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.
@ 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.
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.
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.
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.
No problem, hon!
I wish both you and your fiance the best. :)
Hi dizzyduckie, I didn't see this post until now but wanted to share for support with what you're going through. We have had similar upbringings and experiences it sounds like. What you're saying makes *complete* sense. Saying this after writing out my post, sorry in advance for the length.
When I was young, I remember internally questioning a lot of the things I heard from my parents and their religious social circle. I remember distinctly having doubting thoughts as early as 6. Even though I was in highly religious circles until my mid twenties, I never regarded myself as highly religious. I feel that with the thoughts I had even as a child, I probably just wasn't wired to swallow religious ideas at face value 100%. However I did my best to try. It does have a serious effect on you, even if there is an internal struggle the entire time.
As for social aspects, my parents and my entire extended family are extremely religious (with the exception of some of my relatives that live in New York). And of course I grew up in a highly religious social environment. With meetings, services, picnics etc.
And so I feel for you feeling isolated. Don't let it get to you. And I say that knowing quite what you mean and feel. I've dealt with the same problems. Socially and internally. It's something I have dealt with for years in varying degrees.
To explain further, in my mid-twenties I permanently abandoned religion socially. I stopped going to church, and began a period of time, which I'm still not entirely over at 32 years old, of feeling somewhat isolated. Honestly I didn't take the time to sort everything out internally until a few years ago. I was certainly agnostic, but mainly in an apathetic way. So I was like a fish out of water until then, of sorts.
This all changed when I went on vacation with my then girlfriend and stayed for a few weeks at her mom's beach house. I had a lot of time to just relax and started poking around her library of books she let me look through. I began reading quite a few books while I was there and it became a critical point of my life, like my own personal Galapagos Island experience. I read many books from Dawkins, Shermer, and Hitchens.
Suddenly so many lights turned on my head. Not that they were off to begin with, but just not all the way on. However it was in many a ways a shock to my system. So many thought patterns that had been on autopilot in my mind suddenly made no sense. It was a rush, almost in a scary way, of different ways of looking at literally everything.
I distinctly remember for example looking at people around me and realizing, after conscientiously accepting evolution after intense honest study of it, that we weren't special progeny of some divine being and rather evolved primates. I swear to you that for a brief time (about a day or two) that people looked bizarrely different to me, like I was in the movie Planet of the Apes. I can't explain this exactly.
But the point is that the difference between the though patterns of someone religious, say a Christian, and someone who is not, viz. an Atheist, are so fundamentally and radically different, and they run so deeply, that it's no surprise you're feeling the way you do. And after going through this, I can tell you it just takes time. For a good while, I would encounter a situation that would trigger a thought process in the way I used to believe, and suddenly think, "Wow, that is completely invalid." They can pop up regularly over time, but slowly your mind changes. This sort of thing doesn't really happen to me anymore, but it's taken a few years of just time and experience.
I can relate to your fear of demons as well. When I used to believe they were real, I would have night terrors on a regular basis. I would lie awake in my bedroom and be expecting that any second one would physically appear, or I would just lay there in sheer terror. Not thinking of them even, but really feeling complete irrational fear, like a presence of fear in my room. All due to religion. Since I have consciously rejected the belief of these, I have not once since experienced this at all, even as an afterthought. Christians may say, "Well Satan has you now, he has no need to scare you." Don't let these self looping mental prisons distract you.
And on that note, getting back to the social realm, it also has a huge impact. Especially when leaving a religion, but not quite refortifying your mind with a solid foundation of reality. I was there, and it was a tough time period to be in. All I can say is it's good these thoughts are dropping off. And over time, as you educate yourself concerning, for example, discussions with other people about religion, you'll be more confident addressing it. After my epiphany I avoided talking to my mother for some time, and it hurt, because I adore my mother and we have always been close. Once I felt comfortable enough to just explain to her how I felt and my thoughts, I did so and it was freeing because I felt reconnected to her and she was obviously upset but accepting as well.
By the way, don't feel discouraged if you don't feel equipped enough to address your conclusions with people around you. I don't know if you do, but just remember that just because you don't know something concretely or understand it confidently doesn't automatically mean the religious person is right. It's a common tactic with religious to exploit an argument by inferring they are right because they can make de-facto statements without thinking. You don't have to know thoroughly why you are correct to know they are clearly wrong.
Anyway, sorry for the ridiculously long post, I just sincerely hope that my sharing is an encouragement to you. Feel free to message me or discuss more in your post. It's refreshing for me to see when anyone can relate to what I have been through as well.
Wow, Cliff Notes please. LOL I'm kidding of course, most of your posts I've seen I relate to on a lot of levels.
I've thought about coming out to my family in a "testimony" style. Something like when I was 4 and being baptized I had no idea what was going on. I remember thinking, why do I have to do this, is there something in the water? When I was 8 I remember wondering how the hell dinosaurs could have been alive with mankind. Noahs ark had every animal? How did he feed them? There's always apologist propaganda like that footprint in the dinosaur footprint thing. How could stars come into play with them being billions of years old how come they weren't considered "the light" spoken about in the bible. On and on all the clues along the way I noticed and then folded them up neatly and put them in the back of the mind closet.
If I had just taken an extra step and started reading about the time that bible was written I probably would have realized so much sooner. Instead my dumbass went on 35 years, probably closer to 25 but it took a LONG time for me to address god on a logical level and mostly just regurgitated misquoted scripture and stuff I learned growing up rather than investigate whether or not it was real. All better now though. Thanks for sharing Dennis that was some good reading for me.
Haha yeah I didn't want to unleash a Reply of Doom here. I really try to keep them to a minimum.
And I know what you mean. I feel like I wasted so many years, and with poor decisions along the way. I don't regret it, but it would have been nice to have the opportunity to have material out there today to learn from and, like you, wish I had sort things out much earlier in my life.
@ dizzyduckie: You're fortunate to be where you are, at your point in life. This may be some encouragement to you as well.
Well, when I was a kid, my parents went to a Presbyterian church. It was so dry and boring. And my extended family are hardcore fundamentalist Calvinists and I went to their cult church as well. Watching paint dry was sheer excitement compared. So in one sense, that is quite different than an experience in a Pentecostal environment. In another, it's all insanity. :-P Anyway, when I was older, I went to a Charismatic Episcopal church. It was much more like a Pentecostal church, with speaking in tongues and faith healings etc. No snake handling or quite to that level.
About your wishlist: GO FOR IT. I can't tell you how much it helps with the thoughts etc. to replenish your mind with solidifying truths. To share just a few of the things I read or watched: Dawkins (The Greatest Show on Earth, The God Delusion), Hitchens (God is Not Great, The Portable Atheist which was compiled by him), Sam Harris (mostly watched lectures and debates), Bart Ehrman (all of his books on textual criticism are great), and then any debates and lectures you can find on youtube. Youtube has a lot of stupid junk, but if you follow some of the well known authors and debaters, it's good for reinforcing your thought processes.You may even find you disagree with some things or points with all of this material. I certainly do. But that is for you to discern for yourself and yourself alone. And THAT is the key. But don't ever stop re-questioning.
Jerry Coyne's book "Why Evolution Is True" is a great book about evolution as well. He also has a site by the same name. Awesome site. onegoodmove.org is another site, but I'm not sure if the author blogs as much anymore.
All of this is really the tip of the iceberg of things I think you might enjoy, from my little experience. Even all this is just for starters, and I can easily produce tons of other things you may find informative, as many others can on this site also.
The main point is that the more you piece everything together, the more the thoughts you struggle with will turn more and more into the ridiculous. Everything I have searched out... well, as you do too, you'll begin to see how ridonculous those programmed hesitations are for yourself on your own terms. I can't stress how much clarity, as much as you may feel now, you will have gaining a comprehensive understanding of your conclusions. It turns into a mountain and it makes the alternative seem all the much more petty and insane.
Don't forget, the bible *just by itself* is plenty.
Sorry again for the length. Just want to help as much as I can.
There's a lot of people in your position, more than I've even met on 4 forums, 8 podcasts, 200 twitter friends and growing. Your brain is just trying to rebuild the foundation of your mind that was shoved out when you realized there was no god. Reading books has helped me to rebuild that, reading the forums is probably the single most therapeutic thing you can do - matter of fact I bet after reading the responses above mine you are already starting to feel better about it.
I'm going through some of the same feelings and as you read through the new member section you'll get a kick out of seeing that you are completely normal. I'm just glad that you get to think rationally now, sans the creepy dogma stuff you're going to be fine and those thoughts will start to fade or you'll be in a better place to handle them after time. Welcome aboard!