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Ask OB: Leaving the Fold

9 Post author: Eliezer_Yudkowsky 09 November 2008 06:08PM

Followup toCrisis of Faith

I thought this comment from "Jo" deserved a bump to the front page:

"So here I am having been raised in the Christian faith and trying not to freak out over the past few weeks because I've finally begun to wonder whether I believe things just because I was raised with them. Our family is surrounded by genuinely wonderful people who have poured their talents into us since we were teenagers, and our social structure and business rests on the tenets of what we believe. I've been trying to work out how I can 'clear the decks' and then rebuild with whatever is worth keeping, yet it's so foundational that it will affect my marriage (to a pretty special man) and my daughters who, of course, have also been raised to walk the Christian path.

Is there anyone who's been in this position - really, really invested in a faith and then walked away?"

Handling this kind of situation has to count as part of the art.  But I haven't gone through anything like this.  Can anyone with experience advise Jo on what to expect, what to do, and what not to do?

Comments (62)

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Comment author: Psy-Kosh 09 November 2008 06:43:44PM 0 points [-]

Ouch.

Not sure how useful this is, but if you really evaluate him as that special, do you then expect this to actually impact your marriage negatively? I don't quite have experience with this, but perhaps the first thing you need to do, if you haven't done it already, is actually consider what you expect to happen if you talk to him about it, and maybe actually do so?

(am I misunderstanding your concern here? ie, I'm reading this as "Actually leaving my religion/rejecting those beliefs, if I'm being honest with those I care deeply for, will have serious repercussions in my life, so what do I do?")

Comment author: Therms 09 November 2008 06:55:27PM 1 point [-]

I'm actually in a very similar situation, and I have not yet figured out what to do about it. I think it boils down to how much you're willing to hurt your friends and family (make no mistake, it will hurt them) in exchange for being public with your true thoughts. Not that it is easy to keep it to yourself when people around you are going on about some superstition, but, I have found no way to extricate myself from the world I live in.

Comment author: Isak 09 November 2008 07:34:21PM 7 points [-]

I was in a similar situation, though not quite as harsh - I was a child in a deeply religious family. I managed to get out without loosing everything. The key was to do it gradually. Even though I realized religion was bogus when I was 15 or so, I didn't immediately come out and say "Guess what guys, I'm atheist now!". To do so would have been foolish. I just showed less and less interest in going to church, bibles studies, and so forth, and whenever my family was having a discussion, I'd take the "devil's advocate" more and more. Then, by the time I finally did come out and say "Guess what guys, I'm atheist!", nobody was all that surprised or outraged.

Comment author: Ben8 09 November 2008 07:37:17PM 1 point [-]

Different faith, but I have an old friend who has since become a rabbi. She's been involved with various jewish communities all her life, her career depends on her faith, and she's married to a conservative jew. She admitted to me that ever since studying various other faiths in college, she realized that there is no one true belief system. There's probably not even a god. But, she went on to do all of these other things that require "faith."

So here's the advice I'd offer on her behalf, just watching her as she struggles with this: 1. Don't walk away. Take it very, very slow. Nothing about your actions even have to change.

2. Understand that even if your beliefs have changed, your motivations have not. My rabbi friend still wanted to be a rabbi, still wanted to be a good wife, because these things brought her joy. She enjoyed knowing families and helping others, both in good times and bad, even if she wasn't doing those things on god's behalf. She was doing them for herself. And I'd say that makes her an even more selfless person.

3. If you have to phrase the discussion with someone who is fervently religious, ask them about any doubts they have. Really listen to them - don't immediately reveal your own conclusions. Don't reveal them until you have some idea that it's safe to do so. You'll find that most religious people have serious doubts, and are willing to discuss them. In fact, many people enjoy airing their suspicions; struggling with faith is a common way of reaffirming that faith. Some might call that cognitive dissonance, but many take pride in the struggle to better understand their religion.

Comment author: David_Pinto 09 November 2008 07:43:57PM 1 point [-]

A few years ago I decided that I no longer believed in divine spirits. I to was raised a Christian. My wife and daughter know this and doesn't really don't like it. However, while I've rejected religion I haven't rejected Christian values (which boils down to love everyone). I also respect everyone else's beliefs. I've known too many good people who believed in religion to criticize them.

Comment author: Furcas 09 November 2008 07:45:03PM 2 points [-]

Another consideration is, are you willing to continue indoctrinating your children into believing things that you now know are false?

Comment author: Roland2 09 November 2008 08:20:57PM -1 points [-]

My experience:

10 years of christianity, I was a member of a lot of churches always searching for the one that would bring me closer to the truth. Then I realized that most churches where just the blind leading the blind and finally that christianity itself was flawed, that's when I found freedom.

What made it easier for me is that I never was really deeply invested into it because from the very beginnings I always had doubts and never stopped asking questions. That's what helped me find the truth after all.

Now to your situation. Keep in mind that there is very little information for us to give any meaningful advice, ideally you would have to talk this over in person or over the phone/skype.

Let me point to some contradictions in your writings: you mention a genuinely wonderful family and a special man. If this is really true you shouldn't have a problem just being honest with them and talking it through. "Folks, I realized that I was wrong in my faith." Since you seem to be unable to do that I conclude that the people you mention are not that wonderful. After all those years you are now realizing that what you consider genuine persons are in fact quite a bunch of hypocrites.

You should ask yourself what is more important to you: truth or your social connections. Isn't it funny that christians always preach that we should be willing to die for our faith and yet when it comes to actually live by those words suddenly they become all insecure?

You mention a business that rests on your faith, my experience from those years in church was that people who make a living from faith are generally not to be trusted. How do you feel about all the persons you made money off, now that you realize that christianity is fake? Don't you feel that they deserve to be told the truth?

Do you really love your daughters? Well, why not tell them the truth?

I know it's not easy, but christianity was never supposed to be easy either, so I wonder what kind of christianity where you living in the first place?

I think you will have to decide if you want to be one more of the hypocrites in church or be truthful.

Btw, a good place to look for advice would be with cult survivors, because in fact christianity is a cult.

Sorry if my words sound harsh but after all those years in church, all those lies and hypocrisy I can't be totally neutral anymore.

Comment author: Roland2 09 November 2008 08:25:06PM -1 points [-]

@ben: My rabbi friend still wanted to be a rabbi, still wanted to be a good wife, because these things brought her joy. She enjoyed knowing families and helping others, both in good times and bad, even if she wasn't doing those things on god's behalf. She was doing them for herself. And I'd say that makes her an even more selfless person.

Enjoying it contradicts selflessness. And if she is spreading wrong religious ideas she is leading others astray. Very wrong!

Comment author: [deleted] 09 November 2008 08:29:28PM 1 point [-]

Those of us who leave the faith each face unique circumstances. I was not raised religious, but for three years, I fell for it hook line and sinker. I was extremely invested in it, my fiance was of my faith, I had quit all recreation (music, nonchristian groups) and chosen my college major in order that I wouldn't have to deal with the "atheist sciences". My mentor, who helped me through college was a Christian, although a different kind than I was. In my case, the tension was too much to keep my fiance and my mentor. They both are not parts of my life anymore. However, I don't think this has to be the case with everyone. The reason it happened to me is because I was very confused and had trouble dealing with the relentless probing questions I was faced with. I don't know how it is for you, but I was extremely depressed encountering the non-existence of the entity I had made my life's ambition to please and love. Having completely shut myself off to science and freethought until this point, I couldn't defend myself properly against questions as to why I would even consider evolution or morality without God. It will be important for patience on both sides if your relationships are going to remain intact. Try to reschedule discussions you don't have the energy for, but don't try to avoid discussion completely because communication is extremely important for both your dealing with this, and for them accepting it. In my case, it was depressing at first. I personally found joy in studying philosophy and reengaging myself in secular activities I loved before I was religious. That's because my main interest in religion was intellectual and moral.... You may have to deal with some splits in your social and business structure. This might be disconcerting, but I think these things are part of our life even if we don't go through huge worldview shifts. Try to find an understanding friend to help you through.

Comment author: Jon_R 09 November 2008 08:53:04PM 1 point [-]

I was raised in a pretty fundamentalist Christian household. I would now describe myself as a 'Christian agnostic'; I don't know if God exists and doubt there is any way to know, but I still follow parts of the faith because I believe they make me a better person. It's just a long road you have to slog down. There's no good way to throw out everything all at once.

I would suggest you start by picking the single most important aspect of your faith, one that both says something about the divine (if it exists) and about what you're meant to do -- for me, it was "love your enemy". And then evaluate other parts of your faith based on that. You don't need to believe in the virgin birth to believe in the transforming power of grace. There's evidence for that aplenty.

Comment author: Will_Pearson 09 November 2008 08:55:53PM 0 points [-]

Consider the society of friends, to start with. No doctrine or theology, but some conception of a God that will allow you to relate to your Christian friends and family somewhat.

In fact their search for the inner God can be seen somewhat as Eliezers belief in the objective nature of a shared morality of humanity. They also accept agnosticism and other views on faith.

Comment author: frelkins 09 November 2008 09:11:26PM 0 points [-]

Jo, I suggest you start with Kierkegaard's Fear & Trembling. Then see how you feel.

Comment author: Mike6 09 November 2008 09:13:15PM 0 points [-]

I feel for you. I was raised Catholic and was quite religious up to and through high school (people considered me "mature" in faith). As I matured intellectually, my faith became increasingly abstract, until at some point in college I realized it would all be simpler if Christianity were basically false. Unfortunately, at least in my experience, once you take seriously the idea that a religion is false, faith quickly becomes silly and there's no going back.

I am still struggling with how to inform those around me of my changed perspective. My family is of course Catholic, but my in-laws are Evangelical. My rather cowardly strategy so far is to slowly inform people, when the timing seems appropriate. I told my wife a couple years ago, and discovered she was struggling with similar questions. This was a fortunate coincidence, I guess. I've told some of my siblings, in confidence, and am just waiting for the right opportunity to tell my parents. My wife and I are still too worried about hurting her family by informing them.

So sorry, no advice, since I'm stuck with similar dilemma's as you are. But just thought to let you know you're not alone.

Comment author: bennylope 09 November 2008 09:14:43PM 1 point [-]

The moment I accepted I was no longer a Christian was the closest I came to a religious experience. Seeing my beliefs and the world for what they really were was like emerging from a cocoon. Remember, just because the veil of faith falls doesn't mean that the world works any differently or that people suddenly change. Their relationship to you might - my mother reacted not-so-favorably when I finally told her I wasn't a Christian, and more sourly later when I intimated that I didn't believe in the supernatural or spiritual world at all. But we've largely accepted our differences. She prays for me, I don't pray. My biggest obstacle was successfully relaying the reasons why I was no longer a Christian. If you consider your reasons for leaving your faith valid, it's important to communicate and emphasize these *reasons*.

Comment author: Paul_Crowley2 09 November 2008 09:15:42PM 0 points [-]

There's a whole world of atheist blogging and writing out there that might also be worth tapping into for advice from others who've been there. See this collection of deconversion stories for example.

That sounds like a really tough spot. I hope you find advice that can help.

Comment author: Agathe 09 November 2008 09:24:04PM -1 points [-]

My mother raised us with Christian values, baptised us, sent us to catechism. I always rejected all of this, but had to do it anyway until I was 12. My father has always been an atheist. In the country I'm from, religion is a personal matter. The Churches and the State have been separated since 1905.

The secularism of France is a cultural and political trait that I've come to really appreciate. What I see and the stories I hear in the US seem very strange to me. I hear families who turn their back on a brother, a cousin, because this person came out and admitted to be an atheist. I read work emails where people call to God. People in politics must have faith if they hope to be elected.

Maybe you would consider moving to a country where religious freedom is guaranteed by law?

Comment author: Douglas_Knight3 09 November 2008 09:44:53PM 0 points [-]

our social structure and business rests on the tenets of what we believe

That sounds like propaganda, like the claim that atheists can't be moral. Don't let anyone tell you what to believe, especially don't let them tell you that if you disagree one one point, you must disagree on others. Work out for yourself what is possible.

Comment author: Hilko 09 November 2008 09:52:07PM 0 points [-]

My first instinct was to suggest to you what I did myself: create a large distance between yourself and the 'fold', in my case by moving to a different city and making different friend. Once the dust has settled, once the mind is at peace again: try and re-evaluate your faith, pick out the valuable pieces, and perhaps get in contact with old friends.

Of course, this happened to me when I was 20, and moving to a different city might have been a good suggestion even if I hadn't had a faith crisis. Your situation, obviously, is very different.

I would agree with those that advise you to take it easy, but with the caveat that there should be no strong 'rebellious' sentiment. If you're ever in a position where you are disgusted, fed up, irritated or angered by 'the fold', then breaking off more harshly might be the best thing, however painful.

If, however, you can skip this unpleasant step (and I so wish I could have!), there isn't much of a need to needlessly hurt people around you that you care about. Eventually those closest to you will have to know, I guess, so it might be good to let those select few in on the process. To share your doubts and thoughts, but without any finality (even if you have pretty much made up your mind). Ease them in on your doubts, respect and understand their instinctive urge to 'correct' you, but slowly be more firm. Those that truly love you should be able to understand and accept your decisions. Those that don't, well, it might be painful to deal with them in a way that doesn't hurt yourself or them.

On the one hand, a big danger is to put too much emphasis on 'your' truth, and have others suffer over it. On the other hand, it can also be dangerous to be someone other than yourself, and conceal your true thoughts in the name of love, and suffer yourself. I don't know what kind of person you are, but try and figure out which tendency you have, and compensate for it.

Of course, take my advice with a grain of salt. I don't know if it needs to be said, but I'm not very wise, and I don't know much about your predicament. So consider all this just as 'somewhat hastily written thoughts' from a random blog reader... but I hope it helps in some way!

Comment author: Michael_G.R. 09 November 2008 10:26:49PM 0 points [-]

Maybe this is fodder for another post:

A few people here said: "If that person was really special, there would be no problem with you telling him."

But are things really that simple? Not so long ago, Jo would probably have reacted badly if her special person had told her that he didn't believe anymore in what she believed. Loving someone and getting along well with them doesn't mean that you will accept anything they do without problem and vice versa.

Think about the people that you find "special" in your life and imagine telling them that your beliefs have changed about something very important that you both believe in (used to be libertarian, now you have strong authoritarian beliefs/ used to be vegan, now eating ribs every night/ strongly partisan for one political party, switching to another/ etc) and imagine how they would react. Does that make them not "special" anymore?

Comment author: sindibad 09 November 2008 10:33:45PM 1 point [-]

I went through something sort of similar, but from the Muslim faith.

I basically decided to pick my battles. People whom I knew could possibly open their minds and stop them believing in their faith, I tried to talk to them about it, and succeeded in convincing a few.

Those whom I thought might not get convinced, but would be understanding, I told them the truth, and they never bothered me much.

But for those who didn't look likely to get convinced, or likely to be understanding, I have simply avoided talking to them about the subject, and when they ask, I pretend to be religious.

I know it's lying. I know it's terrible. I really hate doing it. But the reality is that the other options involve me really aggravating people I love deeply, and possibly being disowned by them. There is no possible gain from being honest about this; but there is enormous damage from it.

I am lucky that for me none of this in any way involved any career or livelihood issues. And I'm lucky that my family and friends are not as religious and as dogmatic about it as Jo's and those of other commenters.

Comment author: JamesAndrix 09 November 2008 10:43:28PM 1 point [-]

As I commented in the Crisis of faith thread, I Had a definite path out of christianity once I concluded God wouldn't hold honest truth seeking against me. I think this part of the art should be things that get you to the state where you really can decide (or even just seek) without major consequences. If we can't get people to where they can go either way, then they can't get a crsis of faith.

To that end, I would say to Jo: If your children don't already know, you should talk to them about how to treat unbelievers, and what unbelievers are like. They should know not to look down on them or hold unbelief against them. They should know that unbelievers love their spouses and children just like christians. They should know that Christian parents should love unbelieving children.

Likewise if your husband's Christianity is worth anything to him, this will not cost you your marriage.

In your wider community you will find christians who don't quite live up to the mark, But that is a truth you can bear because you are already bearing it. If you're worried that the people of great character around you would treat you poorly because you're no longer part of their in-group, then you're actually worried that you'll discover that they are not of so great a character.

You still have the opportunity to shape the character of your children, and hopefully you vetted your husband well.

I'm not sure about the particular of your business model, If you write inspirational christian poetry, you might have a hard time. If you run an ice cream parlor, then you probably just have to maintain the same family atmosphere. Depending on what state you live in, there are other social and economic circles that an unbeliever can move into that a believer might not even consider. There are plenty of well off nonchristians, they can be your friends, your financial role models, or your customers.

If you're worried about the person you'll turn into, don't. The reason you love your husband and children isn't because the bible tells you to. it's also not the reason you don't go around doing horrible things to people.

You're like a friendly self modifying AI, you COULD modify yourself to want to kill people, but you won't because you don't want to become that person. No amount of finding out the bible isn't true is going to change that.

I hope the best for you.

Comment author: Jef_Allbright 09 November 2008 10:58:41PM 1 point [-]

Jo -

Above all else, be true to yourself. This doesn't mean you must or should be bluntly open with everyone about your own thoughts and values; on the contrary, it means taking personal responsibility for applying your evolving thinking as a sharp instrument for the promotion of your evolving values.

Think of your values-complex as a fine-grained hierarchy, with some elements more fundamental and serving to support a wider variety of more dependent values. For example, your better health, both physical and mental, is probably more fundamental and necessary to support better relationships, and a relatively few deeper relationships will tend to support a greater variety of subsidiary values than would a larger number of more shallow relationships, and so on.

Of course no one can compute and effectively forecast the future in such complex terms, but to the extent you can clarify for yourself the broad outlines, in principle, of (1) your values and (2) your thinking on how to promote those values into the future you create, then you'll tend to proceed in the direction of increasing optimality. Wash, rinse, repeat.

We wish you the best. Your efforts toward increasingly intelligent creation of an increasingly desirable world contribute to us all.

Comment author: TGGP4 09 November 2008 11:09:58PM 1 point [-]

Let us know how it turns out. I haven't admitted it to anyone in meatspace yet. Fortunately I'm not married and my family isn't extremely religious.

Comment author: Doug_S. 09 November 2008 11:16:30PM -1 points [-]
Comment author: Nate5 09 November 2008 11:21:16PM 2 points [-]

Best advice post so far:

"Pick your battles"

But this doesn't mean only tell the people who will be accepting of your viewpoint. It means you tell people that you have enough love and respect for that you are willing to tell them something you know they will disagree with. It doesn't matter if your spouse or children agree with you, it matters that you are authentic with them about your beliefs.

If some random person in your church would get angry about it, just don't tell them, who cares. Only invest yourself in people who you actually care about.

Comment author: nazgulnarsil3 09 November 2008 11:37:13PM 0 points [-]

in the course of natural selection, conformity to social values took on a much higher priority than the truth. especially for women who are vulnerable and must adapt to please whichever males are in charge at the time. confronting the average person with the truth is a waste of time. they place a higher priority on social status. If you live in a primarily Christian community don't expect anyone to listen, they would lose status by seriously considering your doubts.

Comment author: D._C._Toedt 09 November 2008 11:55:55PM 0 points [-]

Unfortunately, the term 'Christian' was appropriated by people in the early church who claimed to be following Jesus, but had never actually met the man, and who came up with some truly 'imaginative' doctrines that probably would have left him (a good orthodox rabbi) incredulous.

I know it's rude to point readers to another site, 'Jo,' but you might take a look at some of the posts listed in the right-hand column of my Web site, The Questioning Christian. You might find the ones under the heading 'Some Inconvenient Difficulties with Traditionalist Christianity' to be of particular interest.

Hang in there -- just because you don't buy all the doctrinal barnacles doesn't mean you're a non-Christian, no matter what the ideologues might say. A 'Christian' is simply someone who strives to give the Creator his due — and that includes using one's gifts of memory, reason, and skill with as much intellectual honesty as possible — and who seeks the best for others as for him- or herself. If we're to believe Luke's gospel (10.25-37), Jesus said, do this and you will live [eternally].

Comment author: Alan5 10 November 2008 12:41:08AM 1 point [-]

The theologian Bart Ehrman describes his personal journey away from fundamentalist christianity in a recently published book. That may be a place to start. Some seem to assume that christianity is a monolithic set of beliefs and practices. In actuality, of course, there is considerable variation across christian denominations--which themselves change over time. Strict churches tend to ask and therefore receive more from their members in terms of morale and commitment. If you're in a strict church, I think deconversion presents more of a challenge, but looking back in retrospect, it mostly boiled down to getting over a belief in strict literalism and the perpetual group (quasi-tribal?) exercise of believing in belief. I do not think intellectually migrating away from the literal teachings of a faith tradition need necessarily be abrupt. There is a useful analogy used by social psychologists. Consider your rational mind the rider and your emotional mind an elephant. The elephant may be comfortable with the faith in which you were raised, while your rational mind thinks otherwise, and wants to steer another course. Instead of forcing the proverbial elephant in a new direction, perhaps it is possible to pursue a long standing faith tradition as a rationalist.

Comment author: Kyle3 10 November 2008 01:25:45AM 2 points [-]

Jo,

I'm an atheist whose wife has encountered some of those same issues, going both directions... I'd caution against both clearing the plate and worrying much about what you were raised with. As per previous posts here, as well as in the experience of most of the highly rational folks I know...clearing the plate tends to clear off way way too much. In general, most of the old comes back later, and excessive plate clearing tends mostly towards intellectual/psychological drama.

I'd personally suggest that you worry less about the old positions you had...and look at where / who you want to be.

There are (in my eyes) better than even odds that this set of doubts is less valuable over time than your marriage, or even your extended circle of religious friends/family. Perhaps instead of trying to clear the table, you might instead look for areas of agreement between what you understand and your Christian faith.

All the best.

Comment author: Will 10 November 2008 02:04:58AM 0 points [-]

Lie.

There is no reason that your Christian social network has to know you are reconsidering your position. Going forward you can work on building other networks which don't rely on your faith, and eventually you can make your beliefs public if you so choose. You can continue to grow personally, even if no one around you knows you are doing it. We all present ourselves in a different fashion depending on our audience; this is different only in magnitude.

Comment author: mtraven 10 November 2008 02:24:59AM 0 points [-]

I'm not a Christian, never have been, and don't know what variety of it you are involved with, so may not be qualified to comment. But I would say rather than replace a simplistic (fundamentalist) religious belief system with an equally simplistic atheism, you might search for a version of religion or spirituality that is compatible with science and doesn't require counterfactual faith. Someone already mentioned the Friends, and this site may be a good place to start. There are several well-known scientists (Ken Miller, Francis Collins) who manage to reconcile science and Christian belief -- I don't know how that works exactly. You need to figure out why you feel the need to change your belief system, and which parts of it need to get discarded or modified. All I'm saying is that it isn't all or nothing.

Comment author: Theo_V. 10 November 2008 02:32:17AM 2 points [-]

I was born to two dedicated Christians, and raised in Church... but never forced to be a "Christian". I became a follower of Christ, and as most would say, a Christian, when I was about 17.

Recently it was put to me that I only beleived what I beleive because I was raised that way.

My response was that being raised to beleive certain things 1.) does not make you beleive them 2.) is not wrong in and of itself... nor does it make the things you beleive false.

A bias is not wrong unless evidence exists to show otherwise.

Furthermore, questioning your faith does not mean you have to abandon it or clean the plate (as if it were possible). Nor does it make you unChristian (or un-whatever you are).

Last, Christianity is commonly thought to be a "don't question God religion" ... this is a distortion and wrong beleif about what God has said through the Old and New Testament. He doesn't say, "beleive without seeing" rather He says... "Come, taste and see and know that the Lord is good." How else would we know what/who to beleive in?

So I say, doubt away, but come and taste and see... and then you'll know that the Lord is Good.

Comment author: Gerardo_Rojo 10 November 2008 02:34:52AM 1 point [-]

I have been going through something like this for the past couple of weeks.

I don't have a family yet, but I've been a preacher for about 10 years. I was kind of a wonderchild, as I started at age 14 and instructed in doctrine several priests, nuns and missionaries. I constantly discussed theory with eclesial authorities.

Physically too, I always pushed myself to serve God, often willing to risk injury in an effort to bring the word of God to other young men and women in ways that would touch them.

I was happy giving my all, making God my first priority, and never expecting anything at all in return. I thought that some people sow, and some others reap, and it was my place to give the example, that regarding God's work it was about what you gave, and not about what you got.

But before I considered myself a Catholic, I thought of myself as a rationalist, and it's only now that I'm in this path, leaving faith behind.

A lot of people claim that faith is evil, some of Dawkin's claims are outlandish, but I've seen that it's not. I've seen people turn their lives around many times because of it, leaving drugs, leaving depression, leaving gangs, treating their families better, becoming all around better human beings.

So I've decided to not tell everyone, not because I can't convince them to drop their faiths, but because for many of them it really works for making their lives better. Also, our personal lives are personal, and I've never gone around telling everyone my political views, or even what my favorite food is. If it comes up, and I judge it appropriate to do so, I'll discuss it, but it's not about forcing anyone to believe what you do, because then you are hardly better than those you deride.

Of course there are some loved ones who you will have to tell, and there's no other way around it. In my case it's my father, whom I largely converted myself about 8 years ago. You have to find some quiet time to discuss it, tell them that you no longer believe, that it's fine if they do but that you cannot do everything you used to and still be honest about it, and that hyprocrisy is not a valid option.

When I have kids I don't plan on forcing them either to be atheists, or make a purpose to either tell them or hide them all that I have done for the church. I think my job would be to raise them as good human beings, kind and considerate, strong and intelligent, but other than that, it's their path, not mine.

I apologize because this post was very "stream of consciousness"-like, I'm still figuring this out for myself, but I know that it's my life, my only one, and that if I want to be fulfilled I can't delude myself or live hiding who I am. I know people will have a hard time adjusting, but they can either take me or leave me, but it will have to be for who I am and what I stand for.

Comment author: Pete4 10 November 2008 03:03:49AM 0 points [-]

Jo -

Treat your faith more like a social club, particularly if you enjoy the people. I don't recommend lying, but waffling quite a bit is often a good strategy. There is so much bias on so many things in the world that waffling is a great strategy for anyone pursuing the OB life and not wanting to be a complete outcast. In fact, waffling may be a prerequisite for OB (e.g. I think you need to entertain the possibility that your friends and their faith are right as well).

Good luck!

Comment author: silentsanta 10 November 2008 03:29:14AM 0 points [-]

My two cents? What's it going to feel like at the end of your life if you have spent all of it deceiving people you care about?

Open up. Those who mind don't matter, and those who matter don't mind. You don't have to do it in an inflammatory way, but it is a disservice to them and you to box your struggles off where people you care about can't truly participate in your life.

Comment author: Jim_Powers 10 November 2008 03:30:55AM 1 point [-]

Like many others who have already posted here, and like many, many others you will find out in the wilds of the world and the Internet, I too have a story of being raised religiously (Catholic, even considering the priesthood in my youth), only to awaken to a greater reality. Realizing that I was an atheist enabled me to finally see the universe in "full color", and I have never looked back.

I do feel for you, but there are some hard questions you will need to confront:

* If you hide you awakened mind, what will this mean for you? Would you be willing to suppress this, especially now that your are *keenly* aware that this is your only shot at life? If you were to reveal your true nature *and* be rejected, what would be your recourse? With your new vision, can you go back (what does that even mean now)? If your loved ones think you are simply going crazy or "losing it" how will you react? Would it be better to be "open" and suffer than to be "hidden" and choose self-censorship and repression?

* Are your loved ones up for the adventure that you now see before you, unclouded by the illusion of the divine? Honestly, your now opened mind has available to it a universe that is terrifyingly beautiful compared to the prescriptive visions of a supernaturally-infused worldview. Sharing in this with other rationalists, especially loved ones, is sublimely wonderful: you are no longer in the privileged position of merely "observing" the trials and tribulations of this world as you pass from nothingness into eternal life here-after, but you really become a part of it in a way that the lie of religion cannot compete with. Although your are most certainly *not* alone in your dilemma as many others will tell you, it will *feel* as if you are alone a lot of the time in dealing with this transformation in your life, are you ready for it? Even if you are not ready for it, what are the alternatives?

The only "advice" I can offer is to be open with your views, but also make it clear that a rationalists view of the universe is not a negotiable point. In the sense that science, reason, and skeptical inquiry feed the mind of a rationalist; one cannot be asked to "please believe in God, for 'me'?" - such options are *not* on the table. They're not on the table because it is a request to substitute belief in fantasy in lieu of reality with no evidence to support such a belief. Be honest, be true.

Comment author: Furcas 10 November 2008 03:51:23AM -1 points [-]

Eliezer must be disappointed. He makes a thread to help a recovering irrationalist deal with the social consequences of deconversion, and half the posts he gets are from religious believers and believers in religious belief.

Comment author: Ichabod_Chrain 10 November 2008 03:53:42AM 0 points [-]

Jo, You might want to look at the archives of a blog called Daas Hedyot.( http://daashedyot.blogspot.com/) The author grew up in a very Orthodox Jewish environment, and if you go back far enough in the archives you'll find several posts where he describes what he went through as a Yeshiva (rabbinical school) student as his beliefs started to unfold. Some of it probably won't carry over to a Christian, but there might be a lot that does carry over.

Try these for starters: http://daashedyot.blogspot.com/2006/10/evolution-of-my-disbelief-part-i.html http://daashedyot.blogspot.com/2008/07/evolution-of-my-disbelief-part-ii.html

Comment author: frelkins 10 November 2008 04:11:45AM 0 points [-]

@Furcas

Understand that she feels like "That's me in the spotlight." There's a lot of social pressure, as we see here - her choice seems to endanger them, too. It will take her a while to be able to stand under her own tree and just sing.

Comment author: Jenna_Puckett 10 November 2008 04:33:25AM 0 points [-]

I just started reading OB, so I am not sure if I am a rationalist by this blog's definition. However, I do try to be think about my decisions and pick the rational choice.

I grew up in an accepting Christian family where discussion was encouraged, instead of being indoctrinated into a religion with little room to question.

I have now evolved into believing in the idea of good and of trying to do good. In my mind God= good, therefore I believe in God. This idea fits into several religions. In context of Christianity, the main point of dissent is Jesus. However, I believe in the idea that we are not perfect and can be more good than we are now. This is the idea behind redemption, and the idea behind Jesus.

I share these beliefs with those who ask my opinion on religion, but I don't participate in these types of discussions with extended family because I want to love them in the short amount of time I spend with them, not create conflict.

In your own family, however, you can create a safe environment to question anything and everything. Discussions like these can refine ideas and the ability to communicate ideas. Both of these things are valueable for all parties involved.

Comment author: Graeme_Pietersz 10 November 2008 05:34:39AM 1 point [-]

I have been there - and back.

I was brought up with Christianity, became an agnostic in my twenties, and eventually became a Christian again.

Firstly, (if God exists), He wants you to be honest. You must think things through with intellectual honesty, and you must not deceive others.

If He does not exist, then surely you cannot sustainably build your life on pretending He does, or that you think he does.

Every thinking Christian has thought all this through, so I think the Christians in your life will be a lot more sympathetic than you think. Even if they came to a different conclusion, they will have followed much the same lines of thought.

Your family love you for yourself, not your beliefs. They will cope.

When I married I was a agnostic and she was a Buddhist (brought up one, but her family are quite tolerant despite being from a country where many Buddhists are fundamentalists). She became a Christian, some time later I did. We never had problems with each other or with our relationships with our families.

Comment author: Michael_G.R. 10 November 2008 06:33:42AM 0 points [-]

"Eliezer must be disappointed. He makes a thread to help a recovering irrationalist deal with the social consequences of deconversion, and half the posts he gets are from religious believers and believers in religious belief."

I think this has been linked from some social media sites, which can explain the influx of non-regular OB readers.

Comment author: Eliezer_Yudkowsky 10 November 2008 07:32:10AM 5 points [-]

Well, more like I'm a bit disappointed that no one has spoken up who's been through this, and said, "Yes, I've been there: First, don't X your husband, then don't Y your children, and about the job, Z worked fine for me..." or something like that. It's not skepticism that's the issue here - it's how to rebuild your life afterward.

The only piece of advice I have to offer from personal experience is that your family might have already doubted more than you think - though I'm from an Orthodox Jewish family, and I don't know if that carries over to Christianity. But I was shocked at how much my parents already knew about the archaeology that discredits Judaism - apparently without this causing them to give up their belief-in-belief. I was shocked that they'd known that much and never mentioned it to me, which I take as a kind of betrayal all things considered...

But if that carries over at all, it would be the possibility that the people around you, especially your husband who is of your own generation and neither older nor very young, has already doubted more than he's said to you. I don't know if it's enough. It wasn't enough for my parents. But it's one little thing to keep in mind.

Comment author: nick_in_africa 10 November 2008 08:38:39AM 0 points [-]

It's important to be honest. I think you should include your husband in this seeking process. My dad kinda acted like he was a christian(went to church), and my mom really was and still is. To me dad just made christianity seem empty illbased anyway, talking and thinking one way but still going to church. He was people pleasing. I don't find that very respectable. Eventually I started wanting to base what I believe on reality, not just what I was taught. It's no good to live a lie. On the other hand, from my experience, truth outside of the church is just as blind, hypocritical,"cultish" and biased or more so. Everybody thinks their right. The critisim of christian drones above I understand, but really those critizing arn't really any different. Leaving the fold just means you jump in theres. Its not dumb to respect authority necessarily and you'll end up respecting one authority or another somewhere down the road. Keep searching for the truth the moment you think you've found it let me know. It doesn't do much good to trade one lie for another and there are just as many outside the church as you see within.

Comment author: botogol2 10 November 2008 09:00:59AM 0 points [-]

Jo - I think you will be surprised to find out that many of your co-religionists are, actually, in pretty much the same boat and don't 'really' believe 90% of the stuff they parrot (eg who really believes Exodus:12:29-30 nowadays?)

What people do have is a general feeling that there is a God(s) (seems to be almost hardwired in Human brains, and hard to overcome), and a liking for the companionship and structure that a religion brings.

Belief in Belief, as Dennett calls it in 'Breaking the Spell', which is good book to read..

Comment author: Dave7 10 November 2008 01:31:49PM 0 points [-]

You've already gotten lots of responses, but I'll add mine. I've considered myself an agnostic since I was about 18. I'm married with two daughters; my wife is Christian. I've been able to discuss my agnosticism with my wife and she credits those discussions with her faith becoming her own instead of her parents -- she faced doubts that I raised, decided which parts she was okay with, and carried on.

We go to church each week. I go basically 1) to accompany her and 2) to keep track of what my kids are being taught. My wife and I have agreed that when our kids are old enough to ask questions, we'll make it clear that there are different beliefs (atheism is its own belief system), and the kids will be free to choose their own way. In the meantime, they are being taught the values espoused by Christians (who have no monopoly on them, of course).

I think that religion, whether true or false, has some value to some people. It helps them through certain crises and provides a stable part of their lives. Not enough for me, but to each his own.

So anyway, I guess my suggestion is: perhaps you can acknowledge the continuing importance of religion in the lives of your family members; they can respect that your beliefs no longer agree with theirs; your daughters can be allowed to make up their own minds. That will take understanding on all sides, and probably a few difficult conversations. If you show that you're not looking to change other people's minds, that may ease the blow for them. (Of course, you example may influence others without you trying.)

Comment author: Zubon 10 November 2008 01:35:50PM 0 points [-]

I suggest hitting the library and getting a book on coming out. Several million homosexual Americans have dealt with a similar problems in Christian-majority social networks, so we do not need to recreate the wheel. "Coming out" is already the language we use for this kind of thing, and you can see some examples upthread like Doug S's.

Comment author: Dave9 10 November 2008 01:47:00PM 1 point [-]

Best of luck, it's painful, but you can definitely come through this with renewed zest for life, the universe and your fellow humans.

I've not written down my deconversion process yet, but plan too. Others have given the links to the deconversion stories, but this one was very interesting from the point of view of someone heavily involved in christian mission. There may be answers in here that help you: http://www.geocities.com/kenandcharlene/Testimony.htm

Comment author: kwdaniels 13 October 2009 12:25:12AM 1 point [-]

This is Ken Daniels, author of the article you referenced. Thanks for posting the link. Geocities (the site that hosts my online story) is going away on October 26, 2009. This is just to let you know the new home for my story is http://kwdaniels.com/story/DanielsStory.htm. My homepage is now http://kwdaniels.com.

Thanks,

Ken

Comment author: Jenna_Puckett 10 November 2008 02:58:00PM 1 point [-]

@ Michael G.R.

I have OB on my regular RSS reader, and I consider myself a fairly spiritual person.

One can have religion and still think deeply -- the thought provoking discussions and posts are intellectual fodder for both atheists, agnostics and religius people.

Why is overcoming bias equivalent with being atheist or agnostic?

Comment author: Therms 10 November 2008 03:38:00PM 0 points [-]

Well, more like I'm a bit disappointed that no one has spoken up who's been through this, and said, "Yes, I've been there: First, don't X your husband, then don't Y your children, and about the job, Z worked fine for me..." or something like that. It's not skepticism that's the issue here - it's how to rebuild your life afterward.

I wonder if this is due to this being an impossible (extremely difficult) situation to extricate yourself from cleanly? I would find this very sad, as I love my friends and family deeply, and on some level would like to share my thoughts with them. I won't do so if it will cause them harm or push them away.

Comment author: John_Vaughan 10 November 2008 04:07:00PM -1 points [-]

My wife and I had very different beliefs when we got together. What we did was, we stopped talking about it. For many years. We just lived our lives together, and let the subject of religion and belief lay quiet. Over time, we grew together in that silence. Something grew between us, in that empty space.

Nowadays, almost by some kind of cosmic accident, our beliefs (or non-beliefs) are quite similar. In my situation, I was the Christian (or so I thought, though the writing was on the wall before I met her), and my wife was the non-believer. Perhaps our situation isn't so accidental after all, but it still strikes me as, er, twisted kind of strangely, in a sort of whorl at the bottom of the draining sink kind of way. It's a long story. But the point is, people can live together who believe, or think differently, about "things". After a while I saw value in what she held dear. Silence engendered humility in each of us. It gave us room to breathe, to think, to feel, to scope out the true shape of the other person, at least in regard to belief.

What I didn't know at first was that, what she had to give me was valuable. This was because of my arrogance. My arrogance was part of the framework that held my belief system together. She also found value in my belief, a belief neither of us now hold, but still see value in.

How we gave valuable things to each other by not talking about them is an interesting thing to think about. I am not sure how that worked. But it did. Your situation is a bit different. You may have to find another way to expose your intrinsic value to each other. I suppose it is ultimately about respect. If you can both find ways to respect each other, things will have a much better chance to work out in the end, at least as regards belief/non-belief.

I find myself thinking as I write this that, respect, like a lot of other things, grows in layers, like, say, onion skins. Or maybe it is like sedimentary layers in the earth, laying in silence, awaiting our discovery. We think we understand what respect is, but then we go deeper. Eventually, if we are lucky, we can get to a sustaining love that is blind to what we used to view as important. That respect says, both to ourselves and to each other, that our true selves are valuable. Respect is ultimately about seeing correctly. For me, going deeper into this place of respect was a journey in and of itself. I suppose the "accident" was the silence. No one told us to do that, it just happened spontaneously.

Comment author: Raven_Daegmorgan 10 November 2008 07:49:00PM 0 points [-]

Jo, yes.

I was raised in a devout Catholic-Lutheran household, as a Catholic. Into my teen years, I seriously considered entering seminary, and at one point toyed with revivalist fundamentalism. I very seriously believed in the salvation of Christ and the damnation of non-believers, then I had a crisis of faith when I realized my beliefs and experiences were in contradiction with those of the Church and contained in the Bible.

It took a decade for me to fully shed the ideas and perceptions and behaviors that came with my former faith, well after I had shed it in word, and it caused no small amount of conflict with parents, siblings, and friends. I even lost friends and had to endure years of well-meaning but aggravating attempts to bring me back to the fold.

The only advice I can really offer is to accept that this will happen and to understand the concerns and reactions of people who are still invested in those beliefs and in their perceptions of "who you are" being a fellow believer. Talk with them and reassure them. If you are concerned about your marriage, try to find a way your husband and you can connect together through some other shared activity, to let him know you are still you.

As for you, it is likely going to be a long, dark road full of questions and uncertainty until you're comfortable with yourself again. Try not to take out your frustrations on those around you by judging them harshly.

Comment author: Caledonian2 10 November 2008 08:47:00PM 0 points [-]

I would suggest taking a hard look at the elements of your social support network, and trying to determine which would sever their links with you if they knew you were not a Christian.

I do not agree that you are compelled not to lie to people. Truth is a valuable thing, and shouldn't be wasted on those unworthy of it.

Consider that Carl Sagan's protagonist in "Contact", Ellie Arroway, claimed to be a Christian, despite being an atheist. Look carefully at the arguments she offered regarding that claim, and see if they can be adapted to your life.

I would recommend that you refuse to claim beliefs that you do not hold, or participate in actions that suggest you believe those things. Reciting the Creed if you do not accept it is out. Taking Communion if you reject the beliefs that form the basis of fellowship in your church is out. So on and so forth. Don't go to confession if you don't believe you need to confess. Etc. etc.

Comment author: Ian_Monroe 10 November 2008 10:15:00PM 0 points [-]

Personally, I've been open with my friends and family about my lack of religion and the disdain I have for organized religions in general. I've been that way my whole life, and some people still give me flack for it. I look at such occasions as "teaching moments," when I can help bring a little light into someone else's muddy thinking.

But that's just me. If the question is, what advice would I give to a person that is surrounded by religious influences, and for whom religion makes up a major component of their social support system, then my answer is:

Think what you like, but behave like others.

You glean benefit from your social networks, from your family, from your friends. There is no reason to cast yourself into the role of the "lost sheep" that needs to be helped back on to the path. Continue your living your normal life as you always have. Let your new rationality cast your associations in a new light. Learn what you can, for as long as you can keep your mouth shut.

I would expect that over time, you will naturally start interacting with people that share your new appreciations, and that gradually, the religious folks will fall away slowly as they pursue their own ends.

There's no need to antagonize believers that mean you no harm.

Comment author: Lord 11 November 2008 01:12:00AM 0 points [-]

I would suggest reviewing what you like and admire about those beliefs and what you dislike and distrust about them. Questions are more important than answers. Feel free to express doubts to see how others address and deal with them. Feel free to accept what you deem worthy and reject what you do not. Belief is a personal matter. How you wish to express them or if you wish to express them is up to you. Some people and communities are very narrow and will reject any deviation, some broad and open regarding it as a journey and search. Only you can decide what to accept and what to express.

Comment author: JohnS 11 November 2008 02:31:00PM 0 points [-]

I was not raised a Christian but adopted a fundamentalist cult in my teens and twenties. More of my story here http://www.andrewtobias.com/cgi-local/display_col.pl?050720

It sounds like Jo's people are a lot more loving and supportive than mine were, so she may have a lot more reason to stay involved than I did. Much of the above is good advice so here's what I might add.

Kids - she didn't say how old the kids are, kids need to feel they fit in where they are. Especially younger kids. I think in many ways this is more important that "the truth". Kind of like the kids who were told too early the truth about Santa Clause - they miss something important.

Secondly, if you realize you believe something different from your clan, you may also continue to tolerate (and maybe even participate in) activities and conversations that go against your understanding of how the universe works just for the sake of being together.

There are times and ways that this can be tolerable - although I know that there are times it can't. You have to choose. But one way to look at the choice is to consider an artist who is not able to make a living at her art. She can decide to starve, of course, but premature death is often not conducive to a full life's oeuvre. She can also get a day job and realize that these are two disparate part of her life and the one supports the other. It's all about choices.

Best wishes. I think you can see there is lot's of support you can find.

Comment author: michael_e_sullivan 11 November 2008 08:26:00PM -1 points [-]

So how about the following advice for Jo: try really hard to forget about "rationality", perhaps go see a hypnotist to get rid of your doubts about Christianity.

If it were really so, just how rational would rationality be?

As Eliezer has pointed out at least once before -- shouldn't the ideal rationalist be the one sitting on the giant heap of utility?

If X isn't true to your best estimate, it's got to be more ideal to recognize that and start figuring out how to deal with that, than to simply ignore that. Ignoring things doesn't make them go away.

Whatever happens, she ought to come to a place where she believes what she believes, because it's her best attempt to discover the truth.

Comment author: ThomasL 11 November 2008 11:01:00PM 1 point [-]

Everyone else seems to be responding to the last half of your question, not the first. If I might suggest, bring your doubts up and ask yourself what you would need to answer them. Can they be answered? Which are fundamental to faith and which are inconsequential? I wouldn't look just in any of your usual sources. There are thousands of years of religious teaching. Has someone asked the questions you have before? Did someone answer them? Does the answer satisfy you? Does some other answer satisfy you? For Christianity, much has been written over a great sweep of history. St. Thomas Aquinas's Summa Theologica comes to mind as well the writings of St. Augustine, St. Anselm, St. Abelard, St. Bonaventure, and Ockham. Recent arguments come from G.K. Chesterton, C.S. Lewis, Soren Kierkegaard, etc. Have you studied their answers (and their critics)?

What do you still believe without controversy? It is unlikely, for example, that you suddenly believe in murder as a solution to argument, or beating children for entertainment. Why not? Some may sneer at that question, but it is truly fundamental. If you believe it is wrong, why is it wrong? There has to be an answer that you formulate, and that answer will rest in something which you believe. Why do you believe it? Work outward from there.

In my experience much of what is taught in a church has little or nothing to do with Christianity. If you discard this periphery, do you have anything left at the core that is worth believing in?

What you choose to believe is important. I wouldn't try to figure out the best ways to abandon everything from before without first deciding what you believe now, something which should be conducted with all seriousness. I hope that no one in your life would have any issue with that processes. If they do, you may need to weather their disapproval and continue on your search. Ultimately you cannot believe on someone else's say, you have to decide for yourself; but I wouldn't plan to uproot my life through indecision, I would do it through new decision.

Comment author: Nobody 12 November 2008 02:45:00AM 0 points [-]

I went through the same thing. My family is made up mostly of preachers, and I was the first to openly state my lack of belief. They are a member of a fairly tolerant sect, and I still get along well with everyone. You might have some serious trouble if you're a Southern Baptist or something similar, but things may go swimmingly if you're a Catholic, Lutheran, Methodist, etc.

They're bound to worry about your soul, and be prepared for them to try to convince you that you're in eternal jeopardy because of this, but if your husband is really that special and you've raised your daughters to be caring and thoughtful, that will trump religious dogma every time.

Best of luck to you.

Comment author: Matt_Arnold 12 November 2008 03:30:00AM 1 point [-]

I've been there, Jo. I was raised a tent-revival fundamentalist, and graduated from Pensacola Christian College. My father was a pastor for six years, and is a deacon and sunday school teacher. My wife and I sang a duet at our wedding, "We'll build a household of faith." I worked for a church.

When I finally admitted that God is an idol of wood and stone, it was the end of my job and my marriage. Needless to say, leaving the church strained my relationship with my relatives.

It was worth it. I had been deeply depressed because I was so alienated from everyone in my life. I started spending time around people whose company I actually enjoyed, and have been living a wonderful life ever since, full of love and companionship. I finally fit somewhere.

There is a line between privacy and a double life of secrets and lies. You cross that line when you are dependent on pretenses to sustain a relationship with someone who thinks you are intimate with them. It's different with acquaintances. Be private with strangers and acquaintances, because they have no reason to expect you to confide in them. But your loved ones? I had to admit that the people I was hanging on to, I didn't really have, and they didn't have the real me. What does it profit a man, if he gain an afterlife that doesn't exist, and lose the only life he has?

Your situation might be different from mine. Your loved ones might accept you for who you are and not consider you degenerate. Perhaps you are comfortable married to a stranger. Some people are. But how many people in your social circle are going along to get along? How many of them are faking Christianity because they think if they don't, it would hurt you? Are you really better off for their choice?