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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Born and raised a Roman Catholic myself, a long time ago, my daddy Adam would teach me sitting on his knee while my mom Eve would run around the house naked.

OK, OK,  that last part may have been a small fib, but the first part was true.

I went to Catholic school (taught by nuns), for the first 8 years of my life, went to seminary for a full 36 hours, after that I was done with it.

Bullshit just has a way of smelling after a while, so I found new and interesting things to do with my finite life, like eating, video games and pornography, etc. :)

Broaden your horizons the world has a lot of interesting things to do now that your are allowed to form your own opinions, have fun, life's a blast (once you get big brother out of your head).

"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..."

Sir, I said the same thing when I got out of the army. Many people say the same when they get out of any relationship. So I'd suggest tackling it from that perspective (that "Moving on" approach).
I like this one:

Two things to consider here. First, maybe this is a good time to realize that these things, or even indulging in these things, is not as bad as religion would make you think. You should feel free to enjoy the things you want to enjoy.

Two, if/when these things do affect you, then fear of infernal punishment by an invisible (and inexistent) father figure will provide you a level of unnecessary guilt that could prove to be mentally unhealthy. Thus, you should be able to learn to avoid whatever you think you need to avoid because of the earthly punishment these things could provide in real life. For instance, too much porn/masturbation could lead to premature ejaculation issues that could make you terrible in bed, and very unpopular with the ladies this alone should be deterrent enough to limit your porn watching to a healthy level. Too much time playing video games could hurt your productive/studying/working time, which could ultimately hurt your level of income and quality of life. Too much food, and you could effectively shorten your lifespan. These *real* problems should be incentive enough to keep these activities limited to whatever you think you should limit them to.

At the end of the day, the good thing is that YOU are in the driver's seat now, and not some fairy tale character.

In short, all things in moderation - including moderation!

Justin, welcome to what CAN BECOME a happier life. I hope it will be at least as happy as mine.

I departed a committed Catholicism in two steps: intellectual while in college and, 15 years later emotionally.

My intellectual departure benefited from my years-long habit of reading, because having my face in a book kept me out of my dad's sometimes violent ways. I read about America's many xianities, about the world's many religions, and about the world's many creation myths. That the world's religions all had forms of the Golden Rule helped. My unhappiness while a Catholic, due to its many demands on my future, helped me resolve to continue learning so I would feel no need for the "deathbed return" a then-famous philosopher chose.

My emotional departure was like a leap from a cliff into a void. It required a self-trust that twelve years in Catholic schools had all but destroyed. A college education and a well-paid job I enjoyed did much to rebuild my self-trust.

I had solidified my emotional departure when I got a long-delayed and delightful revenge for 12 years of bullying by nuns and priests. While serving on a jury, I had lunch one day with two other male jurors, one of them a Catholic priest. When the other non-religious said he was an Episcopalian, I looked at the priest and said I had 20 years earlier left the Catholic church. He, unable to quit his intellectual bullying, told me my life was "absurd." I had recently seen the word defined as "meaningless" and right away told him "I see it as my responsibility to  give my life meaning. He suddenly stopped talking and the look on his face told me my "arrow" had hit where it hurt. He didn't say another word and for weeks I told myself "Don't tell me revenge isn't sweet!"

Justin, you described the difficulties you are seeing better than I described those I saw. Nuns and priests are well-trained bullies; I wish you well.

Wow, the response you all have given me is far beyond what I had expected or hoped for.  Thank you!  I'm busy wrapping up a major project at work right now (due Wednesday), so I haven't had a chance to look into the many wonderful resources and ideas you all have suggested, but I definitely plan to do so.

Although I am certainly not ready to make certain jumps yet (like accepting pornography into my life), and perhaps never will be, I agree with the point many of you have made that we are each responsible for crafting our own happiness, and that doing so will require a new sort of creativity and freedom.  In some ways, it's part of what has me nervous!  You all are very gung-ho about this freedom and how exciting it can be.  I do share some of that sense of excitement, but I also find it daunting -- and, even from an atheist point of view, I'm not alone in finding freedom terrifying (Sartre, Camus etc.).

One of the first things on my agenda for after I finish up this major project at work is to start doing fun things, purely for the sake of having fun.  I'm a pretty serious person, and I tend to think that things have to be done for some instrumental or ethical purpose.  My wife is like this too, in many ways.  She's been going through a rough time too, for somewhat different reasons, and we both recently realized how much we need to generally chill out about life -- get a TV, go out for a beer from time to time instead of being health nuts all the time, etc etc.

All things in moderation, Justin - including moderation!

There are lots of fun, and sometimes fufu things to do. Go to a desert and look for meteorits. Read up and go looking for fossils. Go to wierd retreats and conferences. Get a good microscope and look at protozoa and bugs. Take a mushroom indentification class. ......... 

Justin, from Chapter 2 of The Allure of Toxic Leaders by Jean Lipman-Blumen, the opening words:

"An intricate cluster of psychological needs sparks our search for leaders. ... [they] impel us to find a safe and meaningful place in the world. ... seduce us into believing toxic leaders' unfulfillable triple promise: to keep us safe, anoint us as special, and offer us a seat at the community table."

In almost two thousand years Catholicism's leaders have developed a plan to impel and seduce. If you return to the plantation, you won't be the first. If you stay off the plantation, you won't be the first.

What helped me stay off the plantation?

Existentialism, a brutally honest way of looking at life, gave me what I needed: the point of view that (I will use the issues you named and add one) binging on food, binging on video games, binging on pornography, or binging on the work a state's governor has to do, are equally meaningful ways to structure the life I was given. I needed only to choose.

Existentialism told me more than all the philosophers I had studied: I would choose and I would have no excuses.

That was its brutality and its value. I wish you well.

No, I've never been a Marine Corps drill instructor.

Sense and Goodness Without God is a good resource.
I was Catholic as a kid.


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