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IF you deconverted in midlife, can you help?
#1
IF you deconverted in midlife, can you help?
Hi, All, 

Most of the atheists I've met have been so for their entire lives, or at least since they were kids. I think those of us who leave religion in midlife or well into our adulthood have a different experience as we have a lifetime of conditioning to overcome. I'm really struggling, some days more than others. I hope you'll read the intro, but if you don't want to, please jump to the numbered list at the bottom. (thank you)

I introduced myself on the Intro forum a few weeks ago. As a recap, I was raised in a Christian Fundamentalist home full of lots of hellfire and brimstone and a literal interpretation of the Bible. Fourteen years ago, I converted to Judaism for a number of reasons, one being that I found the Christian concepts of original sin and Hell to be horrific, abusive, and meant to ignite fear. I never really enjoyed religion, not Christianity or Judaism, only went to services because it was a given in my mind that God exists and that I should worship him. Over the years, I just stopped going to synagogue. It lost its meaning for me. I didn't understand Hebrew and thus well over 75% of the service. I had no Jewish family or friends, so I went alone. It's a very family-centered religion, and I felt very alone.  

Feeling alone gave rise to concerns about being alone as I age as I am unmarried, childless, and have health problems. I am concerned about support or lack thereof as I get old. So I figured if I can't find the community I need in Judaism, maybe I can go back to Christianity? My fear of Hell has never completely gone away, so I wondered if maybe somehow deep down I knew that I needed Jesus. So I started conversing with a member of the Open Brethren gospel hall my family goes to. I also checked out a Messianic Jewish (believers in Jesus) synagogue and went to church another Sunday. All of these things felt really phony and like they just didn't settle my mind. 

So I started studying the Bible, creation, evolution, science, cosmology, and I came to the conclusion that the evidence for evolution is just too great to be denied. I realized then that the Bible cannot be literal. My belief in God, at least the God of the Bible, started falling like a house of cards. All of this happened over a period of a few weeks. I became very depressed as I lost my delusion of being immortal seemingly overnight. I would never see my family, friends or pets after I died. My world view collapsed.

I became the most reluctant atheist I can imagine. I did NOT set out to become an atheist, only to know what truth is, and that led to lack of evidence for Biblegod. 

I am seeing a therapist who was raised in a Christian cult and can relate to some of what I'm going through. I take medication for chronic depression, anxiety and OCD. I'm also in an online support group with Dr. Marlene Winell for people who are leaving harmful religion. I've been getting together with other Skeptics (mostly atheists) regularly. 

I'm sorry about that long intro, but I feel it's a necessary backdrop to the questions I want to ask: 

  1. Fear of Hell - Despite rationally determining that the God of the Bible cannot be true and things like Hell can't exist, I am STILL afraid. I know it makes no logical sense--how can you fear what you don't believe in? But those fears are still in there. Did you or do you have this? How long did it take to lose it? Is there anything that helped you? I feel like I'm trying everything (reading, watching videos, talking with other atheists, etc.) and that nothing is working well enough. 

  2. Existential angst/crisis - On some days I feel enlightened and a little relieved, but other days I am weighed down from the moment I awake with this feeling of dread and depression. These are some of the most uncomfortable feelings I've ever experienced. Did you go through this? How long did it take to get through it, and was there anything that helped? 

  3. Fear of dying - Mosts atheists I've met say they don't have a fear of death because they believe they'll just cease to exist, but I don't really see anyone talking about having fear of dying--what the process is going to be like and feel like both emotionally and physically, but primarily emotionally. I am afraid that my irrational fears of an afterlife will flood me at the end, and the result will be terror. So to some degree, I fear feeling fear. 
    I have watched Christopher Hitchens' interviews and discussions as he was dying as well as read about his book Mortality, which he wrote while he was dying. As much as we can tell from a book, it doesn't sound like he had fear, only a sense of lack of meaning in the last days. I read that said that he wished his death itself could have some meaning, that he could die for something. I am very afraid of these feelings of desolation and that I will wish that I had somehow been able to still believe. Considering that you had a lifetime of religious indoctrination, do you think that these deeply instilled fears will somehow resurface at the end of your life? Do you know of any other atheists who have shared their dying experience with the public? I'd like to go view them. 
I'm rather miserable in the midst of these thoughts and fears, although some days are easier than others. It seems that the thoughts and feelings cycle: I'll feel like I'm doing well for a few days, and then I'll go back to a slew of days feeling weighed down by grief and fear. Was your process of deconverting similar? I am hoping you can share some of your experiences and that hopefully I'll learn that these negative feelings are able to be overcome. How long does it take? I want it to be over now, but it appears to have its own timetable. 

Thank you!
I said to the sun, tell me about the Big Bang.
The sun said, 'It hurts to become.'

~Andrea Gibson
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#2
RE: IF you deconverted in midlife, can you help?
I'm one of the life-long atheists but I do fear death. I guess I'm atypical of atheists in that I'm not okay with the fact that I don't have the power to live as long as I want to. I have nothing but derision at attempts to sugar-coat this.

As far as dealing with it, I guess it's the same as dealing with anything negative that's out of our control. There is no sense complaining that rain is wet or that it gets so damn hot here in Phoenix. There's just no point in focusing on negatives we currently have no ability to do anything about.
Only two things are infinite, the universe and human stupidity, and I'm not sure about the former.

Albert Einstein
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#3
RE: IF you deconverted in midlife, can you help?
(October 13, 2018 at 3:29 pm)Dragonfly Wrote: Fear of Hell

Existential angst/crisis

Fear of dying -

I became an atheist when I was 50, almost 51, but that last step wasn't difficult for me. By then, I was ready for it.

My struggle came six years earlier, after I gave up studying Sufi mysticism, which had engaged my attention for most of 25 years. For several years afterwards I was semi-depressed and had occasional panic attacks. I worried I would go to hell. I was also very unhappy about the time and efforts I had wasted, and how I had made myself a worse person rather than a better person. During most of that time, I diverted my attention with work and reading. At one point I read Lord of the Rings twice through; when I finished I started over again. I just figured my habitual mind needed time to wear out old habits of thought. I stuck by what I considered true no matter what my fears said. Ultimately my fears wore away, and once I discovered atheist literature I was able to put all my old demons to bed for good.

However, I don't think we ever get over the fear of dying. When the time comes, if the suffering becomes too much I will find some easy out. I don't want to become a financial, emotional, or physical burden to my wife or others.
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#4
RE: IF you deconverted in midlife, can you help?
Maybe
(October 13, 2018 at 3:29 pm)Dragonfly Wrote: Hi, All, 

Most of the atheists I've met have been so for their entire lives, or at least since they were kids. I think those of us who leave religion in midlife or well into our adulthood have a different experience as we have a lifetime of conditioning to overcome. I'm really struggling, some days more than others. I hope you'll read the intro, but if you don't want to, please jump to the numbered list at the bottom. (thank you)

I introduced myself on the Intro forum a few weeks ago. As a recap, I was raised in a Christian Fundamentalist home full of lots of hellfire and brimstone and a literal interpretation of the Bible. Fourteen years ago, I converted to Judaism for a number of reasons, one being that I found the Christian concepts of original sin and Hell to be horrific, abusive, and meant to ignite fear. I never really enjoyed religion, not Christianity or Judaism, only went to services because it was a given in my mind that God exists and that I should worship him. Over the years, I just stopped going to synagogue. It lost its meaning for me. I didn't understand Hebrew and thus well over 75% of the service. I had no Jewish family or friends, so I went alone. It's a very family-centered religion, and I felt very alone.  

Feeling alone gave rise to concerns about being alone as I age as I am unmarried, childless, and have health problems. I am concerned about support or lack thereof as I get old. So I figured if I can't find the community I need in Judaism, maybe I can go back to Christianity? My fear of Hell has never completely gone away, so I wondered if maybe somehow deep down I knew that I needed Jesus. So I started conversing with a member of the Open Brethren gospel hall my family goes to. I also checked out a Messianic Jewish (believers in Jesus) synagogue and went to church another Sunday. All of these things felt really phony and like they just didn't settle my mind. 

So I started studying the Bible, creation, evolution, science, cosmology, and I came to the conclusion that the evidence for evolution is just too great to be denied. I realized then that the Bible cannot be literal. My belief in God, at least the God of the Bible, started falling like a house of cards. All of this happened over a period of a few weeks. I became very depressed as I lost my delusion of being immortal seemingly overnight. I would never see my family, friends or pets after I died. My world view collapsed.

I became the most reluctant atheist I can imagine. I did NOT set out to become an atheist, only to know what truth is, and that led to lack of evidence for Biblegod. 
OK. That is what was. What is there now? What do you hope for in the future? Those are the only things which actually matter. The belief in, and fear of, hell is simply something that has been programmed into you over the course of years. That does not vanish overnight, much as that might make things easier. It takes time to reverse out that level of brainwash. You, like many of us, have been programmed into a way of thinking through no fault of your own. Getting rid of that is a bit of a mountain to climb. Sure, many of us are glib about our atheism here, but it is easy to forget the difficulty that occurred at the time in much the same way as women have more than one child, forgetting the insanity of the previous birth. My first kid had a fun birth of 25 hrs labour with chaotic pain, screaming, swearing and general insanity. Forgot all of that when it came to number 2.

And here is the point. My eldest, is trans. TBH, I spotted early on that he would end up somewhere on the LGBT spectrum, so I had years to become acquainted with the fact. My hex-wife went into total denial and remains there. Time will eventually solve that. It is not just a switch. Nobody shucks off their presuppositions at a whim.

(October 13, 2018 at 3:29 pm)Dragonfly Wrote: I am seeing a therapist who was raised in a Christian cult and can relate to some of what I'm going through.
I had one some years ago, and I make no apology for it. Sometimes it takes an independent view to get ones head straight. There is no "shame" in it. Just make sure you shop around. Not every therapist works for every person or case.

(October 13, 2018 at 3:29 pm)Dragonfly Wrote: I take medication for chronic depression, anxiety and OCD.
Tread carefully.

(October 13, 2018 at 3:29 pm)Dragonfly Wrote: I'm also in an online support group with Dr. Marlene Winell for people who are leaving harmful religion. I've been getting together with other Skeptics (mostly atheists) regularly. 
And that is a great thing. Keep going.

(October 13, 2018 at 3:29 pm)Dragonfly Wrote: I'm sorry about that long intro, but I feel it's a necessary backdrop to the questions I want to ask: 
That's OK, You have simply drawn an outline, now you are colouring it in. Anyone who hints that it is not is a lying SOB. Anyway, lets look at your concerns.

(October 13, 2018 at 3:29 pm)Dragonfly Wrote: Fear of Hell - Despite rationally determining that the God of the Bible cannot be true and things like Hell can't exist, I am STILL afraid. I know it makes no logical sense--how can you fear what you don't believe in? But those fears are still in there. Did you or do you have this? How long did it take to lose it? Is there anything that helped you? I feel like I'm trying everything (reading, watching videos, talking with other atheists, etc.) and that nothing is working well enough. 
Of course you are. Pavlov revealed that behaviours can be programmed into individuals and that is what you are dealing with. For something like 40 years (total guess) these superstitious notions have been beaten into your brain. Beating them back out is a herculean task. You have already taken the most important step, rejecting the nonsense. The habits of mind are coming into play here. You have escaped the religious slavery, but your habits of mind are actively subverting you. Because they are ingrained habits.

Be warned. Believers who you know will actively exploit that. It is just one more shitty thing believers do.

(October 13, 2018 at 3:29 pm)Dragonfly Wrote: Existential angst/crisis - On some days I feel enlightened and a little relieved, but other days I am weighed down from the moment I awake with this feeling of dread and depression. These are some of the most uncomfortable feelings I've ever experienced. Did you go through this? How long did it take to get through it, and was there anything that helped? 
Difficult one. It's entirely individual. For me it was fast, for others, not so much. I could recommend stuff but I don't know if they would be appropriate for where you are.

(October 13, 2018 at 3:29 pm)Dragonfly Wrote: Fear of dying - Mosts atheists I've met say they don't have a fear of death because they believe they'll just cease to exist,
OK this is weirdly false. I am an atheist and I fear dying. It would be nice to pass away peacefully, but I sure don't relish dying in screaming agony. When atheists say they do not fear death is usually something else. Non-existence.

Now, take a moment to consider yourself BEFORE YOU WERE BORN. You have nothing. Does that scare you? Of course it doesn't. So why would the very same thing scare you after you die?

(October 13, 2018 at 3:29 pm)Dragonfly Wrote: but I don't really see anyone talking about having fear of dying--what the process is going to be like and feel like both emotionally and physically, but primarily emotionally. I am afraid that my irrational fears of an afterlife will flood me at the end, and the result will be terror. So to some degree, I fear feeling fear. 
That is driven by evolution. We are apes driven to survive. Were it otherwise, we wouldn't survive and this conversation would be moot and couldn't happen anyway.

(October 13, 2018 at 3:29 pm)Dragonfly Wrote: I have watched Christopher Hitchens' interviews and discussions as he was dying as well as read about his book Mortality, which he wrote while he was dying. As much as we can tell from a book, it doesn't sound like he had fear, only a sense of lack of meaning in the last days. I read that said that he wished his death itself could have some meaning, that he could die for something.
And he got his wish. His life and death had meaning. That is why his name and thoughts live on. Were it me, I would be proud of such a legacy.

(October 13, 2018 at 3:29 pm)Dragonfly Wrote: I am very afraid of these feelings of desolation and that I will wish that I had somehow been able to still believe.
That is a false hope. Do you really want to chuck away the only life that you know you have in favour of a life that you cannot know possibly exists?
(October 13, 2018 at 3:29 pm)Dragonfly Wrote: Considering that you had a lifetime of religious indoctrination, do you think that these deeply instilled fears will somehow resurface at the end of your life?
Not even slightly. These OOBE/NDE experiences for example that superstitionists tout as proof are BS, because I have had that so I know it is BS. That said, it was quite the trip.

(October 13, 2018 at 3:29 pm)Dragonfly Wrote: Do you know of any other atheists who have shared their dying experience with the public? I'd like to go view them. 
Done.

(October 13, 2018 at 3:29 pm)Dragonfly Wrote: I'm rather miserable in the midst of these thoughts and fears, although some days are easier than others. It seems that the thoughts and feelings cycle: I'll feel like I'm doing well for a few days, and then I'll go back to a slew of days feeling weighed down by grief and fear. Was your process of deconverting similar? I am hoping you can share some of your experiences and that hopefully I'll learn that these negative feelings are able to be overcome. How long does it take? I want it to be over now, but it appears to have its own timetable. 
You need not be "miserable". This is the one life that you are sure you really have. Enjoy it.

(October 13, 2018 at 3:29 pm)Dragonfly Wrote: Thank you!
I don't really know, but I hope that helped.
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#5
RE: IF you deconverted in midlife, can you help?
If you’re afraid of hell you must believe in hell and if you believe in hell youre not an atheist.
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#6
RE: IF you deconverted in midlife, can you help?
(October 13, 2018 at 6:17 pm)CarveTheFive Wrote: If you’re afraid of hell you must believe in hell and if you believe in hell youre not an atheist.

I'd like to dispute this remark. Just because you've come to a logical conclusion about God's nonexistence doesn't mean you can immediately erase years of indoctrination... stuff that's engrained... often at an emotional level.

If you find out that a romantic partner (with whom you were seriously involved) is a backstabbing, two-timing bitch, you don't then immediately overcome all the feelings/hopes/dreams that were associated with her. It's a process. (Especially considering the tactics some religious organizations use to instill such beliefs in the first place.)
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#7
RE: IF you deconverted in midlife, can you help?
(October 13, 2018 at 6:17 pm)CarveTheFive Wrote: If you’re afraid of hell you must believe in hell and if you believe in hell youre not an atheist.
Not true. Many former christians have had the wingnuttery beaten into their brains over long periods so much that such feelings of vicarious guilt are really difficult to shake off.

It is flat out brainwashing, and that is not easily reversed.

Now, are you prepared to say out front to an escaping theist that they can go take an unlikely anatomical excursion, or would it be better to gently assist them? What do you think?

And if perhaps you are just an angry atheist, there are plenty of die hard god botherers on this site upon whom you can vent aplenty if you wish. 

But picking upon those at their most vulnerable when they are finding their way out of the morass of superstition? ~That is disgusting.
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#8
RE: IF you deconverted in midlife, can you help?
I’m not in the school of we control our beliefs

If you believe in hell why torture yourself trying to pretend you don’t?

Maybe part of your brain can believe and another part doesn’t...

All I know is I’m not afraid of things I don’t believe in. That certainly includes hell.

But on the other hand I don’t think atheism is some kind of panacea. Why try to force yourself into being something you’re not?
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#9
RE: IF you deconverted in midlife, can you help?
(October 13, 2018 at 6:59 pm)CarveTheFive Wrote: I’m not in the school of we control our beliefs

If you believe in hell why torture yourself trying to pretend you don’t?

Maybe part of your brain can believe and another part doesn’t...

All I know is I’m not afraid of things I don’t believe in. That certainly includes hell.

But on the other hand I don’t think atheism is some kind of panacea. Why try to force yourself into being something you’re not?
How naive is that. What are you? 12?
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#10
RE: IF you deconverted in midlife, can you help?


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