Losing My Religion

December 3rd is a special day for me. For a while I viewed it as a depressing moment, but soon after a breaking-of-chains. I now revere it as a highly transformative event in my life.

4 years ago today, I took a leap of faith, leaving the Presbyterian church and exposing a pretty big gap in my psyche and hierarchy of needs. I’ve made up the deficit.

Church fills a hole in the human mind and in society, which I now freely admit: the point really being that exposing this hole strips away valuable coping mechanisms, support networks and ways to be involved in your community. Which means I still don’t think bailing is for everyone. It’s hard to cut down most of your friends and mentors all at once and leave like that. It worked for me. This decision left me free to build my own sense of postconventional morality and set me on a path I’m very proud of. I’m a little repulsed when I reflect on who I was early in life, and in this angsty transitional period, the only consolation being that I guess it had to happen.

Anyway, so at first, I didn’t belong, wasn’t happy (at all, even worse than before), wasn’t internally consistent or fully educated, lacked direction, and generally annoyed most people: lashing out at attempts to moderate my acting-out. I really wasn’t a very good friend, brother, student, and so on by my current standards, so I’m not surprised.

So why subject myself to this trauma? I had been skeptical of religion privately for a few years and asked hard questions of the church leaders during the confirmation process, but a few nights prior my Christian beliefs had been completely shattered by watching a good quantity of atheist content on youtube. It all made so much sense so quickly that I felt like a rug was pulled out from under me and so I just had to forge a completely new ideology for myself from the broken remnants. I started building a new framework to live by and went public with my decision the next day to disapproval. I have twelve commandments. You can’t see them unless you marry me.

I’ve widely applied these changes to my life: trying to be more sensitive of needs, more goal-oriented, more devoted to study, a better listener, and to treat people the way that I think everyone should treat each other. I’ve gotten mostly good at it.

There are people who disagree with that last part, still. There are still people who don’t like who I am, and that’s okay. I’m not going to please everyone: bluntly, the weak-minded who can’t face challenges to their rigid ideologies or stupidly adopted nonfacts. I have made every effort over the years to reformat my objections while still… having autonomy.

This indirectly led to lifestyle changes. I became vegetarian and lost 15 pounds. I began Walking the Iron Path and gained a lot of that back. I grew some involvement and became an occasional activist and more often a slacktivist spectator. I figured out how to get what I need from the world and leave it better off. I learned that I really didn’t have any good friendships before college, and how to find some. I learned how to take care of myself properly. I quit playing so many god damned video games. I learned how to structure my time and meet my goals well ahead of schedule.

4 years later, today, I’m calling myself an adult. I think I have a fully-formed suite of skills with which to tackle the world. I’m making things happen. This determination is based on progress to the goals I mentioned above and upon realization that I don’t seem to have changed all that much recently, which is certainly a new phenomenon. I know the late teens are always a big period of change for most people, but I am almost nothing that I used to be and I wouldn’t want that any other way.

I’m usually much happier, but I still feel emotionally hamstrung in some ways, especially that I can’t always recognize my own needs or ask for help.

The frustrating thing is that I’m no longer convinced this is anything more than the product of male upbringing in America. I don’t like that I was conditioned to have inappropriate responses to most situations.

Another thing that I absolutely can’t overstate is the overwhelming emotions and sensed commitment of betrayal I felt when I did this. The Presbyterian church is not some radical organization which threatens apostates, and I STILL felt exploited, trapped, second-guessed, whispered about and like I was being rude when I was just putting my own sanity and freedom first. People can’t believe things on command, you self-righteous motherfuckers. Acting is for actors and people who like to waste their time.

I can’t fathom what it would be like to leave the mormon church, a fundamentalist Islamic sect, to come out in the bible belt, and so on. Be nicer to apostates and try to understand.