From Reddit: An Essay on Why It’s So Hard to Leave Religion

What follows is an excellent piece from Reddit on why leaving a religion can be so incredibly difficult. Here is the original thread, which is followed by some excellent discussion.

Here is the post in its entirety, written by Ancient09 of Reddit, for those who don’t like to follow links.

It is generally common for atheists to consider that the arguments against religion boil down to science, the facts, debate, etc. It puzzles many why someone when faced with all the evidence for evolution for example would still choose to ignore it. I think that many atheists are ignoring the REAL issue, the true reason why it is hard for someone to reject their religion.

I was raised Christian all my life, in a VERY fundamentalist home. I was taught the earth was 6,000 years old created out of nothing, heaven, hell – the whole thing. I was taught how important it was to witness and attempt to “convert” others. I was taught that even bad things, really bad things, had some sort of divine reason and plan attached to them. I believed this into my early twenties.

When I was finally faced with the irrefutable facts, and raw science behind them, I let go – very reluctantly – of my cherished beliefs. It was not easy, It was like wrestling a priceless gem from someone who would just not let go of it.

When you reject religion, its not like – rejecting the earth is not flat for example. With something like this you can say “Oh ok, now I know” – but religion has a much darker and deep rooted hold on a person, and a much more profound effect.

There were times I was actually in tears thinking about the fact that there was no “afterlife” – and that those I had loved who had died – were really dead. They weren’t watching me, or having some hand in guiding me. They didn’t still “love me”. That was pretty depressing.

It is strange how religion gives you a way to reject the reality of death – which I guess does help to ‘ease your suffering’, that you “know they went to a better place” – but it also prevents proper mourning. When someone you love dies, and they tell you on their death bed that they will see you one day in heaven, you are more prepared for them to “die” because you know they aren’t really “dead”.

To reject heaven and accept atheism – is not merely about science, facts, beliefs, etc – it is about accepting the reality of all those who have died – being really dead. It is accepting the same reality about everyone you love NOW one day being – really dead. It is accepting the same reality about YOU one day.

The older you are, the more dear loved ones have passed away, the harder it will be to reject the notions of religion. To reject religion requires the re-mourning of everyone who you love who has died.

Death is just one piece of a very complex puzzle. If you have spent your whole life “living by faith” – and you have made decisions “by faith” that have resulted in really bad situations in your life, you now have to own up to the fact that these situations came about because of YOUR choices. You do not have God to take the burden of this. You can no longer say “This happened because God has some plan for my life”.

By rejecting religion, you must also reject the notion that you can avoid responsibility for poor life situations. That too is a hard pill to swallow.Next, you must reject the idea that your path is somehow guided, that God is walking with you, that you are not truly alone as you walk through life. Imagine a man walking through a room on planks of wood suspended over spikes with large holes to fall in if you take a wrong step. He always manages to take the right next step, but he is never afraid because he “knows” that this is a solid wood floor he is walking on. Now turn on the lights.

To reject religion means to accept the idea that you CAN fall – and fall HARD. It means you have to recognize that up until now you have been fortunate – but now you have to force yourself to think about your next steps.

If you have been spending your life “following Christ”, or witnessing to people, to the extent of even studying this in college, or spending hundreds and hundreds of hours reading and studying the Bible, praying, etc – only to find out that ALL of it was utterly and totally useless, then you have another hard pill to swallow. Imagine swallowing that pill as an older person.

To accept this means to accept that you have lived a large part of your life in vain, while thinking it was purposeful. Talking to such a person about atheism is similar to telling them that their whole life is without purpose, misguided, and that they have missed out on the only opportunity they will ever have to live life.

Surely one can then see why the concept of atheism is offensive and infuriating to so many people.

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Then there is the concept of a personal relationship with God. The idea that God and you are “friends”. That you are somehow “above the world”. That you are living in a bubble safe and protected by God himself.

To reject religion, means accepting that you are just like everyone else – and in fact, worse off than most and behind the race because of your past religious belief. To someone who has spent a lifetime believing they are special in this regard, a piece of them is gone, never to return.

Worse than this, such a person values their imaginary relationship with God more than any aspect of their REAL personality. Who you really are takes second stage to your supposed relationship with the almighty.Rejecting this is surely very difficult, as it entails rejecting a large part of the perceived value someone has in themselves.

I know I have not covered it all, but I hope I have helped to show that there is more to the picture of “religion vs atheism” than merely science, and facts.

The emotional side of religion is by far a larger and darker obstacle than any other that would stand in the way between someone’s freedom from delusion and accepting reality.

I think this is just a great way to capture the struggle so many intelligent, logical people face when they try to free themselves from religion and embrace a secular perspective. This happened to me even, and I was one of the lucky ones who didn’t face any sort of active indoctrination. I can only imagine my difficulty multiplied many times over for someone who wa.s

[ * For the image of leaving a religion I personally like the black hole metaphor, where you describe someone on the verge of leaving as pushing (outward) toward the event horizon, or, “nearing escape velocity”. This isn’t so much for any negativity regarding being *in* the black hole (or religion itself), but more as a description of how hard it is to escape from both. ]

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