Please Help! Confusion, Disturbing Nightmare, and Still Trying to Adjust to Life as an Atheist

I know that what I am about to talk about may not be pleasant to hear about, and I sincerely hope I don't make any of you angry (although I don't know why I should). But recent events have brought about an upsetting problem that I can't shake, and for reasons that will soon become obvious - but I will outline them below anyway - I can't confide in my theist family about this problem... they would not understand and would most likely gain false hope of me "returning to the fold" - I most certainly will not!

Let me begin this way:

I would have thought that after 7 years after I lost my faith, and after 3 years of being an admitted atheist, that I would have settled all the "adjusting period" emotional and social problems that I had... you know... dealing with the confusion of having the thing that you based your life on (devotion to God) disappear, dealing with confusion and uncertainty about what being an atheist would mean for me and my life (besides lacking belief in God - although that may be the most basic definition - we all know that being an atheist in the United States of America has far more practical issues and implications and hard choices about how you will go forward with your life), dealing with anxiety about who to "come out" to and when (if at all), dealing with confusion and new difficulties over how to live in a society that makes no room for non-believers and - even worse - rejects them and sometimes demonizes them, dealing with the friends and family that don't understand, may try to "win you back", may ask you (with that inevitable look of concern and worry) "What happened? Do you hate god? Did you stop coming to church/ stop believing in God because something bad happened? Are you depressed/ angry? Was it something I did? I REALLY want to know if I did something to hurt you so much that you took out your anger at me on God! Do you need someone to talk to, because I know a pastor/ priest/ rabbi/ etc. that I think you should talk to! He/she can REALLY help you in your time of darkness." (What I was thinking at the time: Ummm... my "time of darkness" is for an entirely different reason than you think! It's not something that anyone did! My faith just collapsed and my world is falling apart around me!), also... you have to deal with the friends and family that reject you because they can't deal with your atheism.

I thought I was through all that... now I'm not so sure.

You see... I have been going through a hard time... and sometimes I desperately wish that God was real and prayer worked so that I could have some relief from my pain... even though I am fully aware that all that is a fantasy.

But something happened last night that really got me to wondering whether I am REALLY over my period of darkness and confusion and made me desperate for some advice from fellow non-theists who wouldn't try to do what my theist friends and family would inevitably do - interpret it as a sign that I wanted/ needed God back.

You see, I had a rather disturbing nightmare that I can't shake. When my Christian mother asked what the dream was about, I couldn't tell her... so I lied and said that I didn't remember. In reality... how could I forget?

The nightmare took place at my old church that I grew up in. I haven't been there in a very long time although, the other day, I passed one of my old friends, a youth pastor, as I was driving down the road. She and her husband both smiled and waved at me.

In the dream, I remember that the old church that I had loved so much was decrepit. It was falling apart at the seams bricks missing, the steeple was gone, and the floors inside were dusty and bare. The main pastor and the rest of the staff was leaving the building through the back entrance with grim, pale, sad faces. Some were crying. The reverend told me that the church had gone bankrupt and that it had been sold to a local atheist group. - I didn't know what to make of that - As soon as they were gone, a group of atheists I had never met before - but that seemed to know me - entered the building and started partying, putting up anti-theistic signs and banners all over the church and leaving popped balloons and confetti on the floor. The place was a mess. Everyone was smiling and laughing and inviting me to join in. But I didn't want to. I remember that I sat on the floor of the sanctuary and cried. I was not crying about God, I was remembering all the friends I had made there, all the various fun activities I had participated in over the years, and all the broken, forlorn faces of my friends that had left in silence after emptying their offices. I felt like a piece of my childhood that I kept close to my heart had been destroyed. I wasn't angry at the atheists, I felt confused and sad. I had no desire to join in on the anti-theist party... I just wanted to cry. 

I woke up from the dream feeling disturbed and not knowing what it meant. Can any of you help me figure out what is going on? Have you had similar experiences? How have you dealt with them?

This was just a dream, but it also made me wonder why I would have a dream like that.

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a dream is just a dream, nothing more. dreams have no meaning, could be just thoughts and feelings that you are witholding inside, like missing the church somehow. 

I should be sleeping right now instead of typing this, so I skipped the middle pages - sorry if someone has mentioned this. A while ago I was directed to a TED Talk: "What atheists can learn from religion"


Before you say "nothing" watch the video - it's about 20 mintues. He talks about what I think might be making Skycomet have the 'nightmare'. (Someone did touch upon this on the 1st page.) Most of us are used to having another social outlet - our religion - but being atheists no longer have that. He suggests looking at the few positives religion possesses and adopting them.

I suspect seeing people you used to be friends with and miss triggered the 'nightmare'.

Skycomet, just in case no one else suggested this, reconnect with the old religious friends who might be able to deal with you being an atheist or, if you already know none of them can deal, try to expand your current circle of friends. If you have a hobby that you don't share with anyone in your current circle of friends, look online for others in your area who do share that hobby.

I hope I'm not so tired that I didn't make sense.

I found this passage in "The Case for God" by Karen Armstrong, talking about faith and atheism in the wake of Darwin's discovery of the theory of Evolution.  The difficulty seems to have been that since the scientific Enlightenment in the 17th century, religion had been trying to justify the existence of God in scientific terms, and then, science caught up with it and proved it wrong.  

"There had long been an intolerant strain in modernity; it had long seemed necessary to abjure recent orthodoxy as a condition for the creation of new truth.  Atheism was still a minority passion, but people who nurtured subterranean doubts yet were not ready to let their faith go may have found this passionate critique vicariously cathartic.  

Others relinquished their faith with sorrow and felt no Promethean defiance, no heady liberation.  In 'Dover Beach', the British poet Matthew Arnold (1822-88) heard the 'melancholy, long, withdrawing roar' of faith as it receded, bringing 'the eternal note of sadness in'.  Human beings could only cling to one another for comfort, for the world that once seemed

     So various, so beautiful, so new,
     Hath really neither joy, nor love, nor light,
     Nor certitude, nor peace, nor help for pain;
     And we are here as on a darkling plain
     Swept with confused alarms of struggle and flight,
     Where ignorant armies clash by night.

At its best, religion had helped people to build within them a haven of peace that enabled them to live creatively with the sorrow of life; but during the scientific age, that interiorised security had been exchanged for an unsustainable certainty [the attempt to use science to explain God].  As their faith ebbed, many Victorians sensed the void that it left behind."

These are big words, I know, but I believe that the scientific principle I've isolated will bring "joy, love, light, certitude, peace and help for pain".  It's right under everybody's noses and a fundamental part of being alive.  Why has nobody isolated it before?  Don't ask me, but they haven't.  Not one.  Unique circumstances I guess.  I very nearly died, and I also read The Selfish Gene.  Etc.  Etc.  We're in the Information Age now. 

Simon, I suggest you also read A History of God, by Ms Armstrong - fascinating chapter on Islam - one Mullah actually posited that god lives inside us, rather than in any external, physical heaven. That, as far as I know, is as close as any Muslim has come to the truth - that he is a product of our imaginations.

he She

not to Muslims --

I see what you did there, Mr. Smartypants. So now you want us to think that you meant the Muslim (not yourself) was speaking of "our imaginations". I feel bitchslapped now.

No, no, no - I'm saying that you and I may have the latitude to say "he," "she," or "it," when discussing the concept of a god, but a Muslim would not, any more than would an orthodox Jew or a fundamentalist Christian.

Yes, I'm finding that she's a very good writer, extremely intelligent and very dispassionate in what she says.  She's not on one side or another, she just tries to understand the situation and tell it like it is.  She used to be a nun.  She's in an unusual position in that she's studied all the major religions together. 

This is one point that I sometimes feel also. I have seen a tendency in the environmental movement to replace 'God' with 'Nature' as a ground of the sacred, but on deeper study 'Nature' seems more tooth and claw, than love and grace. For short moments, crossing into the 'prissy-white-light' of a sacred nature seems possible, but not sustainable. Sooner or later, we must wake up from the trace and reach for the antibiotics, the antifungals, a pointed stick, or our wits. Being surrounded by jungle here, it is clear that If I drop my guard, our garden will be in tatters, our house eaten by carpenter ants, mice will invade, and a forest fire could consume the rest! Our chickens recently went the way of predator/prey.

So I see the beauty around us, wonder at the details, and try not to assume that I am immune to the cycle of life...  

To take that a step further James, there are more bacteria living in a single human colon, than all of the humans that have ever lived on this planet - as unglamorous as it may sound, we are little more than germ hotels from the perspective of a bacterium.


On the bacteria scale, we might be considered a whole planet, with about as many nitches.


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