Please excuse the novel here... I tend to try to explain myself so clearly that I go overboard, so sorry about that. Also, sorry if this is in the wrong category; I wasn't sure where to put it.
I grew up in a pentecostal Christian household, Assemblies of God to be exact (extremely evangelical believe-every-word-in-the-Bible-exactly group, for those who aren't familiar with it). I remember being told things specifically like "You don't have a conscience; that's the Holy Spirit telling you you're sinning." I remember thinking, "Yeah, because I'm incapable of figuring out when I'm doing something wrong on my own... Riiight."
I knew what hell and demons and Satan were even in early elementary school. I have vague memories of speaking with my school guidance counselor about a ("real," as in not from a movie or a show but documentary style) exorcism I had witnessed. I remember being told horror stories from a youth leader about her experience with demons, which included physical assault on her. I still fear the idea of hell and I've always had a very strong fear of demons (which hasn't gone away).
Anyway, during my journey away from religion entirely I began to be confused by my own thoughts. When I no longer really believed that a God existed and I wondered, "What if I'm wrong? What if I go to hell because of this?" I've had a lot of fear even about just coming to terms with even using the word "agnostic" to describe myself.
Something similar is when I think of things like the fact that I'm going to make sure I have a wedding ceremony with absolutely no mention of God or religion of any sort, something in my head sort of mocks me by saying, "You're just trying to be difficult and defiant." I know that's not true; why would I risk eternity in hell if I really thought it existed? I don't know what that voice is though, or where it's coming from.
Those thoughts aren't always in the front of my mind by they are, and I just keep wondering if they're "God is trying to tell me I'm wrong" or if it's a totally normal human response because leaving a religion can be a scary experience on its own and my brain just needs to relearn things.
I'm not sure if anyone else has this problem, but in a way I'm hoping so because maybe someone could help me understand my "own" thoughts/why I'm having them. Is it normal? I don't really even know if this will make sense to anyone else.
It's completely normal. You've gone through extensive behavioral conditioning. It takes some time to grow out of it. I'll refer you to a website. Living After Faith: http://livingafterfaith.blogspot.de/ Episode 48 is with a man named Jerry DeWitt who was a Pentacostal preacher. It's kinda in the same vein of church you were in. I mention it not just because it's a good story, but he mentions that sometimes he still wants to speak in tongues and raise his hands when he feels moved. This is a man who was a speaker at the American Atheist Convention and still he has to deal with these urges from in his past.
I still do silly things like: if something isn't going my way, the dim thought will creep up that maybe god doesn't want me to do this. It's BS, but it's who I was and that's the only reason that it pops back up. It's the way I used to think. For a time while I still considered myself agnostic, I'd still think "thank god" for silly things. I didn't get angry at myself. I simply used it as a chance to ask, "who was really responsible?" I don't even think it anymore at all now. You train yourself out of it.
Don't worry. All it is is years and years of people telling you how you should act and think. Eventually, it goes away.
Thank you for your reply! I'll be sure to check out that link; it'll be really interesting to hear from another ex-Pentecostal.
It definitely occurred to me that after so many years of being told to think a certain way that even after abandoning the faith the "framework" it'd put into my head would still be there. I guess it just takes a while to tear down and start over.
In a way that's really angering; I feel like the things I should have been taught as a kid I wasn't and now I have to relearn and reevaluate everything now that I'm an adult when most of this should have been done already. I wish I had been raised to question things because this is wrong.
I'm sure many atheists can say that having been religious at any point in a person's past makes them foolish but I think that at least most of us grew up being taught these things and as little kids, who are we to question what our parents tell us unless we're actually taught to question?
I'm disappointed to hear that people going through a similar experience don't post much; I'm sort of desperately reaching out for people who understand because being "closeted" as I am with a very religious family, my inability to talk to people about what I'm going through causes a lot of resentment toward religion and religious people. I'm starting to feel sort of depressed and alone because I disagree with most of what I hear coming out of the people I love's mouths. Being surrounded by that, I'm sure, doesn't help the "framework voice."
My fiancé understands to an extent; he came from a very religious background too, but from the Watchtower. While it's a similar experience with having to relearn everything, his ties with religious folk were cut when he left and thus he doesn't have to deal with that portion of his life anymore and I do. And it was definitely a different set of beliefs; he didn't believe in hell and didn't fear demonic entities so we don't those lingering fears.
Thanks for your reply! :)
@ Dizzieduckie - I'm sorry. I think you read my post before I did my edit. I meant to say some of the people who struggle don't post much, and I only say that because I have consistent contact with a few people like this, and they rarely post and in some cases never have.
Many do post about their struggles. I have seen it a lot here at Think Atheist. It is a common subject for threads. I'm sure you will get plenty of responses about this on this thread. Oh, also welcome to Think Atheist lol.
Ah, okay. Well I definitely look forward to hearing from others and learning their stories and how they've coped as well. And lol, thank you! :) I'm so glad I found it.
There are many people who used to be religious and decided to no longer believe in God, but still struggle. I have seen many of them posting on atheist forums, and I have had some consistent contact with a few of them. Some read the forums but don't post. They can have immense struggles and sometimes question their decision to leave their faith, even when they are familiar with the strong arguments against believing in God and agree with the these arguments.
I went through this also though it was 30 years ago and my time of struggle was a short one, comparatively speaking, (about a year or two), and I am grateful for that.
What you are experiencing is the residual effect of indoctrination. It can vary in severity and I understand how you can become upset as a result of not feeling like you can cut the cord in in a final glorious, once and for all snip.
Different things happen for different people when it comes to relinquishing their faith completely. Personally, I realized that a god that loves his creations would never create them in the first place if they were going to be subjected to the kinds of suffering I witness as I journey through life.
I realize there are people of faith who feel intense suffering is worth the eternal party they believe is promised to them in the after-life. All I can say to them is I don't understand how they can look into the eyes of a child in immense pain, from cancer, for instance, and still believe in a loving god.
I put a lot of effort into pushing them away but of course once in a while they're overwhelming and I can become depressed. I hope, like you, the further away I get, the further the thoughts get too.
Thanks for your reply! :)
Even Richard Dawkins has admitted to the occasional "but what if I am wrong?" horrified thought before he shakes his head and moves on. The conditioning runs deep.
That's definitely comforting to hear; even the "surest" of them all has similar thoughts. Thank you!
I still have those nagging thoughts here and there, too. My mind is trying to get past what it once thought was true to accept what it now knows is true. I think it's normal, and I figure it takes some time to get used to a new way of approaching things.
I'm kind of closeted, too. My mother is very religious, and if she were to know that I've turned my back on God and religion, she would have a heart attack!
Actually, I noticed you mentioned your fiance is formally from a Jehovah's Witness background (you mentioned their prime piece of literature, the Watchtower). That's the background I come from and what my mother is still involved with. Personally, of all the religions I ever looked into, that one made more logical sense than any of the others, but it doesn't make it right, either. So, whatever he may be dealing with, I certainly can relate to it.
Wow, it's strange to hear from a Witness who's on "our side." It certainly makes for an interesting relationship with the in-laws (ie, none anymore). It would honestly be nice if I had come from a background that would at least leave me without fear of anything more than being wrong, but coming from a cult is just as damaging (if not more so?) than anything else.
I think in some cases (like yours with your mother) it's better to keep your feelings private but it's definitely difficult. I have the same general situation with my father and as much as I'd love to burst into my own "preaching" sometimes I work hard to keep my mouth shut! The isolation will feel a lot worse than the holding my tongue, I'm sure.
Thank you so much for your reply!