Succeeding in the abandonment of faith
Overcoming psychological and social resistance
Religions stir up misguided feelings that generate inner tensions, such as sin and guilt. By virtue of original sin, the Judeo-Christian, victim of a curse, is born punished, sinful, potentially guilty, and must redeem himself. In order to face dangers, even imaginary ones such as hell, supernatural protection, such as that of the sacraments, is deemed necessary. Under the weight of such intimidation, all that remains is to pray, confess one's sins and atone. The one who succumbs to the feeling of guilt is trapped: he will have to perform ritualised acts to alleviate anxiety and follow precepts supposed to appease the deities. Man has a sickly propensity to anguish needlessly and to torture himself. It is not convenient to stop believing, because it means admitting that our life has, until now, been guided by mirages.
Those who move away from religion usually face psychological difficulties. It is difficult to abandon all religious practice, because it is a message of distancing addressed to all those who have encouraged it. How can abandonment of faith be achieved by overcoming negative feelings such as guilt or shame? How can we escape the religion of those close to us and face the gaze of others?
Autonomy of consciousness is of the order of vital necessity
When I announced publicly that I was leaving the Church, several people told me that I had a lot of courage. This surprised me, because I have never felt this way.
For me, the ingredients of the process were different. I was brought up in a culture where religion was at the top of the agenda, and I wanted to escape from this ideological framework by building a defence against the missionary aggression of the social environment, by refusing to submit to a doctrinal straitjacket, by expressing the imperative need to protect my freedom of conscience, by expressing indignation at the behaviour of the Church in the course of its history, by revolting against the religious indoctrination provided by the public schools, etc. It is a question of moving from being a docile member of a community characterised by an archaic vision of the world to a person with an autonomous way of thinking, all of which is seen as a vital momentum.
The approach is not a decision supported by the will, but responds to an internal necessity. I was asked "why did I do it?". I suspect that these people approve of society being shaped by a particular religion called "the" religion; however, for the sake of charity, let us assume that this is not a reproach, but a real question. Since society has made me a Catholic, it seems natural to ask myself: do I assume or decline the inheritance? It seemed necessary to me to escape the grip of religious ideologues. I don't like to talk about effort, because restraint would have cost me more. I don't understand why so many people refrain from critical work, self-censor themselves, and walk with their heads down in the silence of submission. This attitude is irresponsible, because it leaves the field open to religious activists. I simply want to do my job as a man, and one cannot become a truly accomplished human being without conquering one's autonomy and freedom of conscience. We are not victims of Fate; on the contrary, we must have the foresight to take our lives into our own hands.
It is an epistemological necessity for everyone to question the status of man: not be satisfied with what is said about it, discard what is not established, get rid of unrealistic desires and simply seek what is real. If we seek what warms the heart, we seek in our aspirations. It is in the real world that we must look for.
From another point of view, I have received messages from people who are suffering from having been heavily indoctrinated, who are trying to free themselves from moral dilemmas, who want to resolve conflicts of loyalty, or who are immersed in a painful situation caused by the faith of those around them. These suffering beings tell me that reading my texts does them a lot of good. Since my site meets a need, it was worth putting it online.
The journey towards coherence is a search for inner unity.
We can no longer, as in the past, ask society to be coherent since it has a duty to respect individual freedoms. Today, in a pluralistic environment, the dominant discourse is that teachings based on tradition are all respectable. For example, parents, the school or the Church teach without flinching that
Since our cultural reservoir is nothing more than a destructured jumble, individuals can no longer use it as a mental skeleton without going through a severe sorting process. What is acceptable for society - which must avoid hurting its members - is no longer acceptable at all for the individual, who must ensure its unity. For someone who does not want to give up the exercise of his or her judgement, the ordeal is unbearable. It is imperative to build a coherent vision of the world. A vision in scattered pieces, for lack of sufficient credit, does not allow one to have confidence in the future. While the promises of charlatans can be invalidated by the absence of expected results, those of religious preachers are absolutely unverifiable. When thought is corrupted by inconsistency, feelings are destabilised by insecurity.
Unable to identify with a culture with disparate components, anyone who claims to be a thinker is forced to clean up the mess in order to escape the unease and establish the necessary coherence. Faced with the magnitude of the task, many capitulate: Tradition replaces reflection, and the magic of celestial spirits replaces the laws of nature. The unconditional followers of Tradition can justify excision or sharia. Instead of building a personal philosophy according to their conscience, too many people allow themselves to be dictated to and allow their conscience to be reshaped. To see billions of human beings spending their lives tidying up their ideas in drawers whose borders are protected by taboos is a representative image of generalised nonsense, as well as of absurdity promoted to the rank of dogma.
In the scale of values, I place the need for coherence far above the desire to please and the need for wonderful. The feeling that life has meaning stems from the harmony between thoughts, emotions and actions. This is why inner coherence gives meaning. It is part of a more general project of personal development that supports the process of bringing a human being to full maturity. Establishing coherence is a task that everyone must accomplish in order to avoid malaise, or even to avoid falling into a dissociative identity disorder. Religion often has a disruptive role, especially for those who have questions. What is discordant must be extracted from within oneself. Everyone must find his or her own balance, because we lack psychologists who specialise in religious detoxification. All human beings are obliged to do so, but most of them botch the operation or leave it to the nearest religious authority who replaces contradictions with mysteries and trust in God. The community of believers puts pressure to prevent any questioning. All the data is available and, for the most part, widely known, but few draw the consequences. The only thing that is missing is the ability to go beyond the indoctrination received to conclude with lucidity, i.e. to make arguments take precedence over attachment to faith.
We don't choose the cultural cage that imprisons our consciousness, but many choose to stay in it and are content to lengthen the chains a little. The believer does not even imagine that he can choose his way, since the path is given and it is his duty to follow it. To truly free oneself from the grip of religion, one must give oneself the right to think for oneself, that is, no longer feel morally obliged to align oneself with a supposedly true doctrine. The question of the meaning of life is too important for me to entrust to a questionable authority the task of deciding what to believe. I am horrified at the idea that life could have a meaning, the same for everyone - in this case dictated by the Vatican - which would oblige me to follow that meaning in submission and obedience.
It was, fortunately, only a nightmare, and I woke up: I was no longer a hostage of the Kneeling tribe who, under certain conditions, promise happiness in another world and who generously associate immediate guilt with many sins. Since ideological systems have difficulty in curbing their hegemonic and totalitarian tendencies, one of the missions of philosophy should be to provide a framework for the exercise of individual freedom in which each person can define the meaning of his or her life, which is a personal matter. The "revelation" lies deep within oneself and is expressed through a life project. Openness to pluralism and diversity is a necessary virtue. Individual freedoms can partly combine and, through democracy, become popular will. Since authority comes from below, it cannot fall from the sky.
The removal of internal conflicts is a mental hygiene imperative that requires getting rid of dissonant elements. It is a process of de-cluttering, lightening, stripping and cleansing. Rather than a faith with infantile roots, it is better to accept with humility our state of ignorance. Since there is no point in escaping from one religion to fall back into another, it is by developing a personal philosophical vision that one can drive away inherited beliefs. Renunciation implies the dissolution of emotional ties with all forms of esotericism, including religious ones, and the overcoming of all related taboos. To mark the difficulty of freeing oneself from superstition, we can recall the biblical message:
"Make every effort to enter through the narrow door, because many, I tell you, will try to enter and will not be able to" [Luke 13:24]
which, in our context, takes on a new meaning.
On the other hand, to talk about a superhuman effort to be made would be misplaced since it involves leaving an uncomfortable, even painful position. I speak of a path, but it is in fact the deconstruction of a gigantic doctrine, followed by the reconstruction of a minimal philosophy within which personal projects can find a place and make sense.
Most ideologies, religions and Soviet communism, use the same arguments: real life is not here now, but in the bright future; the present must be sacrificed to a mythical future happiness. It is in the name of a bright future that both the Inquisition and the Gulags were justified. Selective indignation does not express an aspiration for justice, but a partisan spirit, without concern for consistency. Rather than placing my trust in a myth, I entrust my opinion to the judgment of history, which shows that religion cannot serve as a compass and that it does not protect against abuses.
On the contrary, my opinion is that real life is here now, and that happiness must be sought here now. Let us learn to savour the precious present time that flows within us instead of soaking up utopias. Whoever, in order to justify his actions, renounces appealing to the will of God or to the sense of history (better called religious ideology, respectively historical utopia) reinforces his personal responsibility towards his children and humanity.
The idea of a supreme watchmaker betrays a deterministic conception of science that is now outdated. The believer, in his inability to believe in a world that would not be augmented by marvellous, remains insensitive to the sufficient depth of nature. Everything that is added to naivety by myth is subtracted from reality and impoverishes the rational understanding of the universe. To appeal to superstitions is a kind of denial of reality that only adds problems to our shortcomings, because contradictions bring more suffering than ignorance. Enriching and embellishing one's life with religious beliefs is an illusion that can only be deflated by presenting insurmountable disadvantages. Our ancestors did it, but I wouldn't go so far as to pretend that it was a success. There is no evidence that the success of the missionary deployments of colonisation produced any less damage than the failure of the crusades. Religious ideologies have too strong a propensity for totalitarianism. Absolute Truth being madness, wisdom is found in doctrinal parsimony. One can kill in the name of a religion that promotes feelings of identity, but certainly not in the name of a reasoned refusal to get involved in a religion. As a way of defusing feelings of identity, culture in the broadest sense is a more appropriate domain. According to the principle of parsimony, reason requires us to adopt only a minimum set of necessary rules. Believing as little as possible is an objective that has a double aspect: personal and pacifying. Spirituality must aim at detachment from dependencies whose necessity is not proven, in particular the extinction of the desire to believe. Harmony does not develop from desire, but from coherence.
We must build new references and recognise that science generates culture. As far as I am concerned, the epistemology of science has played a decisive role. Confidence in reason and self-confidence are not foreign to the process.
There are several paths open to those who stray from the faith
Since religion is an inappropriate way of responding to a widespread fear of the future, in order to overcome what is felt to be a need, it is necessary to acquire a certain amount of confidence in the future. An unavoidable step on the way is to honestly face the ultimate test:
This phase in the evolution of mental dispositions plays a founding role for me. It is less a question of saying yes to death than of saying yes to the life that precedes death, a whole life whose fulfilment must be accompanied.
The path towards inner unity must be marked out, otherwise it could lead to a radical or extreme position, i.e. dangerous for others. Before embarking on this path, we must set up safeguards, set ourselves an impassable limit: respect for human rights. This is respect for people, without exception. On the other hand, ideologies and religions can all be questioned.
Those who have been indoctrinated must first de-indoctrinate themselves. It is well known that rational arguments have little effect on believers. It follows that, in order to move away from faith, one must first identify the emotional attachments and work to weaken them. Reason can only take over when emotions and feelings have been calmed. A personal process can more easily succeed if it can be carried out within the framework of a coherent discourse. Propaganda that religion is good and brings salvation should no longer be accepted without discussion. To do this, two tools are to be preferred: the critical analysis of religion and the study of the behaviour of the religious community, without complacency. Reason imposes a rigid but broad framework. It is not that of a straitjacket, but that of the door to freedom.
Here are four ways:
This list does not claim to be exhaustive. It should be seen less as ready-made answers than as a state of mind that could perhaps allow some people to chart their own course. All of these pathways can be seen as methods of personal development leading to a state of well-being, or at least betterment.
How I got rid of negative feelings
The human being is crossed by contradictory feelings that complicate the situation by coming in turn to beg for spontaneous trust. In order to reduce inner tensions and to have a compass at one's disposal, a rational approach must select the most relevant feelings and sculpt them.
For those who have been heavily indoctrinated, getting religion out of one's mind is a real nightmare. I had to overcome many scruples, moral, social, theological and philosophical obstacles. To accomplish the work that led me to let go, the mathematician that I am has been constantly stimulated by a visceral allergy to contradictions. I have studied each question in depth, which has resulted in so many sections of my website Resisting religious indoctrination. Wherever I looked, the conclusion was invariably the same: the religion I was taught does not hold water.
I could have been born into a family with different beliefs. As a result, I consider myself to have inherited an arbitrary religion, endorsed by chance. I don't feel obliged to take it over. Conscience being an individual matter, I do not feel bound by a trans-generational duty of loyalty. The aspiration to be a fulfilled human being prevails over the religious aspect of social conformism. Those who take a hostile view of my opinions do not respect my individual freedom; it is therefore not for me to bear the burden of guilt for a fault that is theirs.
The guilt of betraying my community has affected me very little. If it is the fear of rejection, shame on them. I feel a kind of pity for people whose spirits have been imprisoned by the indoctrination they have undergone. I feel compassion to see them struggling with certain conflicts of conscience, imaginary for me, real for them. As long as their faith does not cause them too much suffering, I avoid any proselytism. This is my way of respecting them, despite the fact that many of them have not spared their missionary efforts.
The shame of having accepted an aberrant doctrine for too long has never touched me. On the contrary, I am proud that, despite the intensive and massive indoctrination I have undergone, I have been able to demonstrate a strong resilience.
Taking action: publicly displaying one's spiritual orientation
Everyone has to find the path that suits his or her particular situation. I started by writing "thoughts" on loose sheets of paper that I put together in a folder. At first they seemed disparate, but after a while, once rearranged, a certain coherence emerged. This step allowed me to start from a base that could be called "Here is my opinion". As this opinion was presented in a communicable form, it became possible to express it socially.
Then, proceeding in steps, I displayed my spiritual orientation, first in my family and then publicly.
In any case, it is necessary to show a lot of perseverance, and above all to never accept to give up.
Asking for help
Faced with the difficulties that one may encounter when leaving one's religion, the help of people who have gone through it, or who are in the same situation, can be beneficial.
The website Recovering from Religion is an international non-profit organisation that provides assistance to people leaving their religion: discussion groups, help and advice.
The journey towards liberation from the grip of religion, when it is successful, leads to the letting go that follows the fainting of the Last Judgement. The new mental landscape thus freed from the mysteries of the theologians - which in fact cover up contradictions - is very enjoyable for those who are in love with rationality. It celebrates the victory of harmony over tension.
I find it regrettable that many leave the Church without notifying their family circle on the pretext that they want to avoid hurting their loved ones. Anyone who justifies himself by accusing his social environment of lack of understanding betrays his uneasiness in the face of his own convictions, which he finds difficult to assume. He probably wants to hide his feelings of guilt or shame, which means that letting go is not achieved. Silence expresses submission to the gaze of others.
Religion attributes great value to the human person. Some constructive aspects of this attitude can be recycled, among which I place self-respect, dignity and honour. Unlike other mammals, man lives upright.
A transparent social attitude contributes to making peace with oneself. In my opinion, one can verify that one has reached the end of the journey if, after leaving the Church, one is able to say publicly:
I have left the Church and I am not hiding from it. I am "without religion".
I remain aware that happiness can take other paths, but I am convinced that all the paths leading to it are necessarily long and demanding since they require nothing less than giving coherence to one's life. I am not asking anyone to imitate me, but I hope that everyone will be able to unblock their independence of mind and find the path that suits them. It would be a pleasure for me to collect the testimony of a personal approach. You can leave a comment on my blog mazze-en.blogspot.com
A substitution therapy
In the event of a blockage, the approach must be reworked. One could, for example, read in its entirety «Resisting religious indoctrination» (sequential version).
Repeated failures are symptoms of religious addiction. When a believer experiences withdrawal symptoms, treatment consists of using substitute spirituality:
The treatment is also indicated for detoxification cures for victims of religious obsession.
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