Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Going back to God? Advice to an atheist in pain

I received the following from an atheist friend on Facebook - a young atheist, with an atheist spouse and two children well on their way to becoming freethinkers.

“I’ve been under enormous stress lately; the tragic loss of loved ones, anxiety ... stuff.  How do I cope with this without blaming "God" or wanting it to help me? I was raised Christian so I keep finding myself wanting to make god somehow a part of it and it isn’t making it easier since I am well aware that it doesn’t exist. I really just need some advice on how to do this while keeping it real!” – J.

My response:

Dear J.,
So sorry you've had to go through so much.

I assume you've been getting professional attention for your anxiety. If you haven’t then I encourage you to do so because there is no reason to suffer with medical science’s advancements. That said, I won't attempt any Psych 101 with you. 

As for the God thing ... relax. It is perfectly normal.  The religion meme runs very deep in humans. It will often reemerge in times of stress over powering your reason and logic. Having the inclination to ask “god” for support, or blaming it for your situation is not uncommon during periods of high stress and loss among otherwise rational non-believers who were indoctrinated early and raised in religious doctrine. How easy it is to wish there was really a comforting god to appeal to to relieve the pain; or a heaven at which to shake your fist, vent your anger, and demand answers for some perceived injustice.  It certainly would be cathartic and comforting.  You'd be doing the same thing if you were an Indian atheist raised in an ultra religious Hindu family - except the god/s in question might have a trunk, fangs or multiple appendages.  

I personally don't experience the god blame/appeal syndrome because I was fortunate to not have religious parents, thus virtually no religious upbringing.  But people like me are the minority in this country.

On the other hand, if you weren’t seeking help for your anxiety and instead opted to rely on “God’s intervention;”  or were blaming a mythical god for your problems instead of rationally reflecting on their natural cause and how to address them, then you would have justification for concern.   By virtue of your inquiry clearly that's not the case. You are aware that only reason, reality, and the effect of chemical reactions on the brain are in charge right now. Only time and a rational approach will heal and comfort.  

Right now your challenge is to get the anxiety managed professionally. If you do you’ll feel better and that specter of concern over backsliding into religious self deception will evaporate as gods always do when exposed to the light of science and reason.

Hang in there; you've got a camel friend in NH.

- Hump


NewEnglandBob said...

Terrific advice.

Dromedary Hump said...

TY, Bob.

Jane said...

Ditto New England Bob. You have perfect timing. I have fallen back on occasion lately with twinges of "just one prayer can't hurt" Oh, but it can. It is a useless activity which gives the illusion of "doing something positive" My daughter's 48 1/2 year old real father, (and my first husband) may die due to a blood clot in his brain stem and heart. He is uninsured, and not able to collect social security or medicare due to a paperwork screw up from many years ago.... The medical bills from my current husband's fall off a ladder and trip to the ICU have began to arrive and though I am insured, they put a real dent in our budget. I have dealt with more grief and trauma in the last 12 months than a person should have to...but not once have I prayed. I suck it up and do everything in my power to find a solution. And I feel far better on my feet than I ever did on my knees begging.

Dromedary Hump said...

Thanks for sharing that, Jane. Hope things turn around for you soon.

Jim Hudlow said...

Excellent advice Hump. I would add just one other thing along with professional help and that is to take your problems one at a time. I tend to let mine pile up on my event horizon and then they become seemingly insurrmountable in the short term. But they are not if taken one at a time and properly prioritized. I too come from a non theist home and am so happy that is the case. My own issues will be piling up soon in some critical areas but religious woo woo will not be what I rely on to get me through. I have my brains, my instincts, and 5 bucks on next week's powerball lottery.

Den!s said...

J. was raised a christian, and is suffering a form of PTSD which needs to be addressed. It's shameful.... shameful I tell ya, what religion in general and christianity specifically can do to you long after you think that you have escaped it's evil bloody talons. Upsets me greatly that this guy is going through this crappola. I hope he takes your most excellent advice.

Dromedary Hump said...

Jim...thanks, and good luck on that powerball ticket.

Denis... PTSD is a good description.

gristleoflife said...

I like how you used the term "backsliding". The very antithesis of the original meaning for christians.

Graham ASH-PORTER said...

Look down you see shit.
Look up (priests, Gods etc.) you see arseholes.
Look within, discover your own inner resources.
I did and survived prostate Cancer...

longhorn believer said...

First, let me send my best wishes to everyone here who is dealing with hard times including the person to whom Hump wrote this. You've already taken one very important step on the road to getting better, and that is that you reached out for help. There is indeed no god that is going to miraculously solve the problem. But religion itself does provide some useful tools, and one of those is community and support. Everyone needs that, even atheists. We just look for other places to get the support we need, and the Internet is good place to start. Also, look for atheist groups you can join. Go to meetup.com and see if there is an atheist group that meets in your area.

Secondly, I want to pass on a skill that I have learned from a professional psychologist. I am a recent atheist as well. My medical doctors kept recommending cognitive behavioral therapy for depression. So, I findly looked into it and gained some coping skills that have totally changed my life. The therapist, ironically enough, turned out to be agnostic. I didn't know that when I picked her out of the list. That must be a sign, right? Just kidding!!

Here is the professional advice I'm passing along. It's important to deal with anger, grief, and depression in a physical manner. For example, go for a run. Go some place where you can yell and scream. Hit a punching bag or pillow. Throw rocks. Writing about the problem can be very helpful too. It may sound hokey, but it really does work in addition to planning and taking action to deal with the problem itself. Perhaps this is one of the reasons studies show that prayer and meditation have real medical benefits. It gives people a physical release of the emotions inside. So, try replacing prayer with a physical action, writing in a diary, or meditation (the non spiritual variety). Fully embrace the grieving process. That is how we heal.

MaryLynne said...

I shed faith about 10 years ago and I'm comfortably and firmly a "strong atheist", but the vestiges remain. When I was a child I was taught to say a prayer for the injured whenever I hear an ambulance siren. The other day a blaring ambulance went by, and out of some ancient habit I thought to say a prayer. I didn't, but realized that there was nothing I could do to help the hurt person. I could vote for health care or hospital levies, volunteer somewhere, and use healthy habits myself, but in reality I was helpless to help right at that moment. Prayer gives the illusion of being able to help at any time.

I've also recently been having lots of conversations in my head - "If we won a huge lottery I would . . " and "If I found a magic lamp and could make any wish I would . . " I do what I can personally (volunteer with Obama campaign, donate money, take care of my family) but I'm feeling discouraged about the state of world and the amount of unnecessary human suffering and lost potential. I feel like I'm helplessly watching a train wreck. I realized the other day that if I were still religious my "If I found . ." fantasies would be prayers. I would love to feel I was doing something.

BTW - my main wish for the genie-fairy is "All humans develop and start using strong critical thinking skills," and I have a list of them printed out if s/he needs help with it. It's what I came up with that will improve life for the most people over the longest time with the fewest bad side effects that I can think of. Because I've read "The Monkey's Paw" and "Magic Street," and wish-granting entities can be dicks.