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?

Peace,

Justin

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Thanks all, this is very helpful.  Your various diagnoses all capture part of what I'm currently going through, and clearly I have a lot of work to do -- and I suspect that the passage of time will also help with the healing process.  I think that first and foremost, I need to start talking with like-minded folks such as yourselves -- not so that I can enter into a new stage of group-think, but simply so that I won't feel quite as weird and alone in this new stage of life.  (Surrounded by a deeply religious wife and many deeply religious friends, I often feel like an outsider.)  I also have to start re-conceptualizing and re-claiming for myself many of the good habits I developed when I was religious.  It'll be a long process, but I appreciate the thoughts and encouragement you all have given me for the road ahead.  Peace!

One of the things I noticed when I told my family, who is still very Catholic, is that they all wanted to talk to me one on one about their doubts through the years. I have a suspicion that most reasonable people have serious doubts about religion, but still go along with it anyway. Those people who we think are so religious, may very well be a few steps away from being an atheist.

Justin - James Cox has a deeply religious wife, you may want to chat with him as to how he and his spouse have managed to coexist peacefully, and apparently happily, for a number of decades.

Arch:

Only a minor correction. My wife is not deeply religious, only prisy-white light-newager, which could have some commonalities.

I find myself humoring her at times because I love her. Sadly this can create a feeling of unreality for me, since what she sees as an obvious truth, is where I wonder about the presence of 'the beef'?

Our episodic conversation concerning 'the gifted, end of the world horse fiasco', could be a good indication where our philosophical lines cross and become blured. Love need not be a rational ground, but to maintain a relationship, sanity should make an appearance more often than not. I can almost always make sense out of non-sense, but I must, for love's sake, often stuff my personal version of sanity, knowing that life can be short and happiness fleating...   

Minor correction or not, James, I think I'm safe in saying that you've got a good thing going, and - within reason - should do everything you can to hang on to it. Many of us can only wish for the contentment you know on a daily basis. You're a good man, Charlie Brown --

Oh yes, only married for 8 years. For me anything over 7 months was new territory...;p)

Hi Justin, welcome. This is quite a common reaction. I have spoken to a few ex-christians who felt this way. I didn't myself cos my feelings towards my faith were all about fear and anxiety so letting go of them was a relief. However, many Christians have had a much warmer and more comforting experience and so feel something akin to grief when they lose their faith. I think you should be patient with yourself and give it some time because losing your worldview and  your purpose and your sense of immortality is hard. The problem as you've said is needing to rebuild your worldview and your own sense of meaning and purpose. Science and humanism are good here. I recommend Unweaving the Rainbow and perhaps The Moral Landscape. Of course, these are just two atheists' points of view but they are good ones and may help you feel inspired by the wonder of the world and human morality from outside religion.This is also an excellent site for what you are going thruhttp://www.ebonmusings.org/atheism/clearair.html

You could even think of starting a group here? We have groups for ex-muslims, parenting, science etc I think a group for people suffering the psychological effects of losing a theistic worldview would be very useful. You could support each other. You will get there but its takes longer as an adult. :-(

Welcome to TA! Welcome to Logic and Reason! Make no mistake, you are awesome and so is the transformation that your life has taken. It makes me proud to be human whenever I learn about someone like you; someone who has seen through the facade of Christianity. You need not worry about your life, as it is now in YOUR hands. You have ultimate control, not some unseen, unheard-from entity in the sky with a tendancy towards violence!

Just curious, but why do you consider video games and pornography a negative aspect of your life? You need not feel guilty about these 'indugences' if they are things that you enjoy. There is no god judging you for playing video games or looking at porn, so why stress about it? While I do not really care for porn (just not my thing) I am an avid gamer and I am very unapologetic about it. I game, get over it, move on. Yes, I spend a lot of time playing games, but so what? It's one of my many hobbies and I enjoy it, therefore it is not a waste of time. I know that spouses and significant others tend to hate on video games because of the time it takes away from them, but if you enjoy games then you should play them. If there is someone in your life that is trying to prevent you from doing the things you enjoy, then they don't really care about your happiness, only their own. Anything that brings you joy is not bad.  Those are Catholic guilt feelings seeping into your shiny, new secular life. You need them not!

You should make some new gamer friends to play online/network games with. That would be fun!

Binge eating, unlike gaming and porn, is a very unhealthy habit and is something that I, too, struggle with. I don't know what the answer is, I wish I could tell you! I know that if I eat breakfast every day and make sure to get some form of exercise in each day (usually walking), that helps a lot to curb my appetite. A lot of times binge eating is caused by not eating enough calories early in the day; your body tries to make up for it later at night and usually you go way overboard because you are too hungry. If I feel a binge coming on, sometimes a nice, brisk walk will prevent it from happening. Sometimes all I need is a big drink of water - 70% of the thirst signals our body sends us are misinterpreted as hunger. Just some things for you to try. Also, if you have not joined Sparkpeople.com, you should! Very good health info and support system for people lilke us!

I know that religion tends to fill the social void in the lives of a lot of people, so when the religion goes, the social life goes... this is one of the many, many, many reasons that I am an atheist. Religion divides people. You basically had a group of friends that were only your friends because you agreed with what they believe... as soon as you don't believe anymore your friends abandon you. This is not real friendship. I would suggest going out to some different places that you enjoy and meeting some non-church friends with common interest. Most larger areas now have atheist groups that meet up from time to time (some weekly!) if you need a more structured environment.

Of course, we here at TA are always good for advice and friendship! Peace!

Sounds like you might like to listen to the podcaster Seth Andrews of "The Thinking Atheist". I get a little insight from his shows. Fun, warm, ex-christian. 

http://www.thethinkingatheist.com/page/podcasts

As an ex-Christian myself (and most atheists are, I find), I have some generic and probably not very helpful advice to offer, but it is maybe an idea that you can add to your brain box and bring out from time to time for consideration.

It seems to me your real struggle here is finding a new way to "be" or to live your life. I don't necessarily think you need to replace the fellowship of the church with a secular support group or replace biblical study with the reading of scientific tomes or atheist books. I wouldn't think about your situation in terms of replacing what you've lost. Instead I view it as a process of clarifying to yourself what it is that interests and excites you personally. You know how, between the ages of about 18-22 (the college years, whether you actually go to college or not), people go through that age of experimentation, and by the end their adult self has kind of coalesced? Their habits and interests and so on have kind of been settled from that point forward? I think maybe you need to go through a bit of a casual, undercover, college-age-type period of rediscovery, but at an accelerated pace. You don't need to redevelop your whole personality, obviously—just find out what kind of habits and interests will bring you personal satisfaction outside of your old religious framework.

I'm an introvert as well as someone who was never very satisfied in my religiosity, so I don't really have anything to say about how you can restructure your personal relationships or get over that feeling of lost motivation. But I find that, for me, since losing my faith, I've simply gone about everyday life much as I had before, but minus the religious aspect (and free from a lot of unnecessary guilt—everybody likes video games and porn, Justin; don't sweat it too much). On a more poetic level, I have sort of cultivated an attitude of stoicism in the face of life's difficulties and a healthy acceptance of melancholy, offset by a Dionysian love of humor. I find Louis CK therapeutic, I love sports and guns and talking about atheism. What do you love?

A very thoughtful comment, Stutz, clearly you have a grasp of what he's likely going through, but it raised one question for me, about your use of a particular word - would you say you actually "lost" your faith, or that you simply outgrew it? Maybe just semantics, I know, but if so, important ones, because when I lose something, I spend time wondering where it could be and wanting it back, but if I outgrow something, I'm done with it, I move on.

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