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Improbability

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I've struggled with writing (and rewriting) this post.  I'm not sure that I should.  I'm not sure how specific I can be.  I'm not sure this is the right place or the right time.  I'm not sure if there's much point to it.  I'm embarrassed and discouraged by my own failure and inadequacy, even as I wish I could avoid having to change.  I know I don't belong in my current life, but it's hard to imagine finding a place of belonging outside of it either.  I don't have a story of deep trauma or abuse or misfortune, but I'm living a stilted half-life of wasted potential.  It feels self-indulgent to elevate my own hardship amidst so much other privilege and in comparison to what others have experienced.  Even with accommodating internet strangers, I'm afraid to be honest because the reflection is something I don't want to confront.  Part of me understands that I probably need to seek counseling or therapy, but that's the start of a journey that I'm afraid to begin (and a tangent to what I really need to do).  Meanwhile I'm stuck in my own head writing self-exploratory pablum to try to break the paralysis.

I'm a closeted non-believer working faithlessly at a well-known fundamentalist Christian institution in the bible belt.  I've been here for many years, but I'm single, socially isolated and have had very little responsibility or direct expectation in spiritual matters in my role which has made my apostasy practical to conceal and the cognitive burden of my deception and hypocrisy easier to compartmentalize and avoid.  I came as a student because I had no ambition or direction in my life and it satisfied the expectations of my family and church community.  I remained as an employee because it was an effortless transition that continued a vocational purpose I'd already established through internship and was the easiest way to maintain a religious facade for my geographically-distant home life when in my heart the struggle with the cycle of sin, guilt and repentance was all but abandoned.  I didn't find a personal relationship with god here, but in maintaining the lie I didn't find myself either.  I stayed through the years that followed because it's what I knew, even as local friends moved away leaving me in an improbable but stable position as someone who is diligent, valued and trusted, but spends most of the rest of their time in deliberate obscurity and isolation pursuing private secular interests.

I'm in my 40s.  I have a technical degree and many years of experience applying those skills in a strategically important role for a commercial subsidiary of this place.  But my longevity has become a liability.  I'm gifted and dedicated with incomparable knowledge in my area, but that uniqueness makes me dangerous because I would be disastrously expensive to have to suddenly replace.  And for my part, the mental and emotional toll of leaving my life's work and a position of agency and facility has reached a point that is profoundly intimidating.  I can't do exactly what I'm doing here anywhere else, and it will take significant time and effort to rebuild myself professionally.  That's assuming my unaccredited degree is worth a damn, I have any sort of reputation (this is the only meaningful thing on a resume that I've never actually had to use) and that I have the acuity in my middle years to retool and adapt.  I have confidence in what I've achieved, but I've always felt a sense of impostor's syndrome in my field, and I know the weight what I have now exerts in my sense of day-to-day purpose and emotional stability.

But moving on is unavoidable.  Whatever influences lodged me here, the decision to stay so long is my own.  Every year I sign a statement of faith I don't believe, and though it rarely comes up in a practical way, I'm misrepresenting myself and creating an operational risk.  (I'm not bitter against this place and don't want to hurt it.)  The last few years I've become more politically conscious, and I can't avoid the fact that I'm working (sacrificially no less) for a creationist, pro-life, conservative organization when my own beliefs are diametrically opposed.  Finally, it's likely that my ability to fly under the radar with my lack of personal religious observance is going to end soon forcing me to double down on hypocrisy and impersonation of a persona I'm deeply uncomfortable with if I want to remain.  Ethically, mentally and professionally, this was never okay and can't continue in its current form.  I still have time (months, perhaps) to make the move on my own terms, but it's surreal and difficult to even begin to confront.  At some point, I'm going to have to sit in someone's office and explain how in this one, stupid, irrelevant area of my life I've been a fraud and a traitor.

I no longer struggle meaningfully with faith.  I was raised in this culture and believed (in fear) through my adolescent and college years.  I made public professions.  I sought a relationship with god.  But I'm also an introvert, and guilt over my failings as a sinner always included guilt that I didn't want to be seen, didn't love the company of other believers (or people in general) and was afraid of discipleship, accountability and integration.  Following the teachings of Christ goes against not just my human nature but my individual one, and I never found the spiritual connection or psycho-social reinforcement to make it work, even though it might be easier in so many ways if I had.  But it's difficult to exorcise such an established part of your upbringing and education and circumstances.  My rejection of the dogma is a reaction, not successful replacement of it.  And fundamentalist thinking is so disciplined and refined that I'm never going to be completely free of the viewpoint.  This background adds its own complexity to the prospect of having to decouple my life from this place.  Even in my disbelief and distance, I find comfort in the known and familiar and fear leaving it.

I don't have many significant human relationships, and they're all tainted by this lie and by the insulation it creates.  My father has passed, but my mother is devout, even more so since she retired.  She's perceived that I'm disengaged from faith, but it's different to be non-confrontational and still serving than to actively walk away.  Explaining whatever happens is going to be hard.  I know it will hurt her if she becomes convinced that I'm going to burn for eternity in hell, and I don't know if I can ultimately spare her that.  My best friend lives hours away and still clings to faith even as his life is imploding due to unemployment, alcoholism and domestic dysfunction.  I can't challenge his hope in the hereafter when the rest of his life is going to shit.  So I'm alone as I confront this decision, though it tests the limits of my independence and self-reliance.  One of the sad things about fundamentalism is that the doctrine of separation discourages honesty; there is help and forgiveness for the contrite, but what you admit has consequences that may lead to exclusion, so there is no counseling that isn't adversarial and no truth that isn't also potentially punitive.

Ultimately, I don't know what I hope for in life.  I enjoy entertainments and distractions, but I know they don't ultimately satisfy.  I'm typical in my sexual orientation, but I've never had a serious relationship or wanted children.  I'm not incapable of empathy or socialization, but I don't have a well-developed social life or presence and feel more comfortable on my own.  I'm not wealthy, but I'm established enough that I can get by until I figure out what's next, wherever that ends up being.  I know the universe doesn't owe me anything, but I'd like to think that the next chapter can be more than a joyless, purposeless slog to retirement.  I've experienced radical lifestyle change (a decade ago when I realized that if life was worth living then it was worth not being morbidly obese), but there's a difference between the practical solution to a physical crisis and an existential one.  Stepping out into the world, I don't know where I fit in, and I've managed to avoid so much life experience (good and bad) while sheltered in this unnatural bubble.

I kind of hate every word of this, and I'm not sure what I'm hoping to accomplish.  I'm going to go back to work tomorrow and spend another week trying to avoid thinking about this problem.  And then another weekend is going to come when I'll be left alone with my thoughts.  It's going to take me time to figure this out and accept what I need to accept, but I need to stop whining to myself and take some constructive steps, which hopefully this will be one of.  So "hi", I guess.  This is where I am.  I appreciate anyone with criticism, constructive or otherwise.  I have a hard time engaging online sometimes because I wonder what the point is and feel self-conscious even in anonymous interactions.  But I recognize the gift that it is to show kindness to someone else, and I've been impressed by the examples of that that I've seen in this community.

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I don't know what I can tell you. People reinvent themselves all the time. It's particularly prevalent in high tech people transitioning to low tech positions that are more fulfilling. Money isn't everything by a long shot. Just some crazy examples, but you could get some training in writing, teaching, art, photography, farming, animal husbandry or anything that strikes your fancy. Alternatively, if you enjoy the job you have but not the religious claptrap, remember there are many pastors who are atheists and are just doing a lucrative job. 

 

Keep poking at the problem here and maybe with some discussion a direction for you will emerge. Good luck.

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6 hours ago, Improbability said:

Even in my disbelief and distance, I find comfort in the known and familiar and fear leaving it.

 

Sometimes we need to choose courage over comfort.

 

Thank-you for sharing your story, it is marvellously well written.

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Welcome IP!

 

Thanks for sharing your story. I agree it's very well written.

 

I definitely feel existential emptiness that you convey.  

 

Just going with my initial gut reaction, I would say quit your job even before you figure out what else you're going to do!  I know that sounds Reckless but I feel like you're just going through the motions and kind of living a lie, supporting an organization you don't believe in, pretending to be someone you're not.

 

Anything else, even homelessness sounds more fulfilling!  ( no offense to anybody who has been homeless.  I can't imagine how much that must suck).

 

My point though is that you're spending the best years of your life left in a situation where you cannot be your fullest self.  What good is any extra money you earn doing it?

 

I'd vote for any job where you are working for a company you believe in.  Sounds to me like you would be fulfilled if you were doing something that helped others - tutoring, teaching, coaching, etc?  Tour guide?  Museum staff?  Amusement park - at least there you helping families smile..

 

You sound stuck and it's time to move on.

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Welcome IP.  I feel as if you've made a great breakthrough by just posting this.  It's the beginning of you being honest about who you are. Yes, it's confusing. Yes, your head is probably swimming. But it's the start of you putting your true feelings down on 'paper'. What would you like to do if you could? Can you get out of this without having to admit all your true feelings about not being a believer?... because you don't owe anyone anything. You've given them a fabulous, reliable worker and they have provided a paycheck for you. Everybody is nice to each other...right?  You don't owe big, long discussions if you decide to leave. It's your business. You can just say you need to move on and do something else...even if that means taking a break from all of it until you decide what you want to do.

 

I don't like change either. My job has always been too loud and busy for my personality but I continued in it because I was good at it and I was afraid of change. So I made the best of it. I would have preferred to work in a quiet library without much interaction with people. But I only discovered that I am way more introverted than extroverted in my older years. The thing is you do not have to make any decisions today. You have written your feelings out and that's a start. Go easy on yourself.  Maybe take up a pleasurable hobby while you figure things out.  It's OK to distract yourself...it will help to calm you. Post here.  You have no 'god' to answer to. You are not a bad person because you got stuck in a church job. You are not a traitor. You just don't want to hurt anyone. That's a nice quality.  It's OK to be an introvert. It's OK to like being by yourself. It's OK to not let the ''cat out of the bag'' as far as your nonbelief goes. You can keep it from your mother if you don't want to hurt her. You're OK just the way you are.  You just need to find something that makes you feel more content.  I feel that our human default is about 'survival' (that's why our jobs are important to us) and that happiness is moments of contentedness where we can get away from the mundane work that we have to do to survive. Most jobs become mundane after you do them for a while. 

 

So take your time and don't be hard on yourself. Come back and post and maybe we can guide you by making a few suggestions. We are here for you. Breathe. It's going to be OK.

 

(hug) 

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I'm going to continue cause I got a few more words to say if you don't mind. We spend our whole childhood and adolescence being brainwashed by parents, friends, teachers or whoever made 'suggestions' to us like you have to be a really good boy and don't do that - don't do this - or people will think ''such and such about you''. Everything was done so you looked exactly like the neighbors in your town or city. We were ALL ''Stepford Wifes'.'  So we tried to be perfect. We tried to get along with everyone in the school. If we got in a fight and were angry cause someone called us a name, we were shamed. Shame on this school mark. Shame on your loud voice. Shame on you that you are shy and can barely speak to someone. Shame on your anger. Shame on you touching your body. Shame on you for the way you talked to that lady. Shame on you that you touched that girl or guy and got caught by your parents. Shame on you for trying smoking, toking, alcohol, etc.... Shame on you for being born such a sinner. Jesus, we suffered guilt for all of this, so shame was taking us on a fucking journey to perfectionism.  And that included trying to please every person in our tribe. So their duty back then was to try and 'perfect' us and brainwash us to the way they thought it should be. And all this time......god, himself was watching you.... and you might just go to his hell. If this isn't enough to make you crazy as a child and adolescence. No wonder so many of us get hooked on jesus. If we please him and he takes all our sin away, we are free, right?  But we kept messin' up. Kept sinning. Fuck ups we were. Not even good enough for god. Failure. The nails in his hands did not work.

 

I say this tonight to you so can hopefully learn to be completely comfortable in your own skin. This is so important. Be you...it's all inside you. If people don't like you then let them go. You only need a friend or two for good support. I personally do not want a lot of people in my life. I like being by myself also. Don't let the approval of other people stand in the way of you becoming comfortable in your own body. And you don't have to be mean about it. You can be kind. Try not to hurt anyone in the process.  Be easy on you. You're human. You need to survive.  Drop all perfectionistic expectations that you have bound yourself up in and expect of yourself.  You are too hard on yourself right now. You have to learn how to do this slowly. That is why I say, ''take your time''.

 

  Hang loose for a change. Break free, my friend from the squirrels that are running around in your mind. Go fishing. Lift weights. Read a  book.  Post here. Take pictures. Rest. 

 

 Once you get all of this, you will be a truly free man. And take your time. The grass is not always greener on the other side. But sometimes it is. So don't do anything right now. Think this all through.

 

*Then you can move away if you want

*you can stay at your job and smile and not feel like a traitor (remember, you are working for them - they give the paycheck and you can't help that you don't believe the same things as them.) Hush for now until you know exactly what you are going to do. If you have to bow your head and sign a paper and it's a white lie, be OK with that if you're going to stay. god is not going to punish you.

*You can do anything you want. florduh made a few good suggestions.

*This is your life

 

I'm sorry for my ramblings tonight. But I finally got free after 10 years on this site and I want to share what I have learned.

 

(hugs) to all of you for helping me.

 

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Margee is right...I can't add anything to what she said. Be you. :)

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@Improbability,

 

Sorry for the belated post. I've been having issues posting but it looks like a very old version of FireFox is working...for now.

 

Yes, you are embarking on a journey. Remember that. A little at a time. Reading and posting here helps as does reading from accomplished authors who have been where you are. Some even set out to prove the validity of xianity and religion and discovered otherwise along the way.

 

But it does not sound like your troubles are with disbelief itself but in coming out and the impact it is, or will - maybe, have on your life. You will lose some friends and make some new ones. Some will stay with you and that is good. Some have stayed with me and in some of them I can see doubt in their eyes when the topic comes  up.

 

Your career. Well, being technical myself, software, I can advise taking measures to make yourself more marketable while you are still employed at the church. Online courses, many of which are free, attending user groups, and networking. Also don't worry about your degree. I have a B.S. in C.S. from Columbia and am in a hiring position and have interviewed and hired many technical folk. I say unto you - attitude, experience, and a willingness to keep learning are what matter most. Your lack of an accredited pigskin is not a show-stopper and, quite frankly, you don't want to work for a company for whom it is.

 

Have not seen anything from you since your OP so I hope you are not discouraged.

    - MOHO (Mind Of His Own)

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Hey all, thanks for the replies.

There are things I've been vague about because my story is unusual enough that I don't think someone in this sphere would have much trouble putting it together.  It's probably delusional, but part of living this life is an outsized fear of discovery.  ("Your sin will find you out.")  The day will come when I'll be able to be more open about it, and hopefully look back on all of this with a very different perspective.

Writing this out is absolutely a therapeutic exercise.  I won't go into detail, but there's a precipitating factor I became aware of a few weeks ago that broke through my walls and reminded me of the precariousness of my position.  Since then I've spent a great deal of time reflecting and adjusting, but I've felt paralyzed from taking any real action.  Talking about it can be a form of procrastination (to which I'm prone), but it also removes some of the power it holds.  I don't quite know yet what I'm going to do or how this is going to go, but I feel a little closer having put it out there than when it was all in my head, and the understanding replies mean a lot.  I'm used to being self-sufficient, and it's surreal to face a decision that's bigger than I know how to make on my own.

I wanted to communicate circumstance and emotion, but spelling it all out comes across a bit dramatic.  It's sincere and largely necessary, but it's not my whole mind.  There's a part of me that's stuck on the hamster wheel of doubt and worry, but also a part that's detached and methodical and going through business as usual while trying to work constructively on the problem.  Staying the course right now is not difficult, and external circumstances are not going to force me to make any drastic decision for a while; it's just that it's become clear now that there's a clock on it.

My background is in software, and I don't expect that interest to change.  Part of that skill set is extremely fungible.  But after all these years in one place, a large part of it is also very proprietary, and seeing over the horizon to where I'm able to be accepted and productive in a different setting is intimidating.  I have many avenues to explore on that front; I know it's just a matter of time and conviction which will come.  The loss of all the applied knowledge and history and purpose I have now may be the harder thing to come to terms with.  I have to remind myself that being able to play that role in the first place is such a unique privilege of this moment in history and not something I should take for granted.

I think my most important struggle right now is with foundation.  I've lived for so long in a context that all of my decisions and intuition were oriented to.  Now that it's being challenged, I'm realizing my vulnerability.  Much of that is circumstantial.  I was never in so deep that religion became my whole identity, though it did perturb it.  But I may need better answers for "why" before the "what" comes into focus.  And while I may not have to justify myself to anyone, if it comes to it, I want to be better prepared to express who I am and what I do or don't believe.

 

Getting this out emboldened me to connect with a local secular therapist who I'll be meeting with soon.  I don't know quite what to expect from that.  It may or may not be something that I really need, but it will be a learning experience either way.

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On 5/12/2019 at 11:58 PM, LostinParis said:

 

Sometimes we need to choose courage over comfort.

 

Thank-you for sharing your story, it is marvellously well written.

I agree. Very well written. If I may suggest, spend very little more time debating with yourself. A move away from this sooner than later is necessary. You're highly intelligent and you won't expire due to it. 

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On 5/12/2019 at 2:04 PM, Improbability said:

 

 

On 5/15/2019 at 10:22 PM, Improbability said:

 

Getting this out emboldened me to connect with a local secular therapist who I'll be meeting with soon.  I don't know quite what to expect from that.  It may or may not be something that I really need, but it will be a learning experience either way.

You have considerably more courage at this point than you give yourself credit for. You’re doing great Improbability! I’m 71 years old and one thing i’ve learned is that the future we foresee is rarely if ever what actually comes to pass. Just trust your instincts and move at your own pace one step at a time. You may look back and think this is the best thing you’ve ever done for yourself and wonder why you didn’t make the change sooner or not. That’s the interesting part is that we never know but taking control and acting on your own thoughtful decisions is incredibly rewarding in its own right. Good for you.

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Again, thanks for the encouraging replies.  I tried to give some more detail mid-week because I didn't want to completely ghost, but it's hard to make the time to think about difficult things amid the stress of day-to-day life, and though quiet introspection can also be very difficult, I've been looking forward to the opportunity this weekend to continue to mull things over because it does feel like progress even if it's slow.

I appreciate the "pull the ripcord" responses because that's eventually going to be the impetus I need.  But it's not in my nature to make hasty decisions, and there are a number of reasons to stay the course for at least a little while.  Health insurance, for one thing is a lot simpler when you're still employed, and I have some upcoming maintenance that it's better (for me at least) to address first.  There is a clock on the overall situation, so even if I do procrastinate it won't be forever.  It's true that I ultimately need to do what's best for me and that I've wasted a lot of time already, but I don't want to leave a smoking crater in my wake.  It's not a good look professionally, and it's not who I want to be.

@Margee, you're so right that moderation, pragmatism and self-care are all important.  There's an impulse to push away hard, but it's not really my character to be dogmatic (in either direction), and especially when it comes to relationships there's a risk of forcing the issue unnecessarily or in a hurtful way because I'm just reacting and not really grounded yet.  I've had years to adjust to the fact that I didn't believe, but because I stayed I wasn't forced to confront the uncomfortable task of really replacing it.  Self-flagellation (metaphorical) is going to be a tough habit to shake.  I've always been of two minds, nurturing an inner pride and willfulness while also seeing myself in a generally negative way.  It's healthy to keep a grounded self view, but I do hope to be rid of some of this baggage eventually.

@MOHO, it's interesting being in a position of long-closeted disbelief.  I never had much interest in the rigorous theological aspects, and I got to the point of concluding that it just wasn't workable (or real) more though experience than exhaustive study.  Coming from a fundamentalist background, I think I'm conditioned by teaching and circumstance to not want to look too closely.  But I've changed over the years, and the availability and accessibility of information has changed, and though it's easy to protest that I'm not an academic equipped to plumb the depths, I don't have much excuse beyond laziness and avoidance.  I spent some time today watching a video series from Bart Ehrman about how Christ came to be seen as God that I saw linked from somewhere, and it really shed light for me on how narrow and insular the fundamentalist view I've been exposed to is.

I did have a meeting with a therapist this week.  In some ways it was as I expected, and in some ways it wasn't.  There is definitely a structure of expectation that I'm not just there to vent but to be realistic about what I need to accomplish so he can help me.  The thought process of trying to answer some of those questions has been constructive.  I'm there to learn, and I may learn that it's not a channel that I actually need much of, but as an exercise it's already playing the facilitating role that I hoped it might, and I'm feeling a little more confidence that if the time comes that I need to represent myself to specific people in difficult ways that I'll be able to do so.  It is also a novel and refreshing experience to be able to have an open and unobfuscated conversation about these things.  This is stuff that I've never told anyone in person, and being able to say it and realize I felt confident saying it was validating.

There may not be much regular progress to relate.  I have a road map, but I don't know exactly where it's going, and I'm taking this a week at a time.  Over the past few weeks, I've felt very deadlocked, and while I still have a great deal to do, I'm not feeling as conflicted about it.  I won't turn this into a diary, but I will follow up as it seems appropriate.

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I'm super late to this, but might offer 1-cent if not 2. I've been a software developer since the days when they called us computer programmers, and most of my experience is in Fortran. I've written a good bit of C++ code, but it's really C compiled in a C++ compiler (i.e. nothing object oriented in practice). Such is the plight of staying many years in a department running a legacy system. If I had to change jobs, I'd be in trouble because my skills aren't current. I've done a bit of Python, and could maybe get some "gig economy" type work. And since I have zero management training or experience, I have no confidence that I'd ever be able to get near my current income.

 

If the systems you're working with aren't legacy systems, perhaps your skills are up-to-date and you wouldn't have too much trouble finding a good job. That, plus being in your 40s and having been in the same place for a long time could land you a senior-developer job at a place that is afraid of younger people who might not stick around. You at least owe it to yourself to start putting out feelers.

 

Your situation seems quite unusual! It's a "clergy project" type situation, without the "being a minister" part. I personally would be afraid to jump without knowing where I'd land, as some have advised, but maybe they're right. In any case, you've already decided that you have to do something soon, so I'd say pursue that, and when you've found something that you think should work out, go for it. You'll have an immediate sense of relief, and 20 years from now you'll look back and see that it made your life immeasurably better.

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