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godless

Hello, and a plea for help

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Hi everyone,

 

Just want to introduce myself and say hello, and maybe crowdsource some advice.

 

I'm a pretty experienced ex-Christian (brought up in the American evangelical tradition, left the fold as a teenager, and I'm now in my 30s)... and I thought I had myself mostly figured out, at least where religion is concerned. Yeah, no.

 

I've struggled with guilt and anxiety most of my life and it's begun to cause some major issues in my relationship, so I've been trying to figure out where it's coming from. I realized that I have severely overestimated the extent to which I've overcome the existential and emotional issues related to renouncing my faith... the problem is that although I rationally believe things to be true (e.g. that I don't need an authority figure to affirm my moral decisions, that God and Hell are culturally constructed ideas), that rational belief doesn't seem to translate to an emotional or spiritual reality.

 

Because I think deep down, on some subterranean level of my psyche, I still believe that the Christian god exists, and that I'm going to Hell because I don't believe he exists (how's that for a paradox?) And/or I believe that if he exists, he's an asshole and unworthy of worship... a belief which will also earn me a ticket to Hell, obviously. I'm worried that this stuff has been imprinted on my neural circuitry because I was indoctrinated at such a young age. That I'll never be able to escape it, only continue to struggle, process, and attempt to cope... and that ultimately I'll die in fear.

 

So I guess I'm asking for advice from any of you who have struggled with these issues. How did you deal (or how are you dealing) with it? Is it helping? Any advice or sharing of experiences would be much appreciated.

 

Thank you all for being here!

godless

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I've found that the part of the brain responsible for "fight or flight" (the amygdala) can get programmed to have some truly irrational fears, and the mind can't tell the difference between a stupid senseless fear and one that is real. I used to be terrified of movie monsters (when I was young) and that led to 30 years of being a Christian, just to avoid being possessed by a demon (like I saw in a commercial for The Exorcist). Ridiculous, but it had a real effect on me. 

 

More recently, I had an ongoing neighbor conflict. My neighbor would blast loud subwoofer "music" any time day or night, and then shut it off before the police would arrive, and then claim innocence. At one point I was literally shaking with terror and had to ask myself what the hell was happening to me. Somehow I'd gone from an annoying neighbor to having my amygdala reacting like a rhino was charging at me (a life and death situation). I'm not exactly sure how I got there, but after that episode, any low frequency thumping would cause a panic attack. It took a lot of conscious effort to re-train my mind to recognize that it was just annoying and not a threat. It took weeks of daily practice, sitting through annoying sounds and self-talking to my mind ("Is this a threat or just an annoyance?" "Just an annoyance" "Are we in danger?" "No" "Can the sound harm me?" "It interrupts sleep, and that is bad" "True, but I'm doing mostly ok. I haven't been harmed, just inconvenienced." "I can't stop her" "Not directly, but I can keep calling the police. Eventually they will get tired of dealing with her and talk with her about it.") Over and over and over again. I was able to eventually deprogram that reaction and have one that is far more reasonable. 

 

I was considering going to a legit hypnotist to speed up the process of low-level re-programming, but was able to talk myself out of it. A good therapist can be a great help. 

 

My hunch is that your young mind was programmed with some fight-or-flight survival level fears, and those have not been over-written by logic (because logic on its own doesn't change survival-level programming). The mind has to be shown over and over that there is no real threat, that the fears were incorrect. I found that talking to my inner-self was a helpful approach. Face the fears directly. Revisit them on purpose to show the mind (which is trying to protect you) that it was incorrectly programmed. It takes time and patience, like dealing with a child. 

 

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Read read read and read some more. Scholarly criticism about the Bible. About the concept of hell. Read accounts written by those who left the church, there are many good books. Read psychology and how religion controls the mind (Marlene Winell writes all about the challenges of deprogramming). Keep on feeding your brain with information. It sinks in eventually and will help. If it helps I'll tell you that the only reason why you're not terrified of the purple poka dot monster sending you to an ocean of muck you'll literally drown in, is because your mind reasons, your logical thinking ability gets you out of it, and number one, you weren't brainwashed. Eventually things will click and the ridiculousness of your former beliefs will be apparent. 

 

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11 hours ago, TruthSeeker0 said:

Read read read and read some more. Scholarly criticism about the Bible. About the concept of hell. Read accounts written by those who left the church, there are many good books. Read psychology and how religion controls the mind (Marlene Winell writes all about the challenges of deprogramming). Keep on feeding your brain with information. It sinks in eventually and will help. If it helps I'll tell you that the only reason why you're not terrified of the purple poka dot monster sending you to an ocean of muck you'll literally drown in, is because your mind reasons, your logical thinking ability gets you out of it, and number one, you weren't brainwashed. Eventually things will click and the ridiculousness of your former beliefs will be apparent. 

 


^^^^^ Yes, do this!  ^^^^

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Welcome to the forums, @godless,

 

Your irrational fear of hell was programmed into you at a young age and you will need to be de-programmed. Keep reading here as well as books by well-knows authors such as Richard Dawkins, Richard Carrier, Bart Ehrman et al.

 

It sounds like you've been spending time mulling over the fear and all this does in reinforce it. Turn that around to reading/pondering the origins of hell and how pastor ass-hat has used the fear to keep people in the fold.

    - MOHO (Mind Of His Own)

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Thank you to all of you for your replies!

 

19 hours ago, Fuego said:

My hunch is that your young mind was programmed with some fight-or-flight survival level fears, and those have not been over-written by logic (because logic on its own doesn't change survival-level programming). The mind has to be shown over and over that there is no real threat, that the fears were incorrect. I found that talking to my inner-self was a helpful approach. Face the fears directly. Revisit them on purpose to show the mind (which is trying to protect you) that it was incorrectly programmed. It takes time and patience, like dealing with a child.

 

I struggle with this because my anxiety leads me to always ask "but what if?" My anxiety issues in general are rooted in a difficulty tolerating uncertainty. And no matter what I tell that inner child, a part of me (as my adult self) always asks, "but can you be 100% certain?" And of course the answer is no, because by definition the supernatural is impossible to actively disprove. So while I may not actually believe, my mind feels unsafe not hedging its bets... and having been brought up with the Christian god, this is the most vivid possibility that it can seize upon.

 

17 hours ago, TruthSeeker0 said:

Read read read and read some more. Scholarly criticism about the Bible. About the concept of hell. Read accounts written by those who left the church, there are many good books. Read psychology and how religion controls the mind (Marlene Winell writes all about the challenges of deprogramming). Keep on feeding your brain with information. It sinks in eventually and will help. If it helps I'll tell you that the only reason why you're not terrified of the purple poka dot monster sending you to an ocean of muck you'll literally drown in, is because your mind reasons, your logical thinking ability gets you out of it, and number one, you weren't brainwashed. Eventually things will click and the ridiculousness of your former beliefs will be apparent.

 

I think reading about the concept of hell could be very helpful. I know abstractly that hell is a cultural conception, but detailed context might make that more concrete.

 

I've read some Marlene Winell and I find the idea of Religious Trauma Syndrome very useful. I've found much of her "deprogramming" stuff less so, because it seems to be targeted at people who are in the process of questioning and leaving, whereas for me it's something I did almost 20 years ago. But maybe I do need to get back to the basics. I just feel like I've been over those arguments again and again and I believe them, they just don't quite sink in on an emotional level.

 

I already see my former beliefs as ridiculous, but that just makes me feel ashamed that I'm still affected by them.

 

5 hours ago, MOHO said:

Your irrational fear of hell was programmed into you at a young age and you will need to be de-programmed. Keep reading here as well as books by well-knows authors such as Richard Dawkins, Richard Carrier, Bart Ehrman et al.

 

It sounds like you've been spending time mulling over the fear and all this does in reinforce it. Turn that around to reading/pondering the origins of hell and how pastor ass-hat has used the fear to keep people in the fold.

 

I'm not a fan of Dawkins or the New Atheists in general because I find that they try to replace religion itself with a kind of secular religion which can sometimes be quite dogmatic in its own right. On the other hand, I find some of the more "religion-friendly" authors (like Karen Armstrong) to be a little wishy-washy... I hadn't heard of Bart Ehrman though, I think I'll check out Heaven and Hell: A History of the Afterlife.

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On 12/5/2019 at 5:50 PM, godless said:

I'm not a fan of Dawkins or the New Atheists in general because I find that they try to replace religion itself with a kind of secular religion which can sometimes be quite dogmatic in its own right. On the other hand, I find some of the more "religion-friendly" authors (like Karen Armstrong) to be a little wishy-washy... I hadn't heard of Bart Ehrman though, I think I'll check out Heaven and Hell: A History of the Afterlife.

 

Welcome godless! 

 

Maybe spend some time just conversing with us. Generally speaking ex christian atheist's aren't exactly the cookie cutter "new atheist" lot. Maybe a few, but certainly not all. We discuss a lot of ideas that christians can't seem to stereo type. For instance, it's either god or everything came from nothing? Wrong. Atheist's arguing that everything came from nothing. Wrong again. There are answers that fall between the two extremes and many of us have found ourselves gravitating towards those middle grounds. 

 

Perhaps we could call it, "Newest Atheism?" 

 

 

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3 hours ago, godless said:

I already see my former beliefs as ridiculous, but that just makes me feel ashamed that I'm still affected by them.

Two sides of your mind are doing battle: the rational side and the irrational side. It's OK to have irrational fears. We all have them. The key is to know that they are irrational and, even if they won't go away, you won't be hurt as a result. Thus at the end of the day you can put those irrational fears back in their box and sleep well.

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IMO, God isn’t the problem for most people. Religion is the problem. It’s religion that wants to brainwash and control people.God is just a tool they use to accomplish their goals. God, for many people, is simply nature without the laws, rules, and commands. Hell is a control mechanism that was created by humans to scare people into being obedient, and thus vulnerable to all the dogma religions create.

 

Ultimately, religion is about controlling people’s minds and manipulating them into being obedient and submissive robots. It’s a big mind game, but no one has to play their game. It’s a choice. Those of us here have chosen to get out of the game and not play it anymore.

 

 

 

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          Ok, I think you should REALLY, I mean REALLY look up two things. this have personally helped me. first. Mind control and brainwashing, via cult mind control. Some authors = Steve Hassan, Alexandra Stein, Janja Lalich, Margaret Singer and others. There is the ICSA site, International cultic association website there with lots of info. Oh yes and Jon Atack. Mind control and brainwashing works on a very deep level usually, using cognitive, emotional and body based tehniques, social psychology and hypnosis. So all of the tools. Christianity and major religions that have been here for thousands of years have pretty good influencing tehniques, for bad or for worse. They also talk about recovery and I will give you an example from Steve Hassan. A woman who was with the Moonies for just three months, after more than seven years had a fear of having children. Onlye after chance meeting Hassan and working for a little bit with him , she had an insight that her fear was because she was told who leaves the moonies will have stilborn children. 

           Second, modern trauma theory. Bessel van der Kolk , the Body keeps the score is a very good start as it it is very broad, from history, to social, to healing tehniques from yoga acupuncture and qi qong to modern neurofeedback, EMDR and modern medicine, art therapy and animal therapy, medication and with possible combinations. Second, Francine Shapiro, with trauma and EMDR, and maybe Franz Ruppert. Again trauma works at a deep neurological level, actually changing how certain areas of the nervous system works. Pure talk therapy and even CBT, or that is rarely enough. Psychoanalysis, actually, in its ideal, is NOT talk therapy. It is a very long and drawn out process to bring forth those blocked memories from the subconcisous and be aware of them. A type of lucid conscious hypnosis. But there are others, which are faster. Cranio sacral therapy is a modern one, as I said, and other BODY BASED  psychotherapies for trauma processing and release. As I said, the cognitive is only a part, but not the whole part. Also TRE, trauma release exercises. Mindfulness meditation is another one, and there trauma focused mindfulness courses/books.

           Research, pick and choose what you want. Ultimately what is useful in your case. But, I repeat, there are solutions and your problem is NOT at all unsual. far less things affect people for life for some reasons. You could meet people who were mocked in front of their classmates when they were ten and they felt it so intense that they have stage fright up until their death, although they rationally know they should not have. Trauma also disconnects a part of you from your reason, that what fear does it shuts down the prefrontral cortex. So your thinking does even reach that part that easily. Why? Well think of being attacked by a bear. What use is deliberating ? Immediate response is useful. Run. But some events are so big that that mechanism just fails. Being ashamed of that is like being ashamed your arm was broken when you hit it with a sledghammer. But the West still has this very false idea about the so called "power of reason" and free will which although proven wrong by science and reality still tends to reign supreme and provoke even bigger problems, but it is just another defense mechanism of denying the pain of life sometimes.

         And about dieing in fear. Well some fear will probable always exists, as there is A LOT to afraid of , but not in uncontrollable amounts. Maybe.

       Also, just saying here, there is a possibility of early childhood trauma, even pre natal trauma, that causes what you feel besides religion, things which you are unconscious of. Not saying you do, but some very early events, before 5 6 year old, can have devastating effects and are often not recognized by adults. You will find stories about it in trauma therapy. There is noi need, by the way, for deep awful stories like war or torture of sexual abuse. It could be just your mother, being vert tired and annoyed one day because of something unrelated, shouted a bit too loud Keep quiet! and you felt extremely afraid and guilty of hurting your mother. Only that. Really. It could have stuck. Not saying it IS SURE, but it is a possibility.

 

Hope this helps.

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Lots of good advise above.  It can also take time.  It was a long time ago, but I remember going through some "what if" thinking.  But the evidence for religion being "man made" just kept adding up as I kept studying, and eventually the "what ifs" disappeared.  

 

You might also try reading our stories in the testimonial section.  My story shows the step by step process, over a period of years,  I used for sorting out "truth."  But if the anxiety/fear persists after more study, you might want to seek some professional help.  That early programming can run deep.

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On 12/4/2019 at 6:44 PM, Fuego said:

I used to be terrified of movie monsters

Me too.  Not a monster movie, but the Russian Roulette scene from "The Deer Hunter" invaded my dreams for decades.

 

Unlike the poster, when I fully realized that god was imaginary it hit the amygdala hard and quick.  In less than an hour my brain rewrote reprogrammed itself.  My adult life of anxiety instantly disappeared.  Most amazing transformation of my life.  Now, I challenge anyone to put me in front of a horror movie.  I will not scare.  I know it is not "real life".  Instead of gasps, I will laugh, or say "how dumb is that".

 

The key is to override the primative parts of our brain.  Rewrite the mental bios system.  The downside is that few ever do this, leaving one a bit on their own.  The upside is ditching a ton of worthless negative emotional responses....while keeping the positive ones.

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3 hours ago, ConsiderTheSource said:

 

  In less than an hour my brain rewrote reprogrammed itself.  My adult life of anxiety instantly disappeared.  Most amazing transformation of my life. 

 

 

Isn't it a great feeling?  I had a similar one years ago.  Subconsciously I think my brain had been working on the problem, but it came as a sudden awareness.  I remember thinking, "why did I ever think like that?"

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23 hours ago, Weezer said:

 

Isn't it a great feeling?  I had a similar one years ago.  Subconsciously I think my brain had been working on the problem, but it came as a sudden awareness.  I remember thinking, "why did I ever think like that?"

This was my experience too. Maybe there was years of a lead up, I'm not sure, but when I read up on the evidence for and against god (yes I had been trained not to use my brain so well in this area that I didn't come up with questions of my own), I sat there for about five minutes thinking wtf this has been my entire life, that has revolved around this belief. But next, I felt euphoric that I was finally free. 

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On 12/4/2019 at 6:51 PM, godless said:

I'm worried that this stuff has been imprinted on my neural circuitry because I was indoctrinated at such a young age. That I'll never be able to escape it, only continue to struggle, process, and attempt to cope... and that ultimately I'll die in fear.

Hello @godless. I know exactly how you feel. I grew up in a Fundamentalist Calvinist household and the programming to fear hell ran really deep. I'll be honest and tell you that it took over a decade and a lot of daring self reflection to work my way through it. On the other hand life is long and I can assure you from experience that you can in fact get past those feelings. You're correct in assessing that simply asserting a rational *truth* to yourself won't necessarily help on an emotional level. The key is to actually work through the traumas/issues your religious programming either caused or medicated. See a (secular) therapist if you have the resourced/money to do so. Otherwise try to discern people who have genuine character that you can trust and can share your deeper feelings/fears with. Honestly reaching out to ex-christians on this site to talk about these fears is a great step in the process. You're already on the right track... just keep it up! 

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