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Carly's avatar

How do you leave a religion you don't believe in anymore when your whole life is built around it?

Asked by Carly (4550points) September 16th, 2014
22 responses
“Great Question” (10points)

I don’t want to get into too many details, but if you need more clarification to give a better answer, please let me know.

I was raised in a very small, protestant religion; I would say there can’t be more than 20 thousand of us in the world. It’s a super tight-knit group, and possible that I know or am within one degree of separation from every official member of the church. I’ve also been through the private school system for this religion, mostly dated guys that were of the same denomination (except for my husband). My marriage is probably the only thing that doesn’t connect me to it. But my job, the social groups I’m active with, and my whole family are all deeply rooted in it.

I’ve tried to get a new perspective of this religion in hopes that my opinion would change, but I’ve been struggling with this since I was a teenager. I’m ready to leave it, but if I do, I feel I’ll have zero understanding – in fact, I’m pretty sure most of the responses will be about helping me “turn my thought around” because that’s not the “voice of God” talking to me..

Have any of you been in a similar situation? Did you simply have to make the hard decision to let everything and everyone go?

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talljasperman's avatar

I left roman Catholic religion as soon as I got a high school diploma. I am now a mix of every religion and am part atheist. I read all of the bibles that I can find. I am my own leader and I follow myself. My mom has a say.

SavoirFaire's avatar

I had to move away to really get out, and it still wasn’t easy. For a while, I would visit every so often and claim to be attending a different church in my new neighborhood. (This was to avoid questions about why I wasn’t driving across town to attend my old church.) When I moved out of state, I was more or less able to drop the pretense completely. I spent about a year playing the role whenever my mother was around, but I eventually dropped even that. I’ve never come out and said I’m not a believer anymore, but I don’t pretend to be one either. It just doesn’t come up. Maybe it will now that I have a child. Perhaps it’s only a matter of time until someone asks when the christening is.

This is, in retrospect, what I dislike most about the social hegemony of religion (and of other groups that dominate all aspects of one’s life): the way in which it encourages dishonesty. Too many people would rather have you pretend to be a member and go through the motions than let you be honest and independent. And this, I think, contributes to why believers and non-believers come into so much conflict. The believers pressure everyone to conform—though not always on purpose, and sometimes just through the social power of unspoken presumptions—and the non-believers get filled with resentment at how difficult it is to break free and live undisturbed.

If we lived in a society where everyone was more comfortable with the idea that not everyone will be a member of the social group with which we identify most—that is, if we were more accommodating of outsiders—then perhaps it would be easier to have productive conversations about our differences. Maybe it would even be possible to have conversations that were aimed more at understanding and appreciating our differences than attempting to resolve or eliminate our differences (e.g., the endless attempts to convert others to a particular belief or to disbelief).

But as it stands, we end up with believers who have trouble understanding why non-believers feel harassed (and thus are shocked at the level of dislike that sometimes comes their way) and non-believers who have trouble understanding how peculiar their attitude is to people who are used to a world where everyone at least professes to agree with them (and thus wind up treating believers as if they are all intellectually enfeebled). If we are all raised to be more aware of and open to the fact of disagreement, we might grow up more able to disagree without being disagreeable.

dappled_leaves's avatar

When I left religion, I had to leave certain friendships behind. I would have been happy to continue to be friends, but it was not possible under the circumstances. They would continually try to re-convert me, and so every interaction became pointless. They talked strategies behind my back. It was just constant disrespect for my individuality and my choice.

I was lucky in that my family has never been religious, so I haven’t had to face that challenge.

RealEyesRealizeRealLies's avatar

”...let everything and everyone go?”

Consider just living your life the way you want to live your life. Your Christian friends will be the ones to decide if they let you go, or accept you for who you are… Just as Christ did, does.

Hypocrisy_Central's avatar

Like everyone else who abandoned their faith; you just walk away.

LostInParadise's avatar

I abandoned religion at a young age, and my circumstances made it far easier than it would be for you. Religion is not just a set of beliefs. It can be a dramatic part of how you relate to the world. Abandoning it can require a bit of courage. You forfeit a lot of easy answers to deep questions and lose the satisfaction of believing that this is the best of all possible worlds and that all that happens is part of some master plan.

All I can do is to give some questions to ponder.

Does you sense of right and wrong require confirmation in Biblical commandments?

Are you able to believe that goodness is its own reward?

Can you still be struck by awe over the wonders of the universe without thinking that it was created by a God?

Are you prepared to deal with the finitude of your existence and ready to make the best of your brief time in this world?

CWOTUS's avatar

Aside from the social aspects which @SavoirFaire addressed very well, and the spiritual ones that @LostInParadise also raised – not to diminish the contributions of the other respondents – if you’re going to abandon your religion you’ll need a new “stable datum”. That is, you need something to anchor your new life: a fact, idea, policy, guidepost – call it whatever you want – that you can align your future actions and ideas around. You need to believe that “something” is true and use that something to help orient yourself as new ideas come at you.

It will work better for you in the long run if that’s a positive belief in something rather than the negative one (which you’re probably dealing with right now) of “this is false!” That’s only going to get you out of the place where you are now – maybe booted out, in fact – but it’s not going to sustain you. So you need to find some idea / ideal that will guide your life from here on out.

Good luck with your attempt to remake your life. I hope you don’t lose your family and friends in the process.

JLeslie's avatar

I have a few friends who left being a Jehovah’s Witness. One still goes to church sometimes when she visits her parents, but in her own life she doesn’t practice the religion and the men she dates are never from that religion. Although, her exhusband was, but that is a different story. Both of them just created new friendships and both of them identify still as Christians, just not has Jehovah Withess. Religion for them is not prominent inntheir lives anymore and is pretty much a nonissue, except when a relative tries to real them back in, but it doesn’t happen to often, because they interact less in that community and most relatives don’t bring up the religious discussions anymore. Their religious community is technically supposed to shun them, but that has not been the case. Partly because not all the relatives know they left the faith, and luckily their parents don’t follow the shun rule.

I think if you live in a small town or a part of the country where religion is a big deal, then moving away can be an eye opening experience. Most places I have lived parties and family get togethers were planned on Sundays and when I lived in the bible belt Sunday was a church day and people rarely planned anything. My zumba class was schedule at 2:00 to make sure the church goers could make it, while in FL my Sunday zumba is at 9:45 am and the class is full.

Almost no one talks about religion where I was raised and where I now live (even if they are rekigious) because it is perceived as a personal thing and everyone respects each others beliefs. Festivals done by the churches, like the Greek festival, are celebrated by the whole community, not just Greek Orthodox people, or whatever church that might be participating. Christmas celebrations, Chanukah, whatever it is everyone is happy for each other and supportive and you never feel one religion is more right.

Are you an atheist now? Totally nonreligious? Or, just not into the religion you were raised with.

Haleth's avatar

It sounds like the best place to start is looking for a new job. There is probably some secular equivalent to the work you do, outside the church.

Maybe this is just paranoid thinking on my part. But @SavoirFaire mentioned that his friends kept trying to re-convert him. I’m worried that, if your religious group knows you are leaving, they might sabotage your efforts to find a new job, or at least discourage you. They should at least give you a good job reference.

Once you have left your job, it will be a lot easier to distance yourself and start building bridges to the rest of society. For one thing, many people make friends with their co-workers. So you’ll end up with a bunch of new friends who have nothing to do with your church.

I also second the idea of moving away- at least far enough that you don’t run into church people all the time. Once you are there, with a new job, maybe you can find some fun activity groups related to your interests.

Family has a strong pull. If your family questions your decision or puts pressure on you, you may need to take a break from them for a while. Once you are firmly established in a new life, and doing well on your own, it will be a lot harder for them to question your decision.

rojo's avatar

I agree with what @RealEyesRealizeRealLies says. You need to make the choice that is best for you and let your friends decide what is right for them.

I believe it was John Lennon who is quoted as saying “Being honest may not get you a lot of friends but it’ll get you the right ones”.

FireMadeFlesh's avatar

I was also raised in a minor Protestant denomination. One that I would now describe as cultish. Although I wasn’t too deeply into it, considering I had been doubtful and uncomfortable in that environment since my early teens, I was still in the situation where I could meet others from the denomination anywhere in the country and have at least one common connection.

When I walked away, the first response was an incredible feeling of relief. I had never felt so good, knowing that I didn’t have to pretend any more, that I could express my true thoughts, and that I didn’t have to sit through another sermon while nearly biting through my tongue. But then came the anger. I resented the people who refused to rethink their faith, and I couldn’t stomach contact with people from that world who I thought would be quietly judgemental.

I threw myself into my work and my studies, and made a real effort to form other social circles. It helped somewhat that I never got too close to people within the church – in a way, I knew this was coming years before it happened. But I had liberated all the energy that had previously been devoted to copious amounts of reading and thinking about religion, so I found that quite easy. Just working on a Saturday felt great!

The most important thing to remember as you’re leaving, something I didn’t do very well at all, is to manage your image. People are going to pay close attention to your progress out of the church. Especially if you keep the same job. They’ll need to see you excel, because anything else is an opening to try to bring you back. They’ll expect you to be lost without the church, so you cannot be – at least not visibly. But most of all, continue to be yourself.

Small religions, in my experience, often assume a victim mentality. It’s them against the world. Like the Bible says, “in the world, but not of the world”. You’re crossing over to being of the world, so make sure you remain mild in your expressed opinions. Something else I didn’t do very well. I’ve since found out that my leaving influenced a few other people to reassess their faith, so whatever you say may make the same journey easier for someone else silently doubting.

Best of luck. I know how hard this can be, but believe me, it is worth it.

rojo's avatar

@FireMadeFlesh “Small religions, in my experience, often assume a victim mentality. It’s them against the world.” I don’t think it is limited to smaller religious groups. I think it is a tie that binds together any group of any size.

BeenThereSaidThat's avatar

People walk away from the Religion they were raised in all the time. You just stop attending Services and don’t endlessly talk about why you left. All that does is make people defensive about their Faith and is another way to rub salt into a wound.

Personally I get angry when people leave a Religion they were raised in but have to spend the rest of their lives downgrading and bad mouthing that Religion to all who will listen.

BTW I was born and raised Catholic, attended Catholic Schools and I am still a practicing Catholic who raised her children in the same Faith.

elbanditoroso's avatar

How did you ever meet your husband if your religion is so all-encompassing?

What does he think of this idea? Is he pressuring you to do it? Will this place strains on your marriage?

Carly's avatar

@elbanditoroso Interesting story; I met him on after I broke up with my last bf from my religion. I realized I wanted to be with someone who wasn’t quoting the Bible all the time. Ironically my husband grew up Baptist, and still goes to church sometimes, but he’s not the least bit preachy. He’s a very mild christian if anything.

He doesn’t understand my religion, and points out all the confusing and contradictory ideas I question in my mind but never do anything else about. In a way it’s nice to have someone else understand my own frustrations, but it also makes me feel bad because I know and respect a lot of people in my religion, even though I don’t agree with the system we’re apart of. If that makes sense..

chelle21689's avatar

How so you be part atheist?

KNOWITALL's avatar

CHristian/Catholic here. Find a new job, make new friends & keep growing. Maybe this is a spiritual journey you need.

kritiper's avatar

“To thine own self be true.” To live a lie is to be a liar and one of the commandments is “Thou shalt not lie” or “Thou shalt not bear false witness.” (Or whatever the exact words may be.) Face the facts and quit living the lie. You’ll be better for it and you may find people will have more faith in you for being up front and open in your beliefs/non-beliefs.
Honesty is always the best policy. To yourself, and all others.

Here2_4's avatar

To bear false witness is not about lieing in general. It means to falsely accuse someone. I don’t believe that is at issue here.
It seems to me the depth of the issue here hinges on how judgemental do the members of this particular faith become about those who leave, or try to.
If they are pretty strict about leaving, I think you had better look over your options very well in advance of doing anything. That doesn’t mean your options of whether or not to leave, but rather, what sort of position would it leave you, socially. If they are extremely strict, as some are, you would want to first look at the possibility of moving, and obtain a new job. With something which can be extremely binding, be very careful not to jump without first looking over all your options fully.
With some religions, the pressure can make people cling as if to an addiction. In AA, people are taught to not associate with other people who have that same addiction. I point this out, because you commented that some people you respect would be hard to turn away from. If this religion is causing harm in your life, then those certain people must be left out of your new life.
The main thing to remember is, nobody should try to make you feel guilty for trying to decide what is best for your own life.
Good luck with your decision, and any changes it may bring.

JLeslie's avatar

@Carly I don’t understand why agreeing or not agreeing with them matters? It only matters probably because you were raised in a religion where you were told there was something wrong with people who don’t believe the same way as you. I was raised an atheist and Jewish and most of the people I knew as a child and still now as an adults are Christians and theists. Doesn’t matter in the least and doesn’t feel weird. If I were surrounded by Christians who judged me and wanted to constantly convert me it would be uncomfortable, but that hasn’t been my experience among my friends or relatives. Also, I don’t judge them. It doesn’t bother me they believe in God, my husband believes in God. You were raised in a religion where there is an expectation of total acceptance of their doctrine or you are on the outside and not getting into heaven. It’s like you have to reject all of it or accept all of it. It doesn’t have to be that way.

kritiper's avatar

@chelle21689 I think being part Atheist means you’re Agnostic but don’t know/understand all of the terminology..

FireMadeFlesh's avatar

@rojo That is true, but I think it is expressed in a special way in small Christian groups. Christianity teaches that a person is weak without God on their side, but strong with God (I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me etc). So there is a certain victimhood that comes with the territory. Satan is out to tempt everyone, and the Christian knows they will fail from time to time (for all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God). They are a victim of their own sinful nature.

But when a small sect of Christianity has split off from the mainstream, it gets worse. There is a reason they split off, and that is generally because they think everyone else is wrong on a particular point of doctrine. For my old denomination, it was Sunday worship. Anyone who worshipped on Sunday rather than Saturday had fallen for one of Satan’s great deceptions. They described themselves as “the Remnant Church”, and the most extreme adherents expect to be coerced into Sunday worship as part of the Apocalypse.

It is an effective strategy, and is of course present in many groups, not just religious ones. I’ve just observed it carrying a unique force within smaller churches. My old group splintered even further once one became aware of the politics of the church, and the victim mentality got worse with each successively smaller division.

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