Post-religion and looking for support and meaning

Hey all.  I suspect you hear stuff like this a lot, but here goes.  I was a very committed and believing Roman Catholic for a number of years and had largely built my friendships, my marriage, and my understanding of life's meaning around the practice of my faith.  About two and a half years I lost that faith, primarily due to two things: (1) the implausibility of Catholicism's (and other religious alternatives') exclusive claims of comprehensive and absolute truth with the fact of extraordinary religious diversity across the world; (2) the seemingly unscientific (and anti-statistical) nature of a providential / miracle-driven worldview; and (3) the incompatibility of religious anthropology with the picture that evolution gives us. 

All fairly typical stuff.  But I'm really struggling!  The simple fact is that even though my religion was not true, it did me a whole lot of good on a practical level.  It gave life a sense of structure and meaning, which I now lack -- at least on the same level of intensity.  It helped me overcome a lot of self-indulgence and discipline issues, which are now resurfacing (binging on food, video games, pornography).  Fundamentally, I still have the same values that I did as a Catholic -- I want to love and serve others.  But without the structure I had before, and hte sense that my life is on some level in God's hands, I've really struggled to find a consistent and potent motivation for sustaining the progress I made in these areas.  More generally, I'm more down on life than I used to be, and I don't feel like I have anyone in my life who can really understand what I'm dealing with.

Anyone know some good resource or have some pointers to help me on my way?



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Hi Justin, and welcome to Think Atheist.

I've always been atheist so I wish I could provide you with some self-tested ideas but alas for you (although a bit of a relief for me) I cannot do that. 

However, I did come across a situation where someone was struggling with the concept of being atheist because of the 'help' they had apparently gained from their religion.  I believe they had been an alcoholic, and had followed one of those twelve steps programs to get sober.  And of course, that got me thinking, hey! what about an atheist alcoholic? what's out there for them?.

So I did a little research amongst friends and discovered that there is an organization called Secular Organizations for Sobriety, (SOS), which although much smaller, seemed to have a viable alternative to those twelve steps - you can google it if you want details.

The thing I took from it, though, other than the immediate answer to my immediate question, was that the word 'secular' is absolutely magical if you use it in your search criteria for anything like this!  So, for you, I googled "Secular Ethics" to see how the magic word would help.  There is a wiki page here that not only defines the idea well, but also carries heaps of links to offshoots.  I feel optimistic that you will find some great ideas with these pages.

I also suggest you try the 'secular' word in you-tube, where there are dozens of really great talks or excerpts of talks on a wide array of issues that might be in your line of thinking - and we all think differently, so we would all probably find different messages preferable to us.

Lastly, I think that one of the side-effects of religion, is that it tries to provide a one-size-fits-all solution for a person to rely on.  Everything you as a religious adherent were to do, all your reasons, all your personal control factors, everything - all put down to "God says so and he is watching you".  I think you might be looking for a replacement single thing, whereas the only truly single irreplaceable thing in your life is your own mind. You won't find your answers all in one pot.  You will find self-control in one way, and other behavioral preferences in other ways.  You will find your best-fit version of these combinations yourself, by plucking a bit from here and a bit from there, and you will become better at it with practice.

I really do feel for you, in that you now have almost a totally blank sheet to draw on, whereas before, you were simply coloring in the pre-set outlines all drawn for you.  But you will get there.  You will get to where you want to be, just not instantly.

Alright, I got some time so I'll take a swing at this.

I used to be Catholic, too, and considered myself fairly devout. I left for pretty much the same exact reasons that you mentioned. Good job working your way out!

"But without the structure I had before, and the sense that my life is on some level in God's hands, I've really struggled to find a consistent and potent motivation for sustaining the progress I made in these areas."

The straight forward answer is to find another reason. I don't binge on food because I want to be healthy, and since my family has a history of heart disease, ignoring my health now will lead to serious problems down the road. In the same way that I'm sure there is a reason that you still have similar values. Understanding why we should do something gives more impetus to doing it.

You might also want to look into habit formation. There might be certain cues that you have that triggers these actions and then they reward themselves which reinforces the behavior. Video games, porn, and food all are pleasurable activities. It's easy to get caught in a circle. I don't mean to get psycho-analytical, but I noticed that your profile said that you were married to a Catholic and most of your friends are religious. Maybe problems in your social life are also playing into your behavior. Just some things worth considering.

Hey Justin. Welcome!

 First I'd like to reassure you that the catholics did not create morals values and that to some degree that must be ingrained in our DNA because we wouldn't have survived as a species if it weren't. That being said I'd like to site that cheeseball poem "Foot Steps". Ya know the part where the person looks down and sees only one set of foot prints? I simply turn that around. They were MINE all along. I imagined the other set all along.

 You still have your strengths. You can still do service work, have fellowship, be moral etc..

 On sundays I spend a few hours watching something like episodes of "the Magic Sandwich Show" or some sort of atheist media. Sometimes science. I know there is an adjustment period but it happens... -to good people.

 I hope you find something that helps you sir.  Just remember its ok to just be too.

 Take care.

Justin, you say "But without the structure I had before, and hte sense that my life is on some level in God's hands, I've really struggled to find a consistent and potent motivation for sustaining the progress I made in these areas."

But your life was never in god's hands - it was always all you. You did it before so you do have the strength to do it again.

What many people really miss is the social aspect which can get you down. Use this site to see who else lives in your area and see about getting together as a group in public. Or search for others based on your other interests.

It's late enough I can't think of any good online references - sorry.

You were, as we all were, born an atheist. You were taught religion.

It's more like claiming your original belief system back.


Get a telescope and look at the planets and stars and try not to be awed by it's beauty, size, power and violence, made even more so by the knowledge that WE have a pretty good idea of what it is we are looking at and every day we learn more about the universe, how it got here, how WE got here. I find that inspiring and most fulfilling.

Read some books on science, astronomy, evolution... I find the the wonders of the real world are far more amazing than any story written by sheepherders from 2000 or so years ago or any mythology ever believed.  

Read some Sci-Fi and Fantasy, history, biographies or whatever

Try doing art, learning to play an instrument- better than video games - you at least produce something, it takes massive amounts of discipline and it's fun to create.

I've never been religious so I don't know if any of that helps but it works for me.

I think it's the best time to be alive in history. The futures so bright I need to wear shades.

P.S. Nothing, IMO, wrong with a little porn-  you can only watch it in short spurts anyway. lol

Welcome to TA Justin

When I finally left my catholic roots it did not seem much of a streach. Once my science interest fired up, about 13, the church, church friends, helped to push me out, and our local science club gave a context for experimentation and logical evaluations. For me, the church experience was profoundly booring, while launching rockets, and working on extraction and analysis problems was deeply interesting.

I started reading classical philosophy, Russell, and others about 16, but had mostly lost interest in church before then. I still allow the 'church experience' to tease my couriosity at times, but they sadly have little to offer that would ever compete with the sciences and philosophy. How anyone of reasonable intelligence could tolerate the sad state of boordom with most churchs is a little beyond me.

Whitehead mentions the idea of 'self sealing logic structures', I expect that this concept would work well to describe the church and theist experience, and explain why theism continues.

Have 'faith' in yourself. Find your deep calling, and discover wonder. This will help you find your ethical/moral center, and offer humility as a better reward than heaven.    

Justin - after the Emancipation Proclamation, many, if not most, freed slaves felt exactly as you do. Slavery gave them purpose and structure, daily food, a place to live, even the clothes on their backs, and suddenly they were on their own.

The slave wondered what he would do tomorrow - the answer was, anything you want, but after a lifetime of catering to the needs of others, how does a slave even know what he wants or what choices there are?

I would suggest that you first find a good support group, and I don't know where you'd find a better one than here. You're going through withdrawal symptoms, they will pass.

archaeopteryx, I have often compared leaving Catholicism with leaving a plantation. Your comparing the difficulties of leaving Catholicism with those of leaving slavery says it more fully and more effectively. Thanx.

It just seemed an apt comparison - each had that, "So now what do we do?" quality about them. When you've spent your enitire life within a structure - even if it was a malevolent structure - there's a security there, no matter how bad it may be, and it's difficult to conceive of creating your own structure, when you've had it done for you all your life.

You see the same thing in penitentiary convicts, who do stupid things to get sent back to the only structure they know. You see it in Stockholm Syndrome victims. Even retired military often bring their structure home with them, rising at the same time, eating at the same time, maybe even feeling a compulsion to line up all the rocks in their yard in a row and paint them white - OK, I'm being facetious with that last, but you know what I mean.

What's facetious about painting a third of the rocks red, a third of them white, a third of them blue, and then lining them up in that order?

More seriously, my adventures in staying off the Catholic plantation persuaded me that it's easier to change dogmas than it is to give up the need for a dogma.

One man I know has not yet freed himself. After several years of boosting a Course in Miracles program, he's now boosting a Transcendental Meditation program. His sincerity looks to me like desperation.

Sounds similar to my massage therapist. She seems a good soul, but not worldly enough for my taste. Her energy therapy, 'signaling molecules', Silver Water, etc, all seem too far out to offer any return orbit..;p(...

I think I found a similar effect after being out of work. A place to be, a paycheck, specific cloths to wear, phone calls to make, data to log, estimates and contracts to write. While it was kind of fun, while it lasted,  I also felt this sense of wasting my time, doing mostly obvious stuff, to make a buck. Working for sometimes impossible people, in all weather, at most any time of day or night, got really old fast.


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