This post over at “Good and Godless” had a video that got me thinking about the nature of how faith systems are abandoned. I say faith systems because the video expressed a thought that I kind of tossed around last year on my blog. That is, faith isn’t just “one thing” that ends magically; the post author and the video narrator both referred to faith as a collection of things. Here’s the video, which describes the idea:
Each of these strands in the web is mutually supportive.
In middle school, I remember reading a horrible book about Dracula (it was a knockoff paperback lent to me by a friend) which shook my faith tremendously. All it required was reading about Dracula being baptized as the Son of Satan and the commensurate anti-narrative to make me question what if the bad guys were secretly the good guys. So many “what if” questions flooded my mind, and they weren’t going away.
Beliefs about how I should know bad from good eventually won out. The crisis was averted. I eventually ran through the details in my mind, not once assuming that maybe the whole scheme was a work of fantasy. This is important; it shows how multiple layers of beliefs worked together to ensure I stayed faithful. First, teachings from Sunday school and my parents. Second, other teachings from Confirmation class. Third, my internalized beliefs kept the whole thing running together without falling apart.
Each of the strands involves multiple beliefs.
Let’s use the example of God being love. It’s not enough to believe that God is love. One has to believe that God is love above all Biblical references to the contrary. There has to be an admission of ignorance to items one can’t reconcile. Other beliefs may come in and dissociate any hateful things about God from the “love” things. Indeed, there could even be different beliefs about what love is to create a greater narrative of a loving God.
Even those things above can be picked apart and brought into more beliefs. It’s like the mythical hydra; chop off one head and find three more ready to greet you. When dealing with a broad concept – which can seem narrow – one has to be careful of recognizing all the different beliefs which are incorporated into the mix.
If you think about it, this logically follows from the web strands supporting each other. Of course people will borrow from multiple strands and weave them together. Our minds are designed to find explanations, and faith is one place where explanations can and do run rampant. Theists who might be reading this, think of all the people you’ve met with beliefs you didn’t agree with. Those beliefs had to come from somewhere, and they had to have been adopted.
This is why getting untangled is frequently a messy experience.
When the web breaks, all kinds of things happen. Sometimes those religious beliefs were keeping things under wraps that needed to stay contained. For people who based their perceptions of reality on something, there is a lot of fear. Some people believed things too deeply, and for them, they have shame. Certain congregations dominate towns, and they control social gatherings; for those who leave those groups, they have isolation.
This is yet another reason that keeps people away from being honest with themselves and fearfully in church every Sunday. To admit it in the open is to invite disaster and ruin from people who are supposed to love their neighbors. Sometimes it’s just the fear alone which keeps people in hiding. Unfortunately, I am still too familiar with that last part.
But I do have to say that for me, when things broke and I finally was able to admit to myself that I didn’t believe, it was as if a tremendous weight had been lifted off my conscience. When I was able to tell others online about my disbelief, another weight was lifted. I felt free enough from those things that I’m mostly content to be an Atheist in hiding. Part of me doesn’t know whether I should feel okay or saddened by this.
More importantly, though, is that others who read this know that you’re not alone, there’s no need to be ashamed, and there is less cause to fear than you might think. Many people are able to come out and admit that they survived losing their faith. More are able to do it every day. It’s okay, and there will always be a place for you.