In the 20th century alone, nearly a billion people left the religious faith of their parents and became non-believers. For some, this was liberating. For others, it wasn’t a big deal. But for many, it was terrifying.
The loss of faith was terrifying for me and many others because my religion had trained me to be terrified of losing faith in an effort to ensure that I never would. I was told that non-believers would be tortured forever after death, that they could have no objective moral code, that they had no meaning or purpose, that they were angry and sad and rarely found happiness.
I lost my faith kicking and screaming, trying to hang on to the security of the faith I had always known. So did many others. But for whatever reason, we could no longer believe our religion was true, and so we had to face a world we now believed was without morality, purpose or hope.
Still, most people do not lose their religion during a crisis of faith. Usually, we eventually return to the safety and comfort of our religious tradition. Probably, this has less to do with the rationality of the situation, and more to do with the fact that non-belief just isn’t an option. It’s too scary.
Researchers say that we rarely choose our worldview for rational reasons. Instead, we choose our worldview for other reasons and then rationalize the decision later, without noticing what we are doing. Our brains do this automatically to protect us from any devastating blows to our ego. Thus, our brains have every emotional incentive to rationalize our way back to the faith of our childhood.
To the millions of non-believers who live lives of abundant morality, purpose, and hope, the religious horror stories about non-belief are silly or pernicious. Without them, people would be more free to choose a worldview on better criteria, such as its likelihood of being true, or its capacity to let a person live out their dreams.
As someone who has been through a scary crisis of faith and came out the other side happy, fulfilled, and passionate, here is my advice to those facing a crisis of faith: Don’t panic. My own loss of faith was a nightmare. I thought the whole universe had shattered, and all meaning and purpose had been swept away. But it wasn’t true. Millions of non-believers know it’s not true.
So here’s what you should do: Seek out non-believers and ask them about what it’s like to be a non-believer. It’s easy to find nearby non-believers on Meetup or MySpace. After some time you’ll come to realize in your heart and your head that non-belief can be just as fulfilling and wonderful as the faith you once knew, and then you’ll be truly free to choose as you want. If you go back to your religion, fine. But at least this way you gave you brain a chance to choose on your own terms. You did not choose from fear, but from freedom.
If you’re going through a crisis of faith and want someone to talk to, feel free to contact me.
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