Out From Under the Umbrella

playing in the rain

Good Grief!

20 Comments

I alluded briefly to my existential nightmare in The Wonder of It All, and The Agnostic Wife wrote a post about the anger she felt as she dealt with her existential crisis.  The stages of grief are no different for the death of faith than they are the death of a loved one, the death of a marriage, the loss of a friend.

The reasons why should be blatantly clear, but alas I fear they are not.  Because we go through these various stages we are assumed to be turning our backs on God because we are angry or disappointed or disillusioned. That’s generally not the case at all.  Anger, disappointment, and depression are all responses to the loss;  precisely the opposite of what is typically thought by Christians to be the case.

When faith is lost this is what happens:  denial.  At first there’s shock and disbelief that what you’ve believed for so long could even possibly be false.  What?  How can this be?  Once the notion settles in that, indeed, that could be the case there’s anger; anger at oneself for having been deceived, feeling foolish that more thought and reason didn’t go into the decision to believe a given proposition to begin with. There’s anger at those who did the deceiving.  How can they live with themselves?!?  After the anger wears off there’s bargaining.  You don’t want to have been deceived.  You don’t want to be wrong.  God has been such a part of who you are you don’t want to let him go.  So you bargain, like a soldier in a foxhole.  I’ll do anything you ask, God, if you’ll just show yourself to me.  You go on a fact finding mission, looking for evidence.  Soon you realize that your religion is so much more convoluted and hazy and absolutely not absolute than you ever dreamed it was.  Confused, disappointed, disillusioned depression sets in.  You wonder how long that black cloud will follow you around.  What is the meaning to life?  What is the point to existence?  Why even get out of bed in the morning?  Slowly you realize that life does go on.  You begin to accept the uncertainty.  You begin to accept the possibility that God is not at all that you once thought he might be.

How long and how strong the individual held their given beliefs and their individual personality will determine how long and how strong their reaction and their stent in each phase.  For instance, I was in denial for the longest time. I tried my dead-level best to hang on to a young earth and the flood, looking desperately for evidence for both.  Anger at others didn’t last very long, though anger at myself is still rearing it’s ugly head from time to time.  I wonder how I could have been so ignorant.  I didn’t bargain for very long because if my beliefs and my faith taught me anything it’s that there is no bargaining with God.  I settled in to depression rather nicely. The sky was falling right on my head, slowly killing me sending me to the certain fate of hell.  But then slowly, with the help of The Tour Guide, my family, my friends and my new found iFriends I began to realize that life does go on, the grass does turn to green again and the sun rises and sets with the same beauty as before.

The reason the grief is so palpable is because, as S.W. Atwell puts it so eloquently,  in a very real sense something or someone has died.  Something inside of you, a part of you is gone.  You’ll never get it back. It may be replaced with a new something, but that piece is forever changed.  I’m not saying that’s a bad thing.  In fact I’m finding it to be liberating and freeing.  But it will never be the same again.  One thing that I have learned is that grief is necessary and grief can be good.

What about you?  If you lost your faith did you find yourself going through the five stages of grief?

*Blame the artwork on Michael Mock for unleashing me on Gimp 2.0. :~)  I owe him a big thank you for helping me create an awesome website!

Advertisements

20 thoughts on “Good Grief!

  1. Upon reflection, I may have been in denial before I was consciously aware of losing my faith. When I was fourteen, I grew increasingly devout before suddenly losing my faith, despite the doubts and contradictions that were knawing away at me. Maybe subsciously, I had already lost my faith, and my devoutness was simply a form of denial.

    Like

  2. Nice cartoon!So far as I have heard, any major loss — whether it's the loss of a friend, a job, or a religion — often enough sends us into the Kubler-Ross cycle, the Five Stages of Grief. Also, it's my understanding that not all the stages are always experienced by everyone, and that the order in which they are experienced can be mixed up.But your point is spot on, D'Ma: Those who say "apostates" left because they were angry, depressed, etc., are basically misjudging what they see.

    Like

  3. It took me many years of fearing doubts before investigating. What slowed that down was that I was more afraid of being angry than of being decieved. I thought if I let myself be angry, I would never stop and would lose the relationships I value most. Also, I was more afraid of the bible being true and as long as I didn't investigate, I could hold the doubt.I didn't hit the depression stage very hard since the relief felt so good! But mourning the loss of identity and community is ongoing, just lessened. I'm still cycling through, again and again, with less anger and sadness and more joy each time.

    Like

  4. I think those Christians who misjudge are intentionally or not in their own stage of delusion. They can't face the truth of why many apostates leave or they'll be faced with their own doubts.Love the cartoon too 🙂

    Like

  5. Great post!It's hard for me to say how much I was in denial. For a while there, I was kind of teetering back and forth between belief and disbelief, largely because my version of God wasn't supposed to be that involved in the day-to-day affairs; almost like the Deist concept, but yet not that distant.Anger is a phase I skipped in coping with the loss, but I do get a little angry when I see people do stupid things for their faith.Bargaining was my last-ditch attempt. Nearly at the point of acceptance, I said to myself "I have never read the Bible. I'll give faith one more try by reading the Bible and getting to know God that way." Of course, it didn't take long until I was utterly repulsed by the God which the Bible presented in the Old Testament, yet it intrigued me enough to keep reading. And there was probably a part of me that was still hoping for a while, but that part was killed when I read what the prophets really said.Depression was not so much felt, other than a soft ache in wanting the fairy tale to be true, wanting a happily ever after.

    Like

  6. @Ahab,Oddly enough just before I admitted my doubts I became fervently devout as well. I think maybe I wrote about it in another post, but I even started to cover my head when I prayed and worshiped. I tried to do everything "by the book".=====================================================@Paul Sunstone,You are right. Not everyone experiences all five stages and it totally depends on the person as to how long they stay in each stage. I personally experienced all five of the stages, but my loss of faith came just on the heels of the loss of my marriage so I'm sure the two co-mingled quite a bit.I was a little afraid that losing my job would put me into a tail spin, but I think having just come through that hellacious period that loss is kind of like, meh…shit happens. It ain't gonna kill me.===================================================@PrairieNymph,I think you're right. The loss of faith of some threatens the faith of others. If _____ can lose their faith, it might happen to me too. They might be relieved to know it isn't contagious. I also continue to cycle through the various stages. I've never been very angry at anyone else. I realized early on that no one I knew was intentionally deceptive. They all believe with every fiber of their being. It's hard to be mad at folks for believing what I myself believed. =================================================@TWF,I think I was in denial for longer than any other phase. Once I came out of denial the rest I cycled through pretty quickly. My anger was directed at myself, not others. I bargained quite a bit. Not only did I ask God to do "miraculous" things like bringing a dead plant back to life, I decided I'd refute all the skepticism by trying to find evidence to support my beliefs. It pretty much unraveled from there. I felt the depression pretty deeply. I'm not sure if it was a combo thing with my divorce or what. I just know that I had never been depressed like that before and hope I never feel that way again.

    Like

  7. I went through all those stages as a Christian. So, when I finally realized I could no longer call myself a Christian I felt relief! However, that did not change the fact that every single day I was still reeling from the effects of the spiritual abuse and legalism I was steeped in up to my pea-pickin' heart.It was after my honeymoon period post-deconversion that I started to go through some of those stages again, but now as a former Christian.

    Like

  8. Thanks for the link, and nice picture too! My last ditch effort was to bargain. Strangely, I've left that bargain in place just in case. I know that sounds silly, but every once and a while the fear of being wrong will hit me square in the face. I was also in denial for a long time before I even admitted to myself that I was beyond doubting. It took me a long time to say it out loud as well. Like it was finalizing something when I did. I'm so glad that you and myself for that matter have found beauty once again. :)Thanks for always making me think. You have such a way with words.

    Like

  9. I'm going to stick out and be different :-)I don't identify with any of the loss or grief at all. Instead, for me it was a logical step to make, given what I had learnt and realised previously.Okay, that's not entirely true, there was relief, and a bit of liberation, but not in the sense of offloading a burden, but in the realisation that the wonders of the world and beauty I so enjoy and appreciate are no less real without faith.I don't feel like I've lost something, I feel like I've gained a new appreciation of the world around me and its liberating.

    Like

  10. I'm not sure if I've lost my faith entirely. I don't identify with Christianity much anymore but I also haven't written off the supernatural entirely yet. That being said, I don't think I have or will go through the stages of grief. I'm not sure why, other than the relief has been welcome and the freedom to explore so liberating. Also, the concept of hell was so terrifying and dispicable to me that it makes it easier to let everything around it go. Mainly I think I've dealt with existential anxiety. What have you lost your faith in, D'Ma? Is it Christianity or belief in the supernatural entirely? Or something else?

    Like

  11. Great post idea. I really enjoyed reading the experiences of everyone. As for my own, there was no grief process because the loss of my religious faith was gradual over many years. I went from fundamentalist Christian to philosophical theist (non-Christian) to deist. As I slowly gave up as unreasonable divine intervention and eternal life, yet still finding myself retaining some sense of awe and mystery in the Cosmos, I settled into religious naturalism, or Pantheism. Truthfully, I have from time to time sensed a void where my religious faith used to be. But it is probably more nostalgia than anything. I was always uncomfortable with the problem of evil when I believed in a personal God. I will gladly deal with the void in order to sidestep the mental conflict posed by theodicy.

    Like

  12. @Zoe, I guess you could say I went through those stages as a Christian as well. It wasn't until the acceptance stage that I stopped referring to myself as such. That's the part where the relief came. All those other stages came while I was a Christian in turmoil, fighting with myself about what seemed rational and logical. On one hand telling myself that faith requires…well, faith. On the other knowing how irrational and ridiculous it all sounded.===================================================@TAW,Strangely, I've left that bargain in place just in case. I know that sounds silly, but every once and a while the fear of being wrong will hit me square in the face. That doesn't sound silly at all to me. I've essentially done the same thing. I'm not closed off to the idea that I could be wrong, but I'm gonna need some evidence to prove that to me. Maybe it's silly to others but I can totally relate. I wondered if everyone else was past that, or if I was the silly one.===================================================@limey,I certainly think it's different for different people. And to be perfectly honest the acceptance of the loss of faith has brought a lot of peace and relief. I'm no longer fighting with myself. It was while I was going through the learning and researching that I felt the first 4 stages. Things make much more sense to me this way and I find them much more beautiful than ever before. ===================================================@DoOrDoNot,I'm going to have a post up within the next couple of days to answer your thought provoking questions.===================================================@DougB,I can really see how going slowly from fundamentalist to progressive to deist would result in less distress. It kind of seemed that my little theological world came crashing down rather quickly, which I think was just really a lot for my brain to process.

    Like

  13. D'Ma: I'm not closed off to the idea that I could be wrong, but I'm gonna need some evidence to prove that to me. Maybe it's silly to others but I can totally relate. I wondered if everyone else was past that, or if I was the silly one.Although I was raised an agnostic, I used to wonder whether the Judeo-Christian deity could exist, and at times the question actually troubled me. That was before I read Joseph Campbell's four volumes, The Masks of God. At some point in my reading, I realized that for the Judeo-Christian God to be real, nothing else could make sense. In other words, I would need to abandon almost all reason and ignore almost all evidence to believe in it. Which, of course, was absurd.Folks say science and scholarship cannot disprove the existence of deity. In a sense they are right, but in my experience, science and scholarship can make it so that you would need to abandon reason and evidence to believe in Zeus, Yahweh, Shiva, or any other historical deity.By the way, if you've never treated yourself to Campbell, then perhaps you should. His writing style takes getting used to, but he could pack more insights into a short essay than most folks can pack into a book.

    Like

  14. Thanks for the book recommendation, Paul. I'll have to check that author out. I've never heard of him and I've often wondered how people settled it in their mind about the Judeo-Christian God. It sounded to me that they took all the available evidence and made their best judgement about it – their decision being a best guess, so to speak. Not that there's anything wrong with that, but for me it leaves me with this little nagging thought in my head that my best guess might not be the right one.

    Like

  15. I did ponder on the 'safe bet' attitude for a short while, but I very soon decided that I was unsatisfied with that position.For me, the whole point of faith in God was a life dedicated to His worship and I had decided to walk away from that. The safe bet option would have meant (for me at least) making a half-hearted effort at belief and I considered that a worse option than committing myself one way or the other.Didn't Jesus make some sort of reference to better to be hot or cold than luke warm?So, having considered making a safe bet, I decided against and have fully committed myself to the no camp.

    Like

  16. Oh and another thing….On the subject of the failure to disprove God. I now take the view that, while the evidence for no God is scant, so too is the evidence for God.Given that stalemate, its highly reasonable to assume not until the status quo changes.

    Like

  17. I agree, limey. Pascal's Wager falls short for me for that very reason. If God knows all won't he know I'm just hedging my bets? I didn't leave my bargain in place to hedge bets exactly. I'm leaving room for the possibility that I could be wrong. But I don't really know how to do anything half-hearted. My worship will be full and with purpose or not at all.

    Like

  18. I've gone through those stages, even while not giving up on the idea of christianity. Very little anger though, except the self-directed kind. I lost a community as well as faith, so grief was two-fold. Like DoOrDoNot, my main angst right now is existential, along with some practical questions of where to find community.

    Like

  19. Brilliant, well written post, per usual!Depression was huge for me because I was not only losing my relationship with God, but the quality of relationship with all my friends and family changed (they're all Christians), and my counseling business is built around Christian themes. It was like losing who I WAS, not just what I believed.But I'm coming to a place of acceptance now. I'll write my own post about where I'm at shortly.

    Like

  20. @LAC,All of my anger was self-directed. I can't think of a time when I was ever angry with others for "leading me astray". Mostly because I know that they weren't doing that in their own minds. They truly believe and it's hard to be angry with people for that. That used to be me. It feels good to come to a place where I can still search, I can still study without the anxiety of having to know the answers. That is a huge relief.===================================================@EI,Thanks!Well said. That's exactly how I felt. I wasn't just losing some belief. I was losing my whole self and it scared the daylights out of me. Acceptance is GOLDEN! ::big sigh of relief::

    Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s