Eight years ago, after quite a bit of scientific study and no small amount of soul-searching, I left the Christian Faith and began life anew as an atheist. My mother is, and probably always will be, crushed that I left, and is terrified of the prospect that I am (in her mind) going to burn in torment forever.

Occasionally she expresses this hurt and fear to me. It runs so deeply for her that it comes out unexpectedly harsh.

I dreamt last night that we were at a casual family gathering & I was being a bit of a friendly, but unnecessarily coarse smartass & it set her off. She laid into me with the wrath of Moses & I blew up like so much gunpowder. In a moment she was in tears.

I have in the past endured and brushed off her occasional barbs, and we've never had an exchange like this in our lives. The dream left me unsettled for most of the day, but gave me something to think about.

Deep within me is a quiet rage against myself, rage for huge mistakes I've made in my life, and bitterness for believing a fairy-tail for 34 years without ever questioning it deeply. I find myself venting this anger in subtle, self-destructive ways, and at times in passive-aggressive ways to friends and loved ones, often only in my mind. It's a rage I need to resolve, carefully, like de-fusing a bomb, before it goes off and causes real harm to myself or someone I love.

Views: 13

Tags: anger, argument, deconversion, dreams, family, fear, fighting, guilt, relationships

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Comment by Scott Popejoy on August 2, 2010 at 7:29am
Thanks Mary!

Well, I was a temperamental brat even as a lad, lol! Both of my parents had a temper so hot even Satan would adjust his thermostat when they went at each other! I inherited that.

Thankfully, over the years, we've all calmed down quite a bit. My father in fact, is one of the more quiet souls I know. And now that he's retired, I don't think he gives a shit about *anything*! He's got his place in the country, his dog, his 2nd wife, an RV, grandkids, step-grandkids, fishing poles...and Facebook! When I get on the occasional soapbox he nods and smiles...and refrains from chuckling. So if I'm anything like him, and I am, I'll settle things one at a time and go out with a smile on my face.

For the most part, relationships with family are pretty serene. A couple cousins have made a condescending remark or two. Mom has sent me a couple scolding emails that are more heartbroken than angry...cutting nonetheless. And that's been about it.

My own anger is more subtle. It rarely comes out, but I have found it expressing itself, as I said, in quiet self-destructive ways...and in dreams. So I'm aware of it. The little brat remains, and needs to finish growing up...like his dad! I don't think it will take 'til retirement tho. :)

As I quietly begin to involve myself in freethinking circles, I am remembering one thing I have gained in the last eight years: my humanity, all our humanity. I have begun to actually love myself. I like myself to the point that if I weren't me I'd have to introduce Scott to my friends, because I think he's a pretty cool guy. And I'm finding I like people of all stripes quite readily, and I still love my Christian friends and family. There's been painful loss of communion where we believe, but we have this in common, we're all human. And I find that beautiful.

In fact, as I observe the war between fundamentalists and active atheists, I see that our humanity is lost on both sides. If over 90% of the human race beleives in some sort of god, and a large percentage of atheists formerly believed, then belief is a human condition. The solution is not to go to war on faith, but to understand it, explain it, explain it again (because faith runs so deep, and because most of us took some gentle convincing over time), and at all times maintain our wonder and fascination with the universe to be discovered...rationally!

If we can all do that, I think we will be more like kids who say, "Hey! Check this out! (insert kewl new discover here)" I think believers will catch the sense of wonder & awe, and be amazed at the obvious truth. Rather than feeling shot at, they will take it home and ponder how it compares with their own beliefs. Maybe in time they will reconsider.

That being said, there are a small handful of fundamentalists that like to lob volleys of their own. I'm reserving enough smart-assed temper and garnering a few conversation-ending remarks of my own from fellow atheists to load my own guns and shut 'em up.

So Praise the Lord and Pass the Amunition!
Comment by Mary Powell on August 1, 2010 at 7:57pm
Hey Scott,

You're breaking my heart here. I hate it that this intense anger you have is focused on yourself. Please remember that we are truly products of indoctrination.
Just think about this proposition:
All our lives (before we left behind Christianity, then theism altogether) we have believed without question that everything good in us is of God and all of the bad is...well...is ourselves: our flesh. Now…the anger you have is thrown onto yourself! It's seriously killing me that you are taking all this on yourself. Get angry about the effects those 34 years of belief and INDOCTRINATION have had on your life. You may feel embarrassed to have been “duped” but not angry! I think dreaming about confrontations with the people we are close to who are still believers is one way of focusing that anger…ON THEM!!! That’s where it belongs, Scott. As uncomfortable as it may be to feel that kind of anger towards the people we love…it’s appropriate. We have lost way more than just our belief in god. We’ve lost the community we grew up in. We’ve lost the intimacy of relationships that were defined by our beliefs…family and friends alike. We’ve lost respect and we’ve become a member of a minority that is feared, loathed, suspect and completely unrepresented in our government. We are on the outside looking in on all counts. There are holes in our lives that will never be filled by anything else because there is nothing outside of religious congregations that can replicate that experience. You were raised to believe. You were groomed to preach…to evangelize. You furthered your relationships and status through the progress of your religious training. It’s all true, and you know it. Easy to see in retrospect. I think this is why so many people don’t scrutinize their faith with much vigor or honesty. There is so much to lose.
I think our experiences are similar enough for me to beseech you: BE PISSED AT THIS – After everything we’ve lost and all the pain we’ve gone through while scrutinizing our faith and finally leaving theism altogether, the people who we loved and were our friends are only willing to accept these changes in terms of their own need to keep their own questions at bay (whether they recognize that or not). They aren’t truly concerned about pain and suffering we experienced through the process; they’re not concerned about the huge losses that have come with the scrutiny, they’re concerned about their pain...and their loss…and the confusion I have imposed on them.
I waited years to tell my family and friends that I was no longer a Christian because I couldn’t bare the thought of breaking their hearts. I sure didn’t receive the same consideration when I finally “came out”. They have accused me of being easily led (not thinking for myself). We both know if that were the case, I’d still be a Christian. They have accused me of merely wanting a “blank check” to sin. They submit all their own theories of how “the Mary they know” could become an atheist…and those theories usually include the notion that I am somehow angry at God. What they refuse to hear, even though I’ve spelled it out as clearly as possible, is that NO ONE can force themselves to accept what they do not believe is true. I have explained to them that what I have experienced is like slowing coming to realize that the love of your life…your soul mate that you would willingly die for…the person you live for is actually a hologram. I ask them to imagine the loss…to imagine how they would deal with that kind of hole in their life. Imagine how raw that would feel for years to come.
Be pissed off that believers have absolutely no idea how hurtful their remarks are; that it’s their own need to justify your atheism that drives their concern. I agree that some are truly grieving for your eternal soul (as they believe it is)…but it’s the desire to relieve that grief that drives them to discussions about your beliefs or lack thereof. There is only one reason they engage you, and it’s not to understand. They want to bring you back.
My point: I think the intense anger you feel is appropriate and I don’t think you should repress it, rather, focus it. Let er’ rip in your blog…whatever...but there is NO REASON for you to be angry at yourself.
If you remain angry at yourself, you’ve been had again, Scott. Back to the “everything I do is wrong and I need Jesus to make me correct”…or better yet “oh. you stepped on my toe…I’m sorry it was in your way”.

You do that, friend, and then I’m pissed off at you too. 

I’m sure, if I took a little more time, I could compose my thoughts in a more clear and concise way. I sure wish I could, but I have a 2 ½ year-old who hates it when her mom is on the computer. My apologies for the stream-of-consciences rambling. I think you’ll get me, though.

Peace,
-Mary
Comment by Sicile on July 21, 2010 at 8:42pm
Scott -
I read this and i totally get it. I made the change from xtian to atheist rather slowly; it crept up on me. I am a very internal person about somethings so I dealt with the change on my own. My parents - wonderful people - are unfortunately victims of a lifetime of indoctrination. They, like your mother, are so sure, so positive of their beliefs that they would be crushed to know of mine. They would truly believe that their god would send me to everlasting hell to be tormented for all of eternity. (Which I would think that thought alone would turn them away.) So, I have decided that I will not let my beliefs be known. Like your mother, it would absolutely crush them if they knew. And I believe it would be the undoing of our very close relationship (but maybe I am selling them short). So, I got on this network so that I could talk and discuss issues anonymously without fear of being "found out". People really do offer some good advice here - it has helped me a lot. So, maybe I can tell you how I deal with the mistakes I have made in the past and how I think it through. You seem to be an internal person as well - maybe it will help.

How to deal with your rage? Someone asked me once if I had any regrets in life. When I said no they commented that I must not have had any struggles in life. I explained, to the contrary, that everything that has happened to me in my life, whether of my doing or the doing of someone else, had shaped me in to the me I am. I figure that everyday is another day to learn, so if I can take the $h!++y stuff and turn it around to learn from (or better yet help someone else learn from it) then how can I regret it? How can I be angry about it. I don't regret growing up in a xtian environment - I have learned a lot from it -even if it's what NOT to do. I don't regret getting teased endlessly as a kid because it has made me tenderhearted to others. I waited too long once to tell a dear friend how I felt about him. Had I done it sooner, I think things would have been very different and his life might not have ended so soon. But I learned -now, I tell people how I feel about them. Life is so short. Anyhow, this helps me a lot in dealing with my mistakes and my dumb ass moments in life, and I tell you this in hopes that it may help you.

Best wishes
Sicile
Comment by Grace Fitzpatrick on July 21, 2010 at 8:13pm
For years I listened to a close family member who played me like a fiddle - separating me from the rest of my family. I alternate between being angry at her and angry at myself for believing her and loving her even when it didn't make any sense. I know it is not the same thing as you are going through, but it is hard to accept years of wasted time, effort and emotion. You are not alone in your anger at being played. All I can say is, instead of beating yourself up about this, try to look to the future instead. But I do know what it is like to be lied to for years and the anger one feels when the lie is revealed. Hopefully, in time, you will be able to put this to rest.
Comment by Scott Popejoy on July 21, 2010 at 6:53pm
From my reading on various atheist websites, it seems most new atheists deal with a lot of anger early in the deconversion process. Not only was religion what we believed, it was intricately woven into every emotion we experienced. Removing it practically unraveled the entire tapestry of our lives. For me, it truly was beginning every last shred of my life from scratch. Nothing was left untouched. I found it every bit as unsettling as divorce, and every bit as hard to let go.
Comment by caveman73 on July 21, 2010 at 6:16pm
My anger came from (when I became an Atheist) believing out of fear. Fear of being wrong, going to hell.. that whole bag. It still bugs me that I held on to it as long as I did. So I understand where you are coming from with the rage and bitterness.
Comment by Scott Popejoy on July 20, 2010 at 11:02pm
Thanks gentlemen.

It helps to read about people around the world, human history, and human prehistory. It's curious how the first inklings of symbolism and ritualistic behavior predate civilization by tens of thousands of years. What were the earliest perceptions of our ancestors of the world around them? What increasing sense of loss did they feel at the death of group members, as human intelligence and perception increased? Did the last pre-human creatures perceive inanimate things such as storms, blowing leaves, and waterfalls as being alive? having an arbitrary will of their own, benevolent at times, capricious at others? Do the more intelligent creatures sometimes perceive this? Indeed, some of the dumber ones (certain breeds of dogs) perceive their tails to be separate entities and are sometimes alarmed, sometimes enraged, but most of the time amused by their own tails! And how much of this mis-perception influenced the earliest rituals, superstitions, and taboos that evolved, with the human race, into the plethora of religions believed by the overwhelming majority of people today? We are truly the offspring of our ancestors, and that makes it easier to empathize with those who still believe.

And I wouldn't go so far as to say that religion is a con-game. There are notorious charlatains, to be sure, but the vast majority of believers, and leaders, really believe they are right, and believe they do service to their fellow man to spread that faith. I wouldn't say so much for most corporate heads. Money and power tend to corrupt the pious and impious alike. Most believers and church leaders are not familiar with that much money!

The anger I deal with, as you both said, is feeling incredibly stupid for having believed it so long when I could have laid the whole question to rest in my teens with very little research into my most troubling doubts. It's embarassing, and humiliating. Some of my family, and not a few believers, I wager sense the same debilitating fear and embarassment at their own doubts...hence the emotional exchanges between loved ones who believe and those who don't.

I think the next step is to pursue understanding of our humanity (superstition, taboo, and religion are part of our humanity) and become a missionary of sorts, of human understanding. It'll take a few centuries, maybe another thousand years or so, but I think a non-religious and more humane future is in store for the human race. One can only hope!
Comment by Sonny Mobley on July 20, 2010 at 3:06pm
I feel you, man. I feel an intense anger at my self for being weak - and that is how I see the past me who believed in the supernatural (or at least tried to believe very hard). It has been years but I still feel it.

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