Thursday, August 3, 2017

Starting a Podcast!



The idea of starting a podcast has been simmering in the back of my mind for a while now. One of the most influential activities for me upon leaving religion was listening to podcasts. I learned SO MUCH and gained insight I wouldn't have otherwise had. I started to think that I would love to be able to have that kind of impact on someone else by sharing my story and experiences. That is why I started getting involved in the atheist/secular/skeptical community. Whatever you want to call it.

First I started this blog, which I, admittedly, have been rather inactive on. Then I started meeting people online and was invited to share my story on several podcasts such as, Secular Sexuality, No Religion Required, Dogma Debate, The Zachrilege Cast and The Thinking Atheist. I found that, even though I enjoy writing and am reasonably good at it, I don't often find the time and quiet I need to actually sit down and write. I can get my thoughts out more quickly and possibly more effectively by talking and, especially, conversing. Podcasting is also an easier medium for many people to consume because it can be completely discreet and allows them to do other things while listening. That has always been what I love so much about podcasts and audiobooks. I'm a busy wife and mother and I need to be multi-tasking pretty much non-stop. To sit down and read something is terribly inconvenient (though necessary at times). I totally get it and want to provide that medium to those who are interested in hearing what I have to say.

I wasn't originally thinking that Patrick would be involved in my podcast if I ever started one because he didn't seem very interested in activism. He had traveled the journey along with me, for the most part, but was a lot less passionate about it. We just have different personalities in that way. Well, he's recently gotten a lot more interested in activism and wants to be involved in the stuff I'm doing and it's been really fun to do things together! This past weekend, speaking with him at the Secular Saturday Convention, about supporting loved ones through deconversion, was really fun! He's an amazing person with wonderful insights to share. He's excited, along with me, to start this podcast and get our voices and our story out there in hopes that it could help someone in some way.

Things really got rolling with the podcast idea when our friend, Chris Watson of The Podunk Polymath Podast, came for a visit recently and we shared with him that we had considered starting a podcast, but weren't really sure if it would actually be successful or if we would have enough content. He greatly encouraged us to do it and all but guaranteed us that we'd be successful at it. We were still skeptical, but it got us thinking some more. Well, shortly after that, Chris posted on Facebook about Patrick and I "hypothetically" starting a podcast and there was a significant response to it, which kind of blew me away! People actually want to hear what we have to say? They would support us financially? Holy shit! Maybe we could do this!

The biggest obstacle, though, was the cost of getting started. We would need to get equipment such as, mics, interface, pop filters, headsets, a podcast hosting platform, etc. It all seemed a bit overwhelming, but we were starting to plan to get a few things here and there and eventually get started. Well, at the Ark Encounter protest that Patrick and I attended together, our friends Brittany and Johnny Pike gave us a podcasting package that had a mic, mic stand, interface and headset! With that we were more than halfway there! So we got another mic and a few other things on Amazon and suddenly we had all the hardware we needed! We seriously have the best friends!

We've received so much encouragement and advice. It's truly amazing and overwhelming. I'm very excited to get started and see where this takes us. Hopefully we don't totally suck at it! Haha. It'll be fun even if we do though.

Thank you to all of those who have encouraged us and supported us in making this decision! It wouldn't be happening without your support! We've already had people pledging support on our Patreon page even before we've officially launched any episodes! That blows me away!

Find/Contact us:
Facebook: www.facebook.com/reallifebeyondfaith
Twitter: @RLBFpod
Email: reallifebeyondfaith@gmail.com
Patreon: https://www.patreon.com/reallifebeyondfaith

Sunday, May 7, 2017

The Mom Delusion

Sometimes I hate being a mom...

Just thinking that makes me feel awful and here I am writing it down for all to see. I don't usually voice this feeling because I never want to come off sounding ungrateful or for those of us with no sense of nuance to think I mean that I hate being a mom ALL the time. That is certainly not the case.

However, there are those days, and sometimes weeks, in which I feel overwhelmed, frustrated, irritable and tired of hearing "Mommy!" I get tired of being needed all the time. It's exhausting. At home I'm needed by my kids, my husband and my pets and at work I'm needed by customers (server/bartender). If I get around to my own needs it a huge accomplishment!

What I've realized lately is that there is nothing wrong with feeling this way. I don't have to be perfect for everyone. I had an idea in my head when I decided that I was 'ready' to be a mom and I now refer to that idea as the 'mom delusion.' I thought that, in some way, becoming a mother would complete me or would give meaning to my life. I thought that I would be amazing at parenting and not make any of the mistakes I've seen other parents make. I thought I'd be able to make my children behave and listen to me. Excuse me while I laugh hysterically at that one. Hahahahahahahaha!

Also, as a Christian woman at the time, I believed that a woman's purpose in life was to be a godly wife and mother. Now I know that we each create our own purpose and it can take so many amazing forms. Being a mom doesn't have to be one of those (or a wife for that matter). A woman without children is not less of a woman.

When I came to that realization I had to ask myself the questions, "Do I regret having kids?" "Am I one of those women who would have thrived without children holding her back from her accomplishments?" "Does my depression and anxiety prevent me from being a good mother?" "Am I just passing my mental illness on to the next generation?" Ultimately, the answer to those questions doesn't change the fact that I already have kids, but it was a really difficult thing for me to face, at the time. I concluded that if I had never had kids I would have lived the rest of my life wishing that I had. My boys have been a challenge for me (mostly due to my mental illness and difficulty coping), but more than that they have brought unspeakable joy to my life. I do not regret having them.

I would like to address this 'mom delusion' though (it could also easily be the 'dad delusion'). Before we have kids of our own we all think we know what parenting is going to be like and what it's going to mean for our lives. We read a couple parenting books and think we have all the answers. We listen to pastors and mentors in our lives who tell us that children are a blessing from God and that it will enrich our lives. As young women, we're taught that we were created to bear and nurture children. And so on and so forth... We all have different ideas and expectations. This is just a general list of some of the things I believed or was taught.

The truth of the matter is that every single person is different and their skills, their needs and their purpose are different from one person to the next. Parenting is hard and should be approached with respect and fear by prospective parents. Some people are more equipped with the skills and patience needed to be wonderful parents and some people should stick to what they're good at and not be pressured by family, friends or anyone else to have children that they don't want.

I used to think that I wanted a large family of at least 4 or 5 kids. I realized, after dropping my 'mom delusion,' that I was quite happy with just my 2 beautiful boys and that was plenty for me. I no longer believe I'm called to bear fruit and populate the Earth. It turns out that the Earth is already over-populated! I'm going to turn my attention to my 2 boys and try to help them to become the best humans they can possibly be and, in the process, they will probably help me to become the best human I can be.

Sometimes I love being a mom...

Friday, May 13, 2016

Ways to Support a Loved One Who is Losing Their Faith


Losing one's faith can be one of the most difficult and painful experiences of a person's life. For many, including myself, it felt like the death of a loved one. I lost a huge part of my identity when I lost my faith and, in some ways, those aspects of my identity will never be replaced. For some the loss may not feel quite as intense, but there is still a sense of loss, whether it's the loss of a community, a tradition, a comfort zone, etc.

One of the most important things for a person losing their faith is having a support system. However, that is often exactly what they lose when they are honest with people about their non-belief or growing doubts. So what are some ways that we can be the support that our loved one needs during this difficult transition?


  1. Listen. I can't stress this enough. Allow them to talk openly with you without judgment. One of the most therapeutic things they can do is just unload all of the frustration and disappointment by verbalizing it to a caring, non-judgmental ear.
  2. Don't take it personally. Whatever they are experiencing is their own journey. Even if you don't like the conclusions they're drawing, try to keep in mind that it's not about you. Don't constantly remind them that their loss of faith is hurting YOU! Keep in mind that it probably hurts them worse. Also, this is a time when tensions and emotions may be high and hurtful words might be said. They are probably experiencing some grief and may lash out. I know it's easier said than done, but try to be as patient and forgiving as possible. There's no good excuse for hurtful language, but if you can ride this out with them your relationship will grow through it. My husband was incredible in this area for me.
  3. Be patient. Like I said in the last point, you'll need to be patient, forgiving and as understanding as possible. Their grieving process could take months or it could take years. It's difficult to have a complete change in your world view. It's difficult to feel that everything you believed and lived for has suddenly been ripped out from under you. It takes time to get used to a new outlook on life and the world. Patience from the people around you makes a huge difference!
  4. Be a shoulder to cry on. Your loved one may or may not have an emotional reaction to losing their faith. I certainly cried on many occasions and I'll never forget how loving and supportive my husband was in those times. He was still a Christian at the time, but he knew that what I was going through was really hard on me so he would just hold me while I cried. Those times could have been so much worse if he wasn't there to help me through it.
  5. Validate their feelings. Even if what they are feeling is not what you think they should be feeling, it doesn't matter. The fact of the matter is that they are experiencing this in exactly their own way and your job is to be their support through it. Acknowledge to them that you recognize that what they are experiencing is hard. When they express anger, say things like, "That must make you pretty mad." When they express disappointment, say something like, "How disappointing." These simple phrases communicate to them that you are listening and empathizing. It may seem silly that you are just repeating their emotions back to them, but it truly helps a person to feel like they are really being heard.
  6. Respect their conclusion. I was going to say, "Respect their decision," but, in reality, it's more of a conclusion than a decision. You can't really choose to believe something. You either believe it or you don't. A person bases their beliefs on the evidence presented to them (keep in mind that some people's understanding of what constitutes evidence is different than others). Could you decide to believe that gravity didn't exist and then jump off a tall building? My guess is that your answer is "No" because the evidence is too overwhelming for you to deny the existence of gravity. Respect that, even if the conclusions they've drawn aren't the same as yours, they couldn't change their mind just by choosing to.
  7. Don't try to control or fix the situation. You may feel the overwhelming urge to try to fix the situation or to make them feel better right away. As much as it sucks, you can't fix it! You don't need to fix it. The best and most helpful thing you can do is listen (and all of the other things I suggest here, of course).
  8. Recognize that they may be going through the grief process. Grieving can be a long and difficult process, but it's healthy and normal. Like I mentioned above, losing my faith felt like the death of a loved one to me. I went through several of the stages of grief. A list of the stages and a description of each is here.
  9. Communicate openly and honestly about YOUR feelings. Just because you are the supportive person to your loved one going through this difficult time doesn't mean that you can't/won't experience emotions of your own over it. You may also be feeling the disappointment, anger, denial, sadness, etc. that they are feeling. It's good to communicate openly about your feelings without making it seem that you are blaming them. Communication and honesty are critical to maintaining a strong relationship, especially when going through a crisis.
  10. Do NOT use Pascal's Wager as an argument for faith. Pascal's Wager is the idea that it's better to believe in God and be wrong than to not believe in God and be wrong and suffer the consequences. This is a ridiculous argument for many reasons that I won't go into here. You can read more about why this argument doesn't work here. Just don't use that argument on someone who has lost their faith. It's very dismissive of their position and, like I said before, a person who doesn't believe can't force themself to believe. Belief just doesn't work that way.
If you're a person who took the time to read this article the chances are that you are probably already a caring, supportive person wanting to improve and be even better at it. You are to be commended for that! I hope that these suggestions are helpful to you.

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Saturday, April 30, 2016

When She Died I Wasn't There


A few days ago was the 7 year anniversary of the death of one of my husband's best friends from high school, Liz. Seven years ago she was running near the college where she was in her senior year and was training for a race. She was struck by a vehicle on the road where she was running and was killed. It was devastating to all who knew her, especially those who were close to her and loved her. My husband had been a very close friends with her and her death hit him very hard.

This tragic accident happened about 8 months after I started dating Patrick. Our relationship took off quickly and we fell hard for each other fast. However, there was something hanging over my head that I couldn't shake all through our relationship. Since our relationship progressed so quickly we were drawn to each other like magnets and we had sex early on in our relationship, despite our conviction to abstain till marriage. I had already lost my virginity, but had abstained for 3 years prior to meeting him and Patrick had abstained until meeting me. I found that out after the fact, which was devastating to me in its own way (I felt that I had ruined something sacred for him).

Well, I couldn't shake the shame and guilt I felt over what we had done and it had gotten so bad that 8 months in I couldn't pray or read my Bible without crippling guilt and depression. So I went to him one night at his apartment and told him that I believed that God wanted us to break up and that I felt the conviction that I didn't love Jesus more than I loved him and that our relationship would never work if we didn't put Christ first. He was completely shocked and terribly upset by this and asked me if this was permanent or temporary. I told him it was indefinite, but that we had to treat it like it was permanent because I wasn't sure what God wanted for us. I hadn't seen him cry until that night. Tears were streaming down his face and I was trying to maintain my resolve, because I truly believed I was doing the right thing even though it hurt so badly.

I left that night a complete wreck. I missed him immediately and I couldn't shake the image of him crying, confused and terrified that he would lose me forever. I was terrified that I would lose him too, but I truly believed that the reason I had felt so awful the preceding months was because our relationship wasn't blessed by God. So I drove home crying and broken and missing the love of my life.

Well, a couple weeks later Liz died and this was only 3 months after another one of his best friends from high school died as well. She died and I wasn't there for him. He was facing one of the hardest struggles of his life thus far and the woman he loved (who loved him back equally) wasn't there to hold and comfort him like she should have been. Instead, I was off praying desperately to a God, who never answered, to give me a sign that we were supposed to be together.

He called me in tears, telling me what had happened to Liz and I made the decision to go with him to the funeral. I told him that I was going with him as a friend and I tried to maintain that distance even though every bone in my body was crying out to hold him and sooth him. I wanted to kiss his tears away and be his only comfort, but instead I was distant and reserved.

This is the kind of thing that bullshit breeds. It breeds more bullshit. Damaging, painful, senseless bullshit. I felt awful while we were dating, not because we needed to break up, but because I was buried in religious guilt and shame over something harmless. We loved each other and in the passion of our love we "made love." That was what burdened me so greatly and caused me to almost lose the most amazing person I've ever met.

A month or so after we broke up we went on a long walk together to talk about things and decided to get back together and to not have sex anymore until we got married, but by then the damage was already done. I had already lost my opportunity to be the real support he needed in his time of grief over losing Liz. I had already hurt him. And we didn't even stop having sex. We did several times after that too and I'm glad because those are some of the most sensual, erotic memories I have. They still fuel my lust for him today!

As an atheist I think back on this situation with anger and resentment. I realize now that what was causing me so much discomfort in our relationship was guilt, not conviction. I realize that loving Christ more than Patrick does not make our relationship stronger. In fact, I don't even believe in Christ anymore and our relationship is stronger than it's ever been. It's memories like this that remind me how damaging religious ideas can truly be, when they are taken seriously, and it makes me want to shout from the rooftops that it's bullshit, in hopes that someone like me will hear it and be freed from the chains of faith.

Friday, November 20, 2015

Why I Am Openly Secular


The decision of whether or not to be open about being an atheist or agnostic is a real struggle for a lot of people. In many parts of the world, but especially here in the U.S., it's looked down upon to be secular. I think many just don't think that it's worth the trouble to voice their opinions on the matter or stir up controversy. Some were raised non-religious and just don't really care to get involved. They just want to live their lives and avoid the subject. Others have left religion and don't want to upset believing family and friends with news of their deconversion. Then there are some who can face serious harm for coming out about their unbelief. They may face anything from being kicked out of their home as a teenager with nowhere to go to being hacked to death with a machete for having an atheist blog in the wrong part of the world. For many people the reasons to not voice their unbelief are legitimate and certainly understandable. For others, I would like to encourage them to speak up and be open about their non-belief. Everyone must decide for themselves what is best for them and how honest about their non-belief they want to be.

I would like to share why I have decided to speak up and why I think it's important for those in the position to do so to also speak up.

Honesty

I want the people who know me to know the real me. If my family or friends like and respect me based on the person I'm pretending to be, then I feel like it's cheap and not legitimate, because they don't actually know who I really am. I am the type of person who chooses to be an open book. You can ask me literally anything about myself and I will tell you without hesitation. A big part of that is because I love to be open and real with people, but another part of that is because I know that being honest and sharing my experiences and thoughts can help others who have experienced the same things or have had the same thoughts and may feel alone.

I know what it feels like to live a lie. I've been there. There was a time in my life when almost no one knew me for who I really was. I lied about everything to cover up for other lies and I sneaked around behind the backs of the people I loved so that I could get away with the shady things I was doing. That was the most miserable, unfulfilling time of my life and I learned from that experience that I cannot live that way ever again.

Honesty was one of the main reason I told everyone in my life that I am now an atheist. I figured that if I lost relationships over this admission then that was a relationship I should lose anyway. I don't want relationships with people that are based on a lie about who I am, what I believe and how I view the world. The relationships worth keeping are the ones with people who like me for who I really am.

That being said, honesty doesn't mean that I need to say, publicly, everything that is on my mind or share every Facebook post that I agree with that may be offensive to the people I love. This is where the thin line is drawn between being honest about who I am and being unnecessarily offensive and rude. I'll admit that I've crossed this line for myself from time to time. Just because I'm passionate about secular values doesn't mean I should drive a wedge in the relationships that I hold incredibly dear with believers. However I do feel a need to walk that line because there are some things that I believe need to be said that may come off as offensive to some, but that I feel are extremely important. I will explain why below.

Opportunity

I am in the position of experiencing very little loss or resistance for my unbelief (aside from the personal grief of losing my faith). My family is loving and accepting of me; I have a job that is not in jeopardy due to my unbelief; I have an amazing husband who will stay by my side and support me no matter what; and I live in a country in which I can speak my mind freely and openly without fear of imprisonment or worse.

With this combination of circumstances I feel that I am in the perfect position to speak up and I know that many people in much worse circumstance have spoken up and dealt with the consequences. To not do so myself seems criminal in light of their sacrifices.

Raising Awareness of Injustice

I've been asked the questions, "Why do you have to be so public about your non-belief? Why not just keep it to yourself?"

I've thought long and hard about these questions and only under the following circumstances will I keep quiet:

When the religious stop pushing their beliefs and religious ideas on others;

When the religious stop trying to legislate based on their specific religious beliefs;

When children are no longer being indoctrinated to believe that there is something wrong with them from the day they were born and that if they fail to follow the specific god that their parents believe in they will be sentenced to an eternity of fiery torment or otherwise punished;

When facts, evidence, science and true history becomes what children are taught in schools;

When gay, lesbian, transgender, bisexual and queer people are no longer discriminated against based on an ancient book;

When LGBTQ and atheist teens are no longer kicked out of their homes with nowhere to go;

When what is counted as more important is a person's love and kindness toward the people and the world around them rather than what god they believe in;

When young people can be taught safe and healthy sex practices to keep them alive, healthy and free of unwanted pregnancy instead of taught that having sex is defiling their bodies and they just shouldn't do it;

When violence in the name of an invisible being ceases to be an issue in our world;

When discrimination and hate are no longer backed up by scripture that people believe is the word of god;

When women are held at the same level of respect and authority as men;

When women's sexuality and bodily autonomy is taken seriously;

And when a person can share publicly that they are an atheist and not lose their job, reputation, friends, family, home, marriage, children, political standing or their life.

Until these things are a reality I will not keep quiet.

Passion for Change

I care about this planet, the people who live on it and especially my children. I want this place to be a better place to live for the generations that come after me and I can't sit back and hope that other people do it for me. I, personally, feel a strong desire to be involved in the process of creating change and making this a more loving, accepting and reasonable world. Whether my impact is big or small doesn't really matter to me as long as I'm doing something.

I firmly believe that a world based more strongly on secular humanist values will be a much better place for our future generations to live. No matter how much comfort religious belief offers a person, truth and reality are far more important, especially in the long-term. If a person believes that this life is just a blip in their eternity or that Jesus is coming back soon, how can they possibly take seriously the future of our planet and our children?

Meaning and Purpose

One more thing that drives me to be openly secular, aside from my passion for justice and change, is the fact that being an activist and being involved in creating change is where I find meaning and purpose for my life. I believe that we are all responsible for creating our own meaning and for making a difference in the lives of the people around us in whatever way we can and secular humanist activism is my niche. This is where my passion lies. Loving and helping people is my mission and, in doing so, I've never been happier or more fulfilled in my entire life.


To get in touch with me:
www.facebook.com/jenica.crail
www.facebook.com/reallifebeyondfaith
twitter.com/jenicacrail
jenicacrail@gmail.com

To learn more about being openly secular:
openlysecular.org/




Friday, September 11, 2015

My Experience Coming Out Atheist

When you type "coming out atheist" into Google you get article after article with advice on how to come out and even advice on whether or not to come out at all. Everyone has an opinion on if and when someone should tell the people in their life that they don't believe in god. Over and over I keep reading that people recommend not telling one's family until they're an independent adult because many parents will disown their son or daughter for admitting to being an atheist or withdraw financial support for college. There are also a ton of stories of people who lose their friends, their job, their spouse, their kids (in custody battles), etc. I never realized, before my deconversion, that coming out as an atheist was even a thing and I certainly didn't realize that it could be so life-altering for someone. When I first started recognizing that I didn't believe anymore I started looking into how to tell friends and family. I listened to a couple podcasts by The Thinking Atheist on the subject of coming out to friends and family and tried to figure out how best to go about it myself.

There's plenty of advice nowadays about how and when to tell the people in your life, but I, personally, have been interested in hearing about people's experiences after telling people. It's interesting to hear about people's reactions to the news, the impact it has on relationships, how the encounters go, if it's a positive or a negative experience, etc. I'm going to share with you my experience coming out as an atheist.




My Experience

I didn't have a horrible, tragic experience coming out to friends or family. In fact, my experience was surprisingly quite positive. I had heard from so many people about all the relationships they lost when they started telling people and stories of family members not taking them seriously or accusing them of just being rebellious. My experience was not like that at all. My dad and one of my 3 brothers were already atheists so obviously sharing with them was an easy conversation. The rest of my family members are believers though and more than anything I just didn't want this to come between our relationships.

Of all of them I think it was the hardest to tell my in-laws. For them, this came out of nowhere and was completely unexpected. As far as they knew we were still strong believers and nothing had changed. I hadn't even told them that my dad had come out as an atheist several months earlier. I had no idea what their reaction would be and I was really nervous that they would resent me. I really love them both and would never want anything to come between us that would forever alter our relationship, but I knew that I had to be honest about the conclusions I had come to because it is extremely important to me and I know that their faith is extremely important to them. So one weekend when they came to visit our family my husband and I sat down to talk with them and we told them about the research we had been doing and the conclusions that we had been drawing and that, for me, it had led me to the point of realizing that I no longer believe in god. For my husband, he was still undecided and looking into his own research. They were obviously disappointed and confused and asked a lot of questions. It pained me to answer some of the questions because I knew that, as a believer, it would be difficult to hear some of those things coming out of the mouth of someone they love. All-in-all I felt that it was a good conversation and that by the end of it they could understand where I was coming from, but firmly disagreed with my conclusions (which is fine because I wasn't trying to convince them of anything). The thing that blew me away was their completely unconditional love for me. I had been so nervous that they would resent me and think I was corrupting their son, but they said, "You are our daughter and we love you no matter what." That touched me to my depths! Such a simple, yet so powerful, thing to say to your daughter-in-law. My mom-in-law said that she knows what it feels like to have someone blow up on her for not believing what she is "supposed" to believe and she didn't want to treat us that way. She made it clear that she disagreed, but that absolutely no love or respect was being removed and that she would be praying for us. Such amazing people they are. 

The other hard person to tell was my mom. Even though it wasn't out of nowhere for her, because she knew that I was looking into things and doing a lot of research and reading, she would still be very disappointed to know what I had concluded. I love and respect my mom so much and value her relationship more than most relationships in my life. She is ALWAYS there for me. It doesn't matter what kind of shit I've gotten myself into, she's there. I knew she would be there for me in this instance too, but I also knew that it would break her heart and that fact broke my heart too. When my dad shared with us that he was an atheist I was the one she confided in and shared her feelings with. I was the one who confirmed to her that the Bible says that once you're saved you're always saved and that perhaps god still had dad's soul even though dad had wandered from him. We are not only mother and daughter, but we are very close friends. I can't even think of the specific conversation in which I told mom definitively that I'm an atheist, but it just kind of came out little by little in conversations that we had as I was doing my research. She knew that my research was taking me in the opposite direction than I wanted it to and I think she knew where I would land on things. She had to witness and even be the victim of a few of my emotional breakdowns and she never once reacted badly to me. I said some pretty awful things a couple times when I was really upset (the worst of which when I went off my antidepressants cold turkey). I beat myself up over those times, but she doesn't hold it against me and loves me through all the ups and downs. My mom is amazing. It breaks my heart when I hear people's stories of being disowned by their parents or kicked out of the house. I've even read stories of young teens who were physically abused by a parent for saying that they don't believe in god. I could never fully understand what they have gone through because I couldn't possibly comprehend it.

To tell my brothers and sisters-in-law I wrote a letter and sent it via email so that I could fully express my thoughts and explain a little of what had brought me to my conclusions. They responded well to me even though a couple of them were very sad for me and disappointed. I also wrote a letter to 3 of my best friends to tell them personally. With one of them I was afraid, at first, that I would actually lose their friendship (which thankfully ended up not to be the case). Another one expressed that they loved me and could understand, but completely disagreed with my conclusions and the other agreed with most of what I said, but still believes in "the basics" of Christianity. The strangest thing for me was knowing that I had a pretty big impact on 2 of those people coming to a "relationship with Christ" in the first place. One of those friends was actually an atheist when I met him and I invited him to church and me and my family had many conversations with him about god which resulted in him deciding that he believed. I then had to turn around and basically say, "So, you know how I told you that you were wrong for being an atheist? Well, now I'm an atheist and I was wrong for telling you that you should be a Christian." That's embarrassing. He took it super well though and we had some good laughs over it. He is seriously such a wonderful friend! All 3 of them are!

Coming Out on Facebook

Once I had told family and my 3 closest friends I shared a post on facebook that read:

For the past several years I have had some doubts and hard questions about my Christian beliefs and have sought out answers without much success. I've held onto my beliefs just assuming the answers must be out there and I would hopefully find them or maybe God would reveal them to me. Recently I realized that I needed to actively dig into research about Christianity and figure out why exactly it is that I believe and what evidence there is for those beliefs. I studied the arguments on both the apologetics side and the atheist side with as objective an approach as I could. I truly wanted to find sufficient evidence to continue in my lifelong beliefs...However, what I found was quite the opposite. I no longer trust the Bible as the inerrant word of God and therefore cannot use it to base my entire life on. Not only that but there are a lot of very disturbing stories, laws and commands directly from God in the Bible that indicate to me that the "God" I've been worshiping all these years is NOT the God of the Bible. I have no desire to worship that God. If you don't know what I'm talking about refer to Psalm 137:9, I Timothy 2:12, Jeremiah 19:9, I Peter 2:18, 2 Kings 2:23-24, Deut 22:25-29 (just to name a few). Because of the things I have learned in my very extensive research I can no longer call myself a Christian. This is not the outcome that I wanted when I went into this. I was hoping to strengthen my faith. I realize that this is probably pretty hard for some of you to read, but I wanted to be honest about where I stand on things. I'm open to talk with anyone who has questions for me. Just know that I did not come to this decision without much turmoil, but I now accept that I don't have all the answers and that is ok. Everything actually makes a heck of a lot more sense now though, surprisingly. I'm not going to go into all the details of why I don't believe in this post so if you want to know more pm me.

I really didn't know what kind of response I would get from this post, but I was prepared for the worst. However, I got overwhelmingly positive feedback from almost everyone who contacted me. It kind of blew me away. I received a lot of messages from Christian friends who told me that they still loved me and were praying for me, but even more than that I received messages from people who were either questioning their beliefs or had stopped believing all together and were impressed with my courage to say something publicly. I couldn't believe how many people I knew who were asking the same questions and finding religion lacking. Several people confided in me privately with their questions and concerns, some told me that they had asked many of the same questions I had but were holding onto to their beliefs for one reason or another, and others told me that they went through a similar experience and no longer believed. There were a couple people who were a bit more offensive, considering the backlash I had expected, I experienced nothing even close! I'm one of the lucky ones. Many people do not have even one positive response to them coming out atheist. People wonder why many atheists are angry. Well, considering some of the things they've experienced from believers, who can really blame them.

I'm going to share some of the positive feedback I got from friends and family below (I will not be naming anyone). Some are Christians and some are not.

"I commend you for not being a sheep. Doing research and coming to a logical conclusion based on what you've found or didn't find is the smartest thing you can do. Don't believe or disbelieve just because someone else thinks you should or shouldn't."

"It's not easy to share what you shared. I'm very proud of you. I hope you don't face any backlash or negativity from others. I'll keep you in my thoughts."

From Christian: "bold post! i admire your honesty ... if you'd ever like to talk about spirituality i'd be willing to chat and i'd be very curious to hear about your journey!"

From Christian: "Hey Jenica! Saw your post on fb about your faith journey. I would love to hear more. It is so true that your belief system must be something that you fully understand and own- I really respect that you have taken time and energy to really research and seek answers. Thankful for you, miss you and your family."

"Hey dear, I just wanted to say I admire u for comin out on Facebook about not being a Christian anymore. It took an extreme amount of courage and I believe u r such a strong woman to look up to. I believe it is a choice only u could make and I hope that u r happy wit ur decision. U inspire me to be just as bold wit my beliefs as well...I don't know if I'm technically still a Christian anymore either because of all that I believe in...so thank u for being so brave and sharing ur journey."

From Christian: "Love you friend. I admire your courage for sharing this."

From Christian: "Jenica, even before this post, I knew you well enough (mostly through facebook:)) to be able to say that you are an honest and upfront person. I respect your search for truth very much, and I know that you will continue that search for the rest of your life. One of our greatest weaknesses as Christians is an inability to understand doubts or uncertainties. I've been there and I get it."

"That is why you are a wonderful person, after much searching you're happy and confident and free to spread the wisdom and encouragement to others. You rock girl!

From Christian: "I'm so proud of you, Jenica! It's never an easy decision when it comes to faith. I'm so glad you are freed by your journey. I remember the many lunches and conversations we had years back. I was surprised but happy to see this post. I walked a similar journey before I had met you so I understand. I now have faith in truly caring about people and their rights to be happy and not judged. I try to have grace when people make mistakes. I try to walk the life of Christ not the narrow views of the men who wrote the Old Testament. I completely understand and respect other people's faith or non faith. I married an atheist and couldn't be happier. Thanks again for sharing."

"Thanks for sharing, Jenica! It's so nice to see candid honesty! Kudos to you! I have felt exactly what you refer to here due to all of the religious stuff piled upon me my entire life. Mine was coupled with abuse, which made it all the more confusing. I'm currently on my own journey to figure stuff out. Thanks for the encouragement!"

From Christian: Oh no! Jenica! Much respect to you though. A lot of people don't have the courage to try and find things out in the first place, or to admit to themselves what they've found out, or to admit it to others. Your example of courage helps them. Love you, but you're dead to me (just kidding).

"Thanks for sharing where you're at, boo, that takes guts (but you've never been short on those)."

"That's very brave of you, Jenica. I have always felt left out of some special community because I don't consider myself a Christian, but like you I have done research and just can't believe the things people are told to believe in that faith, and I never wanted to join just to fit in. You can still live a very fulfilling life without having an organized religion to belong to. Just be true to yourself!"

"I don't know you super well, but I so appreciate your honesty. I also really appreciate that you have come to this decision/direction for your life on your own and not just going along with someone else. It shows great character. I wear a smile for you."

From my Mom (Christian): I love you sis. I know this has been a very difficult road for you and all of us as a family but always know that I am proud of you and will always admire you and love you. All who know you know that this decision could not have been easy for you."

From my Dad: "I'm proud of my Jenica."

Why share my experience?

I share all of this because I think it's nice to hear a positive story from time to time in the midst of all of the bad stories. As atheists we tend to only hear the sad or infuriating stories of people who came out to friends and family and were ostracized or attacked, but there are many wonderful, understanding believers out there who treat the non-believers in their life with love and respect. I think that's an important thing to remember. That's not to say that I haven't been offended or angered by any of the things that have been said to me since sharing my non-belief. Some people are incredibly ignorant, but, in my case, they have been the minority and I try to keep that in mind whenever I feel angry about something that has been said.

Why come out at all?

Many of my views, perspectives and beliefs have changed since becoming an atheist (refer to Reflections on Life Beyond Faith). Because of some of the things that I've discovered about myself and the world around me I feel a deep desire to make a difference in whatever way I can - big or small. I call myself an atheist because of what I don't believe, but I call myself a secular humanist because of what I DO believe. I believe that everyone has the right to live and believe as they please so long as their beliefs do not impinge upon or oppress others. I feel a responsibility to my fellow humans, to my children and the future generations to make this world a better place. By coming out and letting the people around me know what I believe and where I stand on certain human rights issues, I've opened the door to be a voice for a movement that I firmly believe in and to speak out against injustice. This is just one of the reasons that I think it's important to tell the people in your life what you really believe or don't believe. It allows you to be a voice and it helps to normalize the concept of atheism so that people will stop equating atheism with things like satan worship.

Coming out can obviously be a complicated issue for some people and I recognize that fact and would encourage people to use their best judgment. I don't want people to be kicked out of their homes, lose their jobs, lose their marriages, be alienated from family and friends, or any other of the awful things that can happen to people who come out atheist. However, if you are not in a situation where any of those things would happen why not just be open and honest with the people in your life and let them know that you're not a believer and you're still a great person with high moral values and a love for life?

The very first atheist I've ever known is my brother, Nate. He told my parents when he was about 15 that he didn't believe in god and that he never had. He told them this and asked that they not make him go to church anymore. They agreed to that. I didn't realize, at the time, the impact it would have on me to know that he didn't believe, but was still an awesome, loving, moral person. I realize now that seeing that he could be a great person with high moral values without god shook some of the foundations of my faith and really made me think. I recognized that Nate was a better person than I was and certainly better than some of the Christians I know and yet he was heading toward an eternity of torment simply because he couldn't believe the unbelievable. I had several conversations with him to pick his brain and try to figure out how and why someone who was raised the same as I was could believe so differently than me. I had hoped that eventually he would change his mind, but I knew from my conversations with him that it wasn't likely. I was forced to ask the question, "How is it 'justice' for a person like him to be sent to hell for eternity for just not believing an ancient story that is hard to believe and has to be taken on faith?" In fact, it got me asking a lot of hard questions. I'm not going to point to him as the reason I'm not a Christian or to anyone specific for that matter, but knowing that you can be good without god and knowing that Nate's eternal fate would be the opposite of justice opened my mind to the possibility that what I believed might not be completely true.

Nate has never even been a very out-spoken, in-your-face atheist, but he has been upfront and honest about what he does and doesn't believe and it made a huge impact on me without me even realizing it. It is for this reason that I think it's important for people to be honest.

If you are questioning, in a crisis situation or just need someone to talk to who won't judge you and won't try to persuade you one way or another you can call the Hotline Project at 1-84-I-DOUBT-IT (1-844-368-2848) or visit Recovering from Religion - hotline project.

If you are in a position of leadership in the church and feel that you don't have a way out please visit The Clergy Project.





Friday, July 17, 2015

Reflections on Life Beyond Faith

Since concluding that I no longer believe the Christian worldview that I grew up with I have re-analyzed almost every aspect of my life. Since my faith and my belief system affected everything in my life I felt it was necessary to metaphorically step back and look at every idea, belief, stance and conviction I had and rediscover it with my new understanding and worldview. More has changed than I could have possibly imagined and the impact of those changes is different than I would have ever imagined.

Atheism, to me, was always such a negative concept. I believed that would be such a miserable, empty way to live and that if I ever stopped believing in god that I would have no reason to live. I thought that people who didn't believe in god were deceived and possibly even in rebellion. All of these ideas were just a result of what I had been taught. I had no personal experience. I just believed what I was told.

In reality, atheism has been quite different than I expected. First of all, it has been an overwhelmingly positive experience for me. The changes in my life have been almost all for the better. I didn't expect that at all. Secondly, I didn't choose it. I simply looked at both sides objectively and drew conclusions based on the facts that were presented to me. It was the first time I had truly done that. Belief is not something you can choose. You either believe something or you don't. I believe that if I jump off of a 12 story building I will fall and, most likely, die as a result. I can't choose not to believe that. That belief is based on evidence. This is much like my disbelief in a god. The lack of evidence leads me to disbelief. Before you jump to the conclusion that I am uninformed on the "evidence for Christianity," you should know that I have studied Christian apologetics, theology, doctrine and history in quite a bit of detail. I find the "proof" unconvincing. Therefore, I cannot believe despite my desperate attempts to continue to believe.

I will now share some of the changes I've experienced since becoming an atheist.

I no longer feel at odds with myself

Possibly the biggest and most freeing change is that I no longer feel cognitive dissonance. Cognitive dissonance is "the mental stress or discomfort experienced by an individual who holds two or more contradictory beliefs, ideas, or values at the same time, or is confronted by new information that conflicts with existing beliefs, ideas, or values" (cog. diss.). I have grown up as a Bible-believing Christian my whole life (I was 27 when I became an atheist). The Bible, to me, was the inerrant Word of God and what it said was Truth. Trying to reconcile what was in the Bible with what I believed to be true in the real world was very hard. Everything that I learned that didn't reconcile with what the Bible said would have to be crammed into the cookie cutters of my beliefs to fit with reality. At some point all my cookie cutters broke from the stress. Common sense just wasn't fitting for me. There are just too many discrepancies. Too many contradictions. Too many errors. Too many inconsistencies. Not enough evidence. Not enough to base my whole life and my whole worldview on.

I'm less judgmental

It may seem strange, but despite what the Bible teaches about not judging others, I'm actually less judgmental and more accepting of people now than when I was a Christian. I feel that my heart more readily opens to the people around me. When I give this some thought, I think that it is probably because I no longer see people's "sins" as being something that I should despise because God does. I don't feel this obligation to try to change them or save them. Now I can just accept and love them. I still believe in right and wrong and believe that people can do things that are absolutely wrong, but I don't believe that my understanding of right and wrong comes from a deity, but rather from my evolved mind (I'm not going to go into a ton of detail on that in this post - maybe in a future post).

I do judge some people's actions as being wrong based on morality, but my views are not concrete and I can change my perspective of what is right and wrong based on newly discovered facts. For example, I do not believe that homosexuality is wrong or even unnatural because it has become clear through research and scientific studies that people are born with tendencies toward same-sex attraction. I don't have to cling to an old book's laws on this as my absolute truth. I can adapt with new information. Besides, even if people chose to be gay, I don't see anything morally wrong with that anyway. They have a right to decide something for themselves that doesn't cause harm to anyone.

I'm more accepting of differing lifestyles

This plays into being less judgmental. Because I look at people differently and look at their desires and urges and the science behind them differently, I am more quick to accept whatever someone finds fulfilling even if it's not what society considers normal or even my cup of tea. I've been able to open my mind to all of the sexual lifestyle choices people can make and I'm realizing more and more that what goes on behind closed doors with consenting adults is completely their business and no one else's. I no longer have to feel torn about these sentiments. I don't have to be constantly reminding myself that it's not how God created us and that homosexuality grieves God. People are born with same sex attraction, so if I were to believe in a god I would also have to believe that he does indeed create people that way. As it is, I don't believe in a god so that's not an issue. There's no longer contradiction between what science says and what I feel I have to believe based on what the Bible says and I no longer have to try to figure out why it was once okay to stone people to death for being gay.

I'm less depressed

I have clinical depression so it has physiological causes, but my depression is often trigger-based, meaning that a circumstance or stressful feeling can send me into a downward spiral. The fewer triggers I have the fewer bouts of depression I have. Sometimes my episodes of depression are random, but usually they are caused by a trigger.

So when I say I've been less depressed ever since realizing that I no longer believed in Christianity or in any god, I mean that I've had fewer triggers. I've come up with a couple theories of why this is. One is that I no longer have this exhausting cognitive dissonance causing me so much discomfort and unease. Another very large factor is all of the guilt and shame that just came cascading off of me when I let go of these ridiculous rules and standards that I had held onto my whole life. At first it was a relief that I could just live my life without constantly feeling that I didn't read my Bible enough, pray enough, talk to others about Christ enough, etc. Soon it went even deeper than that. I realized that I could let go of the majority of the guilt I had felt throughout my entire life. All the times that I failed to lived up to the standard of being a good Christian girl or failed to live up to the standards I had for myself based on what I considered sin. I had restricted the most natural, beautiful aspects of my humanity by trying to live according to this ancient book. Don't get me wrong, I still feel guilt over things I've done that are morally wrong or were hurtful to other people or myself, but I no longer feel guilt over things that I've done or thoughts I've had that are considered "sin," but that aren't actually morally wrong (i.e. love something or someone more than god, sex before marriage, thinking sexual thoughts about anyone who is not my spouse - which was anyone before I was married, getting angry, feeling pride, doubting god's sovereignty, etc). Those things and many others are only wrong according to a religious perspective and living life with all of those things hanging over your head, whether you can ask forgiveness for them or not, is oppressive. I was taught to believe that I was born an inherently bad person and that I deserve hell and the only way to escape hell is to believe in Jesus based on what the Bible says about him. The Bible that also says to stone adulterers, homosexuals, women who aren't virgins on their wedding night, witches, and unruly children. The Bible that also contradicts itself on almost every aspect of Jesus' life (don't take my word for it, read the stories side by side for yourself).

So yeah, I'm less depressed. A huge oppressive weight has been lifted from my shoulders. Now the only things that really depress me are money issues. ;-)


I'm more passionate about life

This life is the only one any of us is guaranteed and what we do while we are here is what really matters. If I live my life as if this is just a vapor quickly fading into eternity and I will live on forever, then it takes away from some the importance of what I do with my every moment. It makes me less likely to care much about the environment or for the future generations. After all, Jesus is supposed to be returning soon anyway, according the Bible. I no longer live in light of eternity, but instead live in light of today. I feel privileged to have a chance to live on this planet while it is so hospitable to life. There will be days in the future that our sun will start dying and this planet will become a very difficult place to live. I also feel lucky that I was born in a prosperous country and into a family that took care of me, loved me and raised me to be a benefit to the people around me. Not everyone has that privilege and I don't take it for granted. I'm also not so arrogant as to say that it's just an example of God's hand on my life. How can people say that when there are so many people in this country and around the world who truly suffer horribly and truly don't deserve it? That level of arrogance astounds me to no end.

I don't take a single day for granted anymore. This life is all I get and I'm going to make the most of it and enjoy it as much as I can. I also think it's so important to attempt to make this a better world for the generations that follow us because Jesus isn't coming to fix everything. We are responsible to take care of our home and our species. I want the generations that follow to live in a more loving, reasonable world.

I'm more open to new ideas

My mind is now completely open to the facts of the world around me and what is observable and testable. When someone comes up with a new theory in science, for instance, I can more openly think about it and consider the possibility of its truth because I'm not held down by my belief that what the Bible says is infallible and therefore, science that proves otherwise must be wrong. This relates to areas other than science as well.

My thirst for knowledge is insatiable

Because my mind is completely free and open to consider all of the facts without having to try to cram everything into my cookie cutters of belief, I have gained an even greater desire and love of knowledge. I've always loved learning and studying things that interested me, but lately I have found that I'm not afraid of approaching certain areas of knowledge anymore. I no longer have to feel afraid of what I might find and the facts that may not line up with what I believe. I had enough troubling things in the Bible itself to contend with that I didn't want to add to my confusion by studying evolution, for instance. Now I can learn about our origins and the science behind what we know of our universe without it causing me to doubt everything that I base my life on.

I'm not afraid to die

This isn't as much a change as it is an observation. I wasn't afraid of death as a Christian either because I firmly believed that my soul was saved and that when I died I would go to heaven. As an atheist I don't believe there is a heaven or hell. There is no solid evidence to suggest that there are such places of eternal bliss or torture. There are only the ancient writings of people with a very limited understanding of the world and the personal experiences of some people who have either had dreams or near death experiences. I'm unconvinced of any of the religions of this world and unconvinced of the evidence given for the existence of a god, a heaven or a place of eternal torment.

This leaves me with nothing to be afraid of surrounding death. Just like every other animal on the face of this planet, I will cease to exist once I die and that is ok. There is no reason to believe that human beings would have any different of a fate than apes, horses, dogs or cats. If humans did have souls it would beg the question of when exactly in the evolutionary process we gained a soul. Did neanderthals have souls then?

I'm ok with not living forever and not having all the answers. Life isn't about death. Life is about living. Let's just focus on this life instead of being concerned about some imagined afterlife.

I have everything to live for

Because I have nothing to die for, I have everything to live for. Over the years I've prayed on many occasions that god would just allow me to die so that I wouldn't have to struggle through life anymore and just go on to the bliss and happiness of heaven. I couldn't understand why he would keep me here if I'm depressed and miserable and begging to come home to him. And if he was going to keep me here for some greater purpose why allow me to be so debilitated by depression? I finally just accepted that god wasn't going to grant me that wish and that I had to just try to make the best of life on my own. I figured maybe there is some greater plan that I was just unaware of. That's what most Christians reading this are probably thinking.

Well, I've never wanted more to live in my entire life than I do now. Even with the voice of my depression in the back of my mind whispering that it would be better if I was dead, my desire to take advantage of the one life I have is louder than that voice in my head. My desire to be here for my husband and my children are stronger than my depression.

I don't see non-Christians as being lost or deceived

In the Biblical perspective those who don't believe in god are fools. Psalm 14 says, "The fool says in his heart, 'There is no God.' They are corrupt, their deeds are vile; there is no-one who does good." And again in Psalm 53 it says pretty much the same thing again. When I was a Christian I believed that people who didn't believe in god must be missing something or were being deceived by satan into believing that god doesn't exist. I thought this because it was what was taught to me from the Bible and the Bible was supposedly the inerrant, infallible word of god so it must be true. I had a hard time with this concept though because I knew many non-believers and their reasons for not believing seemed pretty legit and understandable. I also think of all of the other religions and gods in this world and the fact that, as a Christian, I had to believe that they were wrong about their god and they had to believe that I was wrong about my god and the only way to find out for sure is to die. It just doesn't make sense to me that the all-powerful god of the universe would make himself so obscure that billions of people would completely miss him and spend eternity in torment.

I was taught that god doesn't undeniably reveal himself to everyone because if he were to do so then it would take away our free will and we would worship him like robots because we would have no choice but to believe in him and worship him. Recently I've realized how ridiculous that argument is. Just because a god reveals his existence doesn't mean that I HAVE to choose to worship him. If I have free will then I still have the choice to say, "Actually, I still don't think you're worthy of my worship or adoration. No thanks."

So now I don't have to worry about or feel bad for the people in my life who don't believe what I believe. It's a much better and more rewarding way to live to see everyone as equal.

I no longer believe in hell

Along the same lines, I am free of this awful concept of an eternity of punishment and torture for those who don't believe in Jesus during this life. Hell never really made sense to me, but the Bible is pretty clear about punishment in the afterlife for those who don't believe, especially in the New Testament, so I had to believe it if I believed everything else. I had to believe that my brother, who is an atheist, would not only spend eternity separated from god and the rest of his family, but would be burned in a lake of fire forever. I constantly just tried to convince myself that god was sovereign and that he would reveal himself to my brother. The crazy thing is that I knew that this wasn't the case for millions of people who died every day. It was so frustrating that I had to accept hell along with my loving savior. I had to acknowledge that my merciful, loving and just god created an eternal place of torment for people who simply didn't know or weren't convinced of his existence. From any angle that you look at that, it's insane. I'm reading a book by Francis Chan right now called Erasing Hell and, despite the title, he actually explains that the Bible is pretty clear that hell is real. He says that he was really hoping that he would find out otherwise. He shared his devastation when his grandmother died and he knew that she hadn't accepted Christ. He said that he would even prefer that non-believers would just be annihilated after death instead of suffering for eternity. Chan has such a huge heart for people, but because he believes in the infallibility of the Bible he has to accept the existence of hell and it causes him a great deal of pain (just like it did for me).

My hatred of the concept of hell had nothing to do with my apostasy, but ridding myself of the belief has certainly been a huge relief.

I'm more skeptical of everything

Instead of just accepting people's word on things I take a look at the facts for myself. I realize now that I have been terrible at this my whole life. I never actually realized that I was gullible, but in retrospect I most certainly was. I just accepted, as fact, most of what I was told unless it was really far-fetched. I feel that I have now taken a more responsible approach to the information I'm presented with and can make more informed and well-balanced decisions. Being skeptical is not a bad thing. It's healthy and it's necessary.

I'm afraid of hurting or driving away some of the people I love

Because I don't feel that I should remain silent about my perspectives, I'm often concerned that I'm going to drive a wedge in the relationships I have with Christians in my family and friends. I'm afraid that they will grow to resent me because of my views and lack of belief in the god that they love and worship. I'm afraid that they will not respect me because they'll believe that I'm deceived or in rebellion. I'm afraid that my beliefs will always be the elephant in the room that no one wants to talk about (this would be hard for me because I've always been a very open person and love to talk about deep and intimate things). I'm afraid that they will take my disbelief as an offense against their intelligence or a condescending attitude. I don't feel this way. I know that there are many very intelligent people who believe in a god.

It is because of these fears that I try to be careful about what I say and things I share on social media. I don't think that I should have to hide who I am to avoid the discomfort of others, but I also don't think being obnoxious and rude is necessary either. I do consider myself to be a secular activist, but I, obviously, am sympathetic to religious (especially Christian) perspectives, having been there myself.