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.
As in, your real feelings.
Here is my stab at it. If I am way off base, please don't be mad at me. I apologize in advance if anything is ridiculously off the mark.
The decrepit church and sad people leaving because they lost their church to atheists represents on some level that you view your past church and church members as all being players in the losing game of religious faith and you're not without sympathy for their misfortune. You see their sadness which is because as long as they refuse to accept reality, they will remain deluded for the whole of their lives therefore depriving themselves of your companionship.
Maybe the reason the atheists knew you and you didn't know them is because there is still a small part of you that feels many of the atheists you know saying they understand your situation just doesn't sit well with you. You feel if they did understand, they would not be so thrilled and celebratory that you left it behind and understand it's not an easy thing to do especially when the wound is not healed yet.
Even though your past Christian relationships have shattered, you still remember the good things about your Christian acquaintances and grieve about the loss of the good things even though you sure don't miss the bad things.
@ Skycomet - @Mabel - I think it is sad that Mabel felt the need to apologize before Mabel made a statement - I do like to think we can voice an opinion without being attacked, so dear Mabel, I think your comment was terrific - one can put a different spin on ANYTHING - always look for the positive, and if your dream upset you, think about what your dream was about, and put a positive spin on it, as Mabel has outlined, as is Simon and Archy's interpretation - Good human beings - Good stuff - Indoctrination and brainwashing goes to the depths of your brain - and truly hard to get rid of - just think that now you live your life without fear of going to hell. I still say 'Jesus Christ' loudly when called for, and 'Bloody Hell',' for god's sake' etc. Ha,ha, really hard to get rid of, remnants may always be there, but it is comforting, to me, that I am an Atheist.
@Suzanne - Yes, but we have to tread carefully if we're stomping about in someone's subconscious, so I think Mabel was right to be super-polite. I think her interpretation seemed illuminating. But the only person who can really decide how accurate we are is Skycomet.
The fact is, if we can find the truth about our situation, it sets us free, even if it seems unpleasant at the time. Once we know what's going on we can do something about it. I'm not even talking about the truth about the existence of God - if it's done properly, Christians can use their faith to find the truth just the same as we can. And anyway, they might be right for all we know. We're the ones living on Earth and discovering our Earthly situation. We can choose to bring God into it, or we can choose not to - they are two alternative approaches, both of which either work or not work depending on how we do it.
No need to apologize, I really do think you touched some of the things I have felt for a while. I do miss the christian friends and family that have either rejected or distanced themselves from me out of fear of catching my "doubt disease." I also do feel very sad for religious people because too many of them waste their entire lives worrying about a nonexistent afterlife instead of following their dreams. They are controlled by their delusions. It is frustrating that (most of the time) I can't do anything for them.
Oh yes... and about my loss of faith... yes... I am now very grateful to be free of slavery to faith... but at the time I lost it (and for a long time afterward) it was as devastating as if my best friend had died - in a way... he did.... And for a long time I was convinced that I had killed him.
Somehow Sky, I can't imagine a child feeling that he or she has killed Santa Claus, simply because they stopped believing in him - your situation is no different, you are not to blame for your intellectual maturity.
Sky - I'm certainly no "Joseph," I don't pretend to be able to interpret dreams, but I noticed some symbolism in your dream that is almost self-evident.
The church was crumbling, as is your religious faith, and the clergy are leaving your life, but during your younger years, that faith had been a place of refuge, of solace, of hope, and quite possibly, you haven't yet worked out exactly how to cope without them. Both of my parents have been gone for years, yet there still are times, when things go wrong, that I wish I could go to them, tell them how unfair the world was to me, and they would make it better, or at least, bearable. Yet I realize intellectually that that will never happen - that, "if it's to be, it's up to me," and I muddle on. Still, I miss those bygone times when I was more secure, and so do you.
As for your atheist friends, hopefully, that's us, and any others you may have made, but despite your new freedom to think as you choose, we still don't quite replace the comfort and solace you felt in accepting the fairy tale as reality, just as the friends I have today will never show me the degree of love I received from my parents.
The main thing that's not so clear to me, is why we're such littering slobs!
@Archaeopteryx - yes, sadly it's very true, one thing that atheism will always lack is churches. I actually love churches. The UK is full of beautiful centuries-old churches with amazing stained glass windows. I'm holding a little rave in an 18th-century church hall in October, it was the best venue we could find. But then, for us, that's a religious service and a sacred mind-bending ecstatic ritual. (yay!) In the 90's they used to have Jesus raves, that sounds like quite a good idea. I'm not sure if "The Sniper's Dead" or "All Those Beautiful Boys" would go down quite so well in that situation, however.
Atheism could get very close if you 'retire' to a local UU fellowship. My first experience with UU was at a small fellowship in Portland(OR). There were pagans, humanists, atheists, new-age christians, old marxists, and woman looking for a good time..;p). Sadly, I did not taste the local brews...wink wink.
What impressed me at the time was the large presence of, woman, young and old, making afgans during the service! Having been raised as catholic, this seemed very refreshing to me.
At another fellowship, there was a men's druming circle, a visting Hasidic Rabi, and a rather touchy 'religious education' program, that seemed to not be impressed with my short pagan history lesson for Easter. LOL
So if you are looking for a 'church', just visit some number very close to 'n', the more liberal the better, just watch out for the outliers....
James - you're right, any kind of sympathetic community can work well. I've just started volunteering at a homeless shelter for 18 residents (2 hours a week) and it is a real hub of a community of damaged souls who are getting healed. The atmosphere is inclusive and tolerant while enforcing tough rules, and people do really well out of it.