It’s been over five years since I finally admitted to myself that I no longer believe in the divine. Even after all that time, I’m still discovering new things about myself and the echoes of my former piety. Leaving the kind of religion I had wasn’t just a one-day affair. It’s a process that has its ups and downs. In particular, I’m faced with how my Christian faith had stunted my emotional growth.
I hold onto anger too easily.
Raising godly children isn’t always a precious or uplifting process. There’s an ugly side to it. It involves physical discipline for slights both real and imagined. It involves reminding a child that his or her immortal soul is at stake. That there are evil, unseen forces out there ready to destroy everyone that child loves. Good and Evil are real things, and not appearing to like Good enough is grounds for punishment.
A corollary to all of this is that Evil must be hated. While in the mindset of belief, this is understandable. According to my old beliefs, Evil leads people to eternal damnation. It is the source of all that ails humanity. Some Christians view this as a tragedy of sin, but it’s not too far removed from anger at cosmic forces.
After abandoning my religious beliefs, I still have this urge to get angry about things that are outside my control. For years, I justified it by reminding myself that there was a divine plan, that bad things happen for a reason. Because it validated my faith, I never took that step back to ask myself if I really should have gone to the trouble of getting worked up about it.
In retrospect, it was a useful tool to nourish my faith.
I should be clear that my personal faith wasn’t something many Christians will ascribe to. Different people take different logical consequences to doctrines of sin, grace, and all other teachings. The similarity lies in the fact that it all reinforces belief. Whether someone feels pity or righteous fury towards sin is irrelevant. What matters is that something is felt.
My problem is that these feelings are artificial. The reason for them existing is something I know isn’t valid or real. Despite this recognition, I’m still finding occasions to get riled up over little things that don’t even affect me. When that happens, I have a tendency to be more susceptible to anxiety and depression issues. The latter is especially potent, because I can feel powerless over being able to rid myself of these vestigial pains.
I have been trying to learn what real acceptance of things is like.
I know that when I was a practicing Christian, I was told all the times to accept things as they were. However, some of the other teachings I got went against this practice. My mind seized upon the negative things all too easily. In the end, the kind of acceptance I was told I needed wasn’t the version that could help me. It was something incomplete.
For example, take a look at how Christianity treats loss of a loved one. That person is physically dead, but the spirit lives on forever in Heaven. To see that person again, one has to successfully get to Heaven too. This keeps the dead as a constant carrot-and-stick to remind people they need to be good or else they’ll never see the people they miss. Grief is eternal, not something to be overcome.
It took me leaving my faith to realize that loss isn’t forever. I can lose people dear to me without having to keep some macabre mental construct of them with me at all times. I can accept that they’re gone, and I can accept that their life had meaning to me.
The anger is harder for me to deal with. I’m determined to face it, though. There are times where it’s easy, and there are times when it’s difficult. I need to remind myself that it has gotten better with practice. Now that I’m not burdened with cultivating faith, I can finally begin my emotional growth.
7 thoughts on “Faith And Stunted Emotional Growth”
I advocate taking a step back in these discussions. Imagine an all-powerful deity. Imagine evil. Imagine the all-powerful deity removing the concept and all manifestations of it from existence with a mere thought. Bye-bye, gone! No more evil. What would the world be like?
Human beings can still make bad choices, do the wrong thing, make really bad mistakes and learn and grow, but external boogymen representing “evil forces” just do not exist. Gosh, we would have to take responsibility for our actions because we wouldn’t have “the Devil made me do it” excuse. (I miss Flip Wilson; I do.)
Why is evil necessary? The religious blame this on man but doesn’t this reflect badly upon man’s creator? How can the “forces of evil” have a final battle with the forces of good (at Armageddon, right?) when the good side has an all-powerful deity who already knows all of the plans of the evil forces and can thwart them with blinks of his mental eye? And Jesus rides in on a horse when he could be piloting an F-35. WTF? Clearly “evil” exists as a foil and focus for believers to need their god to protect them. The book of Job shows this quite plainly. (They are in cahoots, basically.)
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And yet so many more Christians would argue that what the story of Job illustrates is that bad things (evil, if you wish to call it that) happens to good people and bad people alike. In other words, “shit happens” and it makes no difference whether or not you’re a believer. Even my son who is at the wrong end of fundamentalism understands that. He take consolation that it will be all sorted out in the next life – something that those who don’t believe in some form of existence after death can’t fall back on.
How do you deal with the anger? Ever since I was a child I’ve had the sensation my own anger is like a wild animal. I try to keep it locked up, but sometimes it breaks free destroying everything in its path.
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I’ve been thinking about a reply to this question for about a month now, and I still can’t think of a good answer. Part of it is that I don’t think I deal with the anger well at all. It’s like trying to control an explosion with my bare hands. In that way, I feel it might be similar to your view about your anger.
Were you ever made to feel guilty about your anger when you were young? I know I was. Every time I was angry I was told it was for no good reason, or to consider someone else’s (better) point of view, or that my anger was less important than anyone else’s. I can’t help but think that’s contributed to why it makes me afraid and why I have such trouble dealing with it.
At any rate, one thing I used to do to manage my anger was smoke. Nicotine was great for grabbing my brain’s chemistry and forcing it to pay attention to something other than being pissed off. But since I’ve quit smoking, I don’t have that anymore.
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“Made to feel guilty, told it was for no good reason, or to consider someone else’s (better) point of view, or that my anger was less important than anyone else’s.”
That’s an exact description of my experience. And I smoked too, a lot. I’m better at controlling it now, but only slightly. I try not to react to things on the same day they happen, and wait 24 hours before I say anything – which is very, very difficult.
For what it’s worth — my other-half has anger issues. The way he handles it (and it’s certainly not the best way!) is to blow up, then isolate himself until he calms down. This could mean shutting himself off in another room or getting in the car and driving (the latter definitely not a good move, but …).
Naturally, being on the receiving end, I HATE his actions! But at this point in the game, he is who he is. His response to others is “deal with it.”
Anger is part of human nature and we all deal with it in different ways. THIS is what others need to recognize and accept. They may not “like it” but that’s their problem.
Deconversion is a long slow process, and disentangling religious patterns of behavior from others takes a lot of time and patience.
I don’t think anger is a function of metaphysics. I’m pretty sure some metaphysics is a function of hatred, but not necessarily the reverse. The source of anger is likely to be a lot more subtle than any explicit religious belief. How to deal with it, though, I don’t know. In my case, it was exercise. I would get angry while brooding alone at night. So, I gave myself something positive to do for awhile. It helped a great deal.
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