinct impression.  Somehow it always seemed very impersonal, indistinct, and unimportant.  In all of those cases, if someone came to apologize, I'd probably just shrug and say, "Cool.  So.. how's life been treating you over the years?" I'm not one to forgive, but that's mostly because it feels like clinging to the past in an undesirable way.  In most cases, I'd rather let bygones be.  But everyone's situation is different.  It's possible that you've cut people deeply in the past with your words.  

Then again, haven't we all at some point or another?  I doubt anyone would expect an apology or similar acknowledgment.  If I was in your shoes, I'd probably frame it like this:

Is contacting those I've wronged about moving forward in life, or is it dwelling on the past?
Is contacting those I've wronged about doing something positive in both our lives, or is it only about assuaging my guilt?

In both cases, the former seems worthwhile, while the latter seems detrimental.

Hey Paul, no need to feel so bad!

It's great that you now know better about saying such things, but don't feel so bad about it. Sure it's not nice but atheists and homosexuals are generally very open minded people, people who never hold a grudge or anything. I'm sure the atheists you've encountered in your past shrugged off any misplaced words you had for them, and as for any homosexuals, I think it can be a little harder for them sometimes. Being bombarded with hate from every side, you know. But I'm sure that even those people you've talked to wouldn't be mad at you, in fact both the atheists and gays would be very glad to hear from you.

So it would definitely not be moot. Especially if these were people you knew, old friends or neighbors maybe. Just don't feel so bad over it, and there's really no need to go and apologize to every single person you've met in your life that you offended. You are a much better person now, so look into your bright future, not your dim past!

Hey Paul,   I'm with the rest of group here.. Don't beat yourself up over this.  Its normal to feel guilt and remorse for things you've done in the past... Its also an absolute sign that you've taken the next step away from that previous mindset that allowed all those things to happen.

Acknowledge the guilt and remorse but don't dwell on it.  Move forward and know that you now have the tools to address that 'old' mindset when you encounter it in the here and now and in the future.

"Religion is an insult to human dignity. With or without it you would have good people doing good things and evil people doing evil things. But for good people to do evil things, that takes religion." Steven Weinberg

If you do run into some of those people from your past.. try to show them that you're no longer running the same operating system as before..  Some people may want to address the past..but some may also just want to move forward.   For me personally there's no better apology than to see that someone has moved to a 'higher state of awareness' (XD).. Let all your interactions reflect that and it will do your apologies for you.  You may get a chance to apologize for specific things and it will be wonderful if you do.....but right actions from now on will do more than atone for all the things in your past.

Good luck and try to  keep a positive attitude.  Many of us have been and still are wearing the same shoes you are. (for all kinds of things we've done in the past)

Paul, I have similar feelings over my family. All of the years I wasted and bad feelings I caused by preaching at them. All the time we could have enjoyed one another's company, but nooo, I had to be a self-righteous asshole, be seperated to Christ, blah, blah, blah.

I wish I could get those years back.

I understand how you feel, i also wish i could apologize to all the people i hurt when i was religious, but you cant beat yourself up, religion has a strong hold over a lot of you when you are ensnared. In my oppinion you should just be proud you broke free from the doctrines you had been following as many others are either willfully ignorant or simply lack the will or inteligence to see the world for what it is.

I am another atheist who thinks you're fine, and that those you've wronged would be not only forgiving of your prior transgressions, but elated that you've "seen the light" and are a more, shall we say, "self aware" person?

I have had this exact thing happen to me twice - both with friends of mine who became a part of a "Christian Youth Movement" (I call it a CULT) called "Alpha", ran by a church called Chapel Hill Harvester (I've written about this stuff in the past). Once they woke up and cried BULLSHIT at the stuff this place taught, they both came and apologized to me for the things they had said to me. I was just glad that they got out of it and became more self-aware and rational. Their prior actions were nothing to me - I, as an out of the closet atheist in the Deep South, am used to it, and those comments roll off like water off a duck's back.

So I promise that if those you've verbally attacked in the past were to know that you have "woken up" and become "rationally saved", they would be excited and would congratulate you. And if you happen to see one of these people down the road, simply apologize. It takes a very strong and mature person to admit when they were wrong, and to apologize for it - and when it does happen, it means a lot.

You're a good person - and we're all better for it.

So I promise that if those you've verbally attacked in the past were to know that you have "woken up" and become "rationally saved", they would be excited and would congratulate you.

That's kind of a bold statement.  Realistically, some may not, as is their prerogative.

I think it's really not important, you had a change of personal belief, that affected you across the board. Now I don't want to sound cheesy, but it was the doctrine talking, not you. You would have to feel guilty if you knew the real truth and still kept saying those things. Don't beat yourself up about it, if you hurt someone specifically, make amends so you can have your inner peace. People you said those things to probably don't hold a grudge but they certainly will accept an apology as to make you feel better, and if they don't well fuck them :). Hope you find the answer interesting!

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