Ladies: How difficult was it leaving organized religion?

At my talk for the Seattle Atheists on Saturday (which went fabulously, thanks to those who showed up!), an audience member posed a very interesting question. Why are women more likely to be religious if the vast majority of religions are so sexist? It’s a question that’s been posed before, with some of the less satisfactory answers saying women are simply hard-wired to be superstitious (with no real evidence backs that up). I have my own hypothesis::

When you’re part of a sexist, patriarchal religion, often the only source of power you have is in raising a family or helping with social events (cooking, event planning, making sure the Church pot luck runs smoothly). You aren’t supposed to be the bread winner or waste time on other hobbies when you have children to raise. Because of this, leaving your religion makes you lose the only source of power you ever had. You no longer have the social structure of the church, and often times you are alienated from your family.

I don’t claim to be the first person to come up with this idea, but it’s very important that we talk about this. If this is correct, it illustrates the importance of having friendly godless social networks as safety nets for women leaving their religion. Groups based on debates, speakers, and intellectual sparring are awesome, but sometimes what you really just need is a friend.* And while I personally approve of pub nights, they’re not somewhere a women with children can easily visit.

But I’m basically a life long atheist, so I don’t even have personal experience to back up my claims. So I leave it to my readers:

Ladies, how difficult was it for you to leave organized religion? What helped you come out as an atheist? Or if you haven’t come out, attended meetings, etc, what would encourage you to do so? Do you think this hypothesis is the main reason why so many more women are religious, or is it something else?

*Obviously not saying that women are inherently uninterested in intellectual discourse about atheism. The women who don’t need the comfort of a social group are already leaving religion and participating in atheism – this is a step to get the other women more involved.


  1. says

    It wasn’t that difficult for me but I can see how I could be. Losing community, social structure, family, friends… it’s tough. Also, women tend to be into spiritual BS more often, in my experience. I’ve actually known many women who aren’t religious, but are “spiritual”, what ever that means. Or into horoscopes, psychics, etc but not religion or god. Also, when it comes to their own family, some find the need to indoctrinate their kids into something, otherwise they’re lost.I have found that more and more women are coming out, thanks to the internet. I was never a practicing Jew, I always railed against organized religion. For me, it wasn’t difficult. My family hates my liberalism far more than my skepticism/atheism. So I knew they wouldn’t be understanding anyway.

  2. says

    Leaving Christianity was incredibly difficult for me and took about three passes for me to finally break away from it.. the previous two times I tried to leave, I only found myself back at it again a few months later.Nothing could have helped me out of it, unfortunately.. I’m the only one who could have done it. That fact makes me sad for others, because I know there is almost no “convincing” a lot of people out of religion. They really just have to awaken to the facts all by themselves.For me, a lot of the problem hung on my mental illnesses, and how desperate I was for there to be a God who was going to “fix me” if I could just be faithful enough and prove myself. I was beaten down for so long by religious bullcrap telling me my mental illness was a sign of a lack of faith that I just had a hard time letting it all go.I also had a fear of death, and I’ll be honest with you by saying I still do. Knowing when we die, there is just nothing else.. it’s not an easy concept for a fearful (anxiety disorder) mind like mine to grasp. So I held on to religion for a long time just so that I would know there was something else beyond this life, so that I wouldn’t have to be afraid any longer.But “ignorance is bliss” does not hold true forever, at least not for me.. in the end I had to face the music. Some of it was harder than others, but I am a very *happy*atheist, and the happiest I’ve been in my entire life. I’ve managed to get my mental health issues under control for the first time in my life, and it only happened AFTER I managed to leave all the nonsense behind. What helped me come out as an atheist.. was just waking up one morning and being honest with myself. I remember asking myself “Do you really believe?” and I found the answer stinging in the back of my brain… “No.”And I had to let it go.Looking back, it all seems like it should have been easy.. because hindsight is, of course, 20/20. But at the time?It was hard. Really hard. And that’s why I always have a bit of sympathy for people who are stuck in any religion, because I know just how blinding it can all be, no matter what type of a person you are. Me? I grew up logical, rationale, straight-A-student, and in an Agnostic home. And yet I indoctrinated myself part way through my youth looking for “the answers”.. I’ll never precisely know why I went that route.All I know is that it was really hard to break free later when it really mattered.I guess what’s important now, is just that I made it, and not to beat myself up over the past.

  3. Kitty says

    Oh, I think you are really on to something here. I was raised in a really conservative Catholic community and I saw how hard it was for my mom to question and eventually leave that environment (wrapped up with leaving my abusive dad, which was a huuuuuuuuge “no no” to the community and basically got her socially ostracized). It was really hard to give up the social support and the sense of place religion provided–even a patriarchally-determined, bullshit role like she had–when you don’t have anything else to depend on. I think the community religion provides is hard for anyone to lose, but especially for women in an isolated, circumscribed kind of position like my mom was in where there really is no community that they have outside of the religious one, whatever its flaws.

  4. Slacker says

    It was very easy. It started when I was 10 and told I could never be a priest because I lacked a Y chromosome. Then it got worse when I was 12 and was told I couldn’t even be an altar server. By the time I was a senior in high school I was looking around different religions, which I truly enjoy. I love studying different beliefs system. And then after a while I realized that I had lived without a religion most of my life.

  5. says

    The same question has been posed concerning why women who are abused by their husbands stay with them. While there is a myriad of answers to this complex question, I found this explanation intriguing: while a woman understands that their husband is able to use his force to hurt them, they are also able to use his force to protect them from others. Just throwing it out there!Also, I am a woman you was previously a Christian, and what woke me up was two-fold:1) I gained more insight, comfort, and sense of connection from history books than from the Bible/God2) My deep desire to connect to a community was dashed when I realised that no religious community I attended really wanted to get to know me … they just wanted to add me to a tally of ‘believers’. Everything felt superficial and motivated by emotions and hype. Plus, I found no models of intelligent believers.

  6. says

    I think it may have to do with education as well. Traditionally women were less educated then men. Also, women had the job of raising a family and making their husbands look good. Religion may have been their only saving grace.

  7. Sal Bro says

    I was raised in a rural, fundamentalist Protestant church. I went through several years of guilt and mourning after deconverting, but by that point I’d entered college, moved away from home, and found a strong non-religious support system. So it was probably relatively easy for me compared to others. I’m still closeted to the folks back home; locally, I’m not involved in any groups but probably would be if I had the time. I do regularly read and participate in several atheist blogs.I can only speak of religious women from my rural area, but I do agree that many of them don’t have much of a support system outside of the church, and that probably plays into their decision to get involved and stay. In small towns, social status is sometimes conflated with church involvement. It’s a way for lower-income women to possibly improve their social standing; it’s a way for wealthier women to maintain a higher standing. Having non-religious alternatives would certainly appeal to some women who primarily go to church for the social involvement. But I don’t know that alternative groups could offer much power to women until those groups were well integrated into, and respected by, the community.

  8. Jeanette says

    Yours is an inspiring story. It’s absolutely heartbreaking that anyone would blame your mental illness on a lack of faith, and I’m so glad you were able to find the truth. I too am pretty damn scared of death when I actually think about it, but like you I can’t lie and pretend it’s all going to be okay and we’re going to live forever with naked babies and harps. But of course, we all are free to enjoy the time we are given, and I wish you luck in your happy atheist life :)

  9. Jeanette says

    I’ve never been super religious (renounced Catholicism when I was 10), but I was into a lot of “spiritual healing” and herbal remedy bs in my early teens. I thought that this somehow made me more feminine, and that the idea that I was “in touch with”…something was part of being a woman. I think our society loves the idea that men are rational and intelligent but not “in touch with”whatever random spiritual bs, and I’m sure for Christian women, that connection to god would count. I think this dichotomy is also perpetrated by women a lot, because it’s appealing to have this “special, feminine” ability that men can’t understand, especially when you’re told from a young age that you can’t possibly be as rational as a man

  10. says

    I think the women are more spiritual thing might just stem from the fact that y’all often have new people come out of your bodies. That is pretty close to magic, if you ask me. Controlling the womb may be a root goal of the oppression of women.A lot of traditional religious groups try hard to make sure women have no place else to go if they are unhappy. Women don’t get to work out of the home, have friends outside the home, and “don’t need no education”. Where are they going to go?

  11. says

    I’m not sure I would have been able to leave religion if I hadn’t gone away to college. I was raised in a homeschooling family (although we originally started homeschooling because my dad was Navy), who slowly became more and more evangelically Christian. We would be going to church 2 or 3 times per week, plus Sunday School, outside Bible study, small groups, youth groups, etc. I went away to college to a large state university, and after a falling out with my parents, had very little contact. I was lucky to live in a very small dorm with an incredible group of people, almost all of whom were atheist/agnostic. We had long discussions about faith/lack thereof, and I was able to have a community of people who I felt liked me for me, rather than trying to be “Christian”. I think you have a great theory here.

  12. says

    A related question was presented by my church growth professor when I was in the seminary (during my deconversion). He asked why so many men leave the church. If I remember the stats correctly the Seventh-day Adventist church is something like 65% female, a number that is similar across all Christian denominations. So we spent an entire class period trying to figure out why religion appeals more to women and how it could be better presented for men. What it comes down to is:1. Religious appeals tend to be emotional in nature.2. Organized religion is set up to create community, social interaction, family support, and a sense of security.3. A lot of the language about the relationship between the believer and God/Jesus is very romantic in nature which has a tendency to make heterosexual men uncomfortable, while it would be more appealing to heterosexual and bisexual women.An additional one that didn’t come up in class is that religions tend to over do the socialization of traditional gender roles, thus good Christian women would find all of the above very satisfying, while the overly macho men which makes it so that most women raised in a church find it very comfortable, while men find it very uncomfortable unless they find a position of power that allows them to control it.

  13. JenL says

    I think that for me it was made *much* easier by the fact that I’d never been socially accepted in my church – it was never a place that offered me a feeling of belonging, comfort, and security. If it *had*, then I’d have had something to lose by leaving the church. As it was, I simply stopped attending. No one from the church ever noticed, as far as I could tell. I wasn’t even sure at the time what I did or didn’t believe. By the time I realized I might as well fess up to myself that I didn’t believe in god, I hadn’t attended church in a few years already.

  14. WingedBeast says

    I’ll propose my own hypothesis.Human beings are hierarchical creatures. We seek not only familial and familial-like bonds with groupings, but also to know the hierarchies within those groupings and establish our place within.Religions supply those both through organized support groups and by the introduction of deities to be at the hierarchical top.One of the ways to establish who is at the hierarchical top is who expresses the most power over whom. Well, deities delivering messages as to who is on the bottom of the hierarchy are, within that instinctive way of things, expressing the most power over women. We all have an instinct to respond to percieved authority. The lower we are, often the stronger our instinct because we feel that we have less latitude to stretch.This, to my thinking, is also an appropriate hypothesis for one reason why abused members of an abusive relationship have trouble just saying goodbye, even if they have financial means to do so.

  15. says

    I had a pretty effed up childhood – typical “broken home” stuff that I won’t bore you with – so when introduced to church with it’s all-loving, daddy-like god, it got me hook, line, and sinker. I threw myself in with gusto, doing everything to garner the attention and approval of the adults around me. Somewhere during my high school career – about the time I realized I was looking at women in more than just platonic ways – I started questioning the whole “women can’t do ____ because they’re women” thing. WTF? I can’t be a minister ‘cuz I wear my anatomy inside my body? I also started thinking about something I overheard – how can humans have free will if god has a plan and knows everything? It just didn’t match up.This led to a whole lot of questioning. Yeah, it was pretty painful – it was like losing a family all over again. But it was liberating, too, just like losing the family was – No longer did I have someone looming overhead, making me worry that I wasn’t good enough and that I was going straight to hell. I started exploring other religions – comparison shopping, if you will – and realized that they were all making the same claims: We’re the one true way to god. It wasn’t long before I realized that they can’t ALL be right, and with some deeper thinking, it was pretty damn likely that none of them were. Since then, I’ve refined my views, but that was the basis for it. For me, and for quite a few people I know, it’s similar to the abuse thing – you start thinking that church and god are the only ones who will love you, and your idea of what love is starts warping to match that conditional acceptance.

  16. says

    I totally understand the mental illness aspect and wanting God “fix” or at least accept you. I was raised Catholic, converted to Protestant at 13 yo and then to LDS at 20 and 10 years later wandering aimlessly looking for truth. For many years I believed, because of the nuns, that as a bastard I had no soul and devoted myself to finding ways to make God love me anyway. For me it was a crisis that facilitated me walking away from God. Homeless after my youngest child had been kidnapped, with my other children in foster care at my request, I got saved. And as I was realizing it was all the same crap as every other church I tried and left, I was also finally getting treatment for bipolar disorder. After about ten days of lithium, I had a breakdown. The whole incident is lengthy (but if you are really interested I’ve posted it a few times and you can probably find it somewhere, maybe even in old threads here). But it ended up with me waking up in the morning and realizing there was no god, only me. It was very freeing.

  17. Myrvan says

    It wasn’t difficult because I was never really in an orginized religion and besides almost all people around me were atheist (Holland, where there was no need to come out as anything because no fixed status, religuous or sexual, was ever assumed).I think the reason why many more women are religious has to do with insecurities. Insecureties, regardless of what they relate to (personal, professional, job-wise, financial, sexual etc etc) creates a void that people feel may be filled with religion. In poor countries (insecurity) people tend to be far more religious. People who have no sex lives (insecurity) tend to be more religious. And women are generally still insecure as long as we live in a patriarchal society where 1-language is loaded with masculine words, even God is a he (no matter what they say, it is always called ‘he’), 2-there are far too few female presidents or leaders, 3-women are still in danger of being raped no matter where in the world they are, and 4-women give up their names, just like slaves had to take their owner’s names, and name their children the presumed father’s name, meaning we can’t even trace our heritage, again, much like slaves. All this adds to women still being very insecure and tending to be more religuous. I think.

  18. Ray says

    All I had to do was read His Dark Materials, but I was ten at the time and had never experienced social benefits from being part of a church. My parents raised me in a home that probably contained more feminism, pound for imaginary pound, than religion, of course. I understand that some are not as fortunate.

  19. says

    Religion was such an insidious thing in my life. It was always something that was just “done”. I can’t remember when my parents put it in my head that there was only one way to be, to live, etc. I rarely asked questions, because I already knew what they would say. I never prayed, and indeed lied about it when asked. When I finally had the intellectual courage to leave, however, my upbringing, and famial personality traits of always thinking we were correct (the 1 true religion, dontchaknow) helped me immensely. I was so strong in my convictions that when my convictions changed, it was okay.I did try out paganism for a short time, but discovered that a) it was silly and b) it was also very much the same with the cliques and the inability to completely fit in to the community. I don’t remember the moment I first said “atheist”, but I can see the path I took when I look back.As to whether or not we might attend atheist events: I don’t have vacation time/money for conferences–I’d rather go see my friends. In town events: I work second shift right now, including weekends. If there were more late-ight, bar-related social things, I’d go.

  20. leanne says

    it wasn’t terrible for me. i moved far enough away for college that it was an excuse not to go, and then i completely stopped going. but i can’t say i got out as soon as i would have liked to.. i had my doubts about age.. 13? 14? but more or less repressed them. the worst was having to be subjected to ‘small group’ at age 16 where they start talking about things like sex and why you shouldn’t do it, why you shouldn’t masturbate, etc. it was torture.

  21. Jeanette says

    Wow, more inspiring stories! I love that the word both of you used in regard to realizing you were an atheist was “freeing”. That’s the perfect word to describe how beautiful it feels to actually understand the world. “The truth shall set you free”…now where have I heard that? Good quote :P

  22. leanne says

    also, i had my female ‘small group leader’ tell me that it was okay for boys to masturbate because it was a ‘physical need’ but girls couldn’t. a lot of the reason i turned away from christianity is because of how terrible they make you for wanting to be a normal, healthy, sexual human being.

  23. says

    I think another facet of this is that girls, as they grow up, are generally socialized to be “good”, ie go with the flow, don’t argue, don’t question, sit quietly and don’t bother the grown-ups. I know that personally, it took a LONG time to become comfortable overtly disagreeing with my parents about anything. I can see how a girl could internalize that to the point of not even MENTALLY disagreeing with authority. (I became an atheist after going to college and actually reading ALL the Bible, but I didn’t “come out” to my parents until they found my posts on alt.atheism .)

  24. says

    Strange thing is that I haven’t left, but I am lucky enough that there are a lot people in my ‘religion’ who are making it known that they don’t believe in God or are at least agnostic. I was raised Lutheran, but in college decided that my beliefs about the implications of religion were much more in line with the Quakers. It turns out that they are pretty diverse, ranging from strongly conservative to unabashedly liberal. It’s probably the only religion I think that focuses very much on the individual becoming a better person. In time, I found out about the non-theist Quakers, and I feel at home with the label. It means I still have a community that adheres to certain practices and beliefs with which I agree, but I don’t necessarily have to believe in God. In fact, some Quakers also I identify as Buddhist or various other religions, but I honestly don’t have a problem with it because I think the goal for most people is to better themselves: most Quakers seem to have a good handle on respectfully disagreeing with people of differing beliefs.

  25. says

    Could an answer be in your post: “helping with social events (cooking, event planning, making sure the Church pot luck runs smoothly).”We need food / group-gathering type holidays for atheists. I think Boobquake kind of touched that nerve – a group activity touching on a primal need (sex instead of food). Actually I suppose Easter does that as well.I’m not sure what good atheist holidays are, but I’d love to cook for one!

  26. says

    I identified myself primarily by my faith. I was a Christian first and foremost. I attended a very small church where the congregation was very close-knit and I thought of them as my family. Leaving religion was so hard because I essentially lost my identity and my family at the same time. The church had always told me what was expected of me and when I left, I felt like I had no direction. I couldn’t keep lying to myself though, so there was never a question of going back.

  27. says

    Last year I read about a fundagelical group trying to make the “too feminine” church more appealing to Real Men by combining evangelism with strongman type demonstrations (breaking cement blocks with your head for the Lord!). Quite literally a new “Muscular Christianity”.

  28. Chelsea says

    Growing up I was raised as a pretty dedicated Catholic, though my parents taught me with a sort of cognitive dissonance, as we also all believed in evolution and the sciences were strongly emphasized in my education. I refused to be confirmed not because I didn’t believe in god but rather I just wasn’t certain Catholicism was the answer for me, and my mom was completely accepting of that. It wasn’t until I went to college that I really started to rethink my belief in god. What made me feel comfortable in those endeavors was that a huge portion of my friends at school were atheist and my mom seemed okay with my spiritual questioning (though I doubt she even considered I’d come out on the other end atheist). If I thought becoming an atheist would make me a total social outcast and/or get me exiled from my family, it probably would have taken me a lot longer to get where I am today.

  29. Coley says

    I haven’t come out as an atheist yet because doing so would cut off all financial resources I have from my parents. I’d much rather pretend to believe than lose my family over something as silly as a difference in beliefs. Since they would not be willing to be rational about it, I have no other choice but to continue living as though I believe.

  30. WhatPaleBlueDot says

    I probably started my journey out of religion as soon as I started my journey into it. I was raised in a home that taught me to learn and seek and question. I became a believer as a very young child, and continued to grow and ask and learn. I did a communicants class as soon as they would let me, and then advanced to an adult bible study because the youth study was empty.I went to college intact. I graduated intact. My understanding of god had changed over the years, but it wasn’t something I couldn’t deal with. I was born a pinko, so going to college didn’t have some kind of earthshattering effect. The trick for me was my graduate study, which, through my own efforts, centered on genocide. I couldn’t convince myself, as my mother suggested, that the bible was given as an example, but not necessarily as a guide of rightness. Her final suggestion was that the stories were given as an example of what not to follow. But I couldn’t swallow it. I already had no reason to believe any of it.I guess I’m fortunate in that I never really benefited from the social support of religion. I’ve always been an outcast. And, being a dirty liberal, I usually was told I wasn’t really a Christian anyways. So much for that. The really hard part of leaving it, and the reason it took five years to let go was that I was letting go of my father. He died when I was 9. I now had to willingly lose him all over again and also give up the supernatural father I had created for myself who would watch out for me in my father’s absence. I’m not sure I’ve finished grieving that.

  31. says

    I was living in DC at the time so there wasn’t really any social stigma. Actually, it was kind of a relief because trying to be a believer was hard work. I didn’t really have much invested in my church and I didn’t make friends there or find the man of my dreams.Still… I was afraid that men would not want a relationship with me because so many of them want kids and the works, which includes church.Now I live in Indiana, where a lot of my friends and colleagues have built up their entire lives around their church. Weird things like “Road to Emmaus” weekends and they go to weeklong bible study programs. They’re like Jesus fans rather than devoted followers. I find myself biting my tongue a lot. It’s okay for them to bring up their fairy godfather on work time but having a debate about religion is not. Fortunately I’ve also met a few atheists at work. Having our secret “code” of things like pictures of the FSM helps us find each other.I went to some meetups in DC and the conversation was really stimulating but I was usually either the only woman or one of two. I’ve also met some online friends for gatherings IRL.I agree that we’re expected to be church ladies. I think we’re supposed to nurture religion in the family too, so the men can relax about it and spend their time on more important things, like football.My family was always lukewarm toward the actual theology anyway, so they’re kind of on the same path I am.There’s no turning back once you see how ridiculous the fairy tales are. So I can’t say there are any regrets, though I would like to go to some spaghetti dinners and spend a week in a cabin with good friends.

  32. MacKenzie says

    Working and going to college in a small catholic town, I can definitely see where your theory comes from. Just last weekend the church actually held a banquet-type fundraiser, and the women I work with really threw themselves into managing every single part of it. I’m not sure there was a single man involved at any level, except husbands that were forced into Gofer roles.I was too young for that to play a factor in my leaving, but I can imagine that there are probably multiple “faithful” catholic women in my town who are closet atheists for the reason you’ve described. Leaving religion was hard for me for emotional reasons. My mom died when I was two, and my father gently comforted me with the idea of her watching out for me from heaven. I was such a good little girl, he said, that I would go to heaven some day, also, and could live with her forever. I was never pressured or scared of being rejected by my father if I left religion, and was never scared of burning in hell or anything, since I really was a good kid and frequently praised, but I was still determined to be the best little Christian I could be. I read the Bible thoroughly, listened attentively in Sunday school, and asked questions often. Things didn’t seem to add up, and the answers I got to my questions were never satisfying, but that just made me study harder. I couldn’t remember anything about my mom anymore.. there had to be a heaven, I had to go there so I could see her. It was painful to admit to myself that it was all just a fantasy. My dad still clings to his faith, which is also sometimes painful to see. Overall, though, embracing truth has made me happier and more confident person, so while I’m happy I had a childhood crutch to support me, I’m happier that I no longer need it.

  33. cat says

    Interesting theory. I tend to go with an economic one. Women are more likely to be poor. We live in a culture where secular state resources for the poor are routinely stripped and where money is handed out freely to religious organizations (often from the same tax funded sources). I suspect many women stay religious for the same reason the poor in South America or Africa convert-to get resources to survive. I remember as a child when we were at our poorest and the state cut money for social programs and my mother stood in line outside of the Catholic church and played along. Even though she has never in my memory been religious and she outright despises the church but her kids needed clothes, so she swallowed her pride and dignity and faked it. It is no surprise to me at all that the poorest groups tend to be the most nominally religious (save queer people, for obvious reasons-they can’t reap the benefits of faking as easily) whereas wealthy ones are less often so. Of course, these religious groups are a huge part of the problem and are the damned reason for many of the funding cuts and discrepancies in the first place, so the cycle is an intensely vicious one.As a genderqueer person, I am far to obviously an outsider to get the faking bonus, so it wasn’t that hard for me. The choice is easy when it has been pre-decided for you. But I have seen plenty of non-religious or marginally religious poor women faking it for benefits. My non-religious aunt even joined a church for several months, not because she cared about Jesus, but because she needed the free daycare while she worked. Most statistics about atheism and gender are from the US, I would be interested to see international numbers to determine whether or not countries with stronger social welfare systems had less of a discrepancy than the US. Cold hard economic reality means it is easier for the more privileged (white upperclass men) to be openly atheist. Also it is worth noting that the stereotypes regarding atheists hurt this group the least. Agressive, angry, over-sexed, bossy? These pack a far harder punch for black and latino people or for women.

  34. naomi says

    when i was a christian i had both good and bad experiences with community, heard both intelligent and idiotic sermons, read insightful and absurd books, but never felt really looked down to as a woman. i mean, i wrestled with what the apostle paul wrote, but in practice, i wasn’t oppressed by the church. i preached, i taught, i led chapel services.the reason i’m quiet (but out) as no-longer-christian is that i know the news will hurt and disappoint people. and i don’t want to deal with a more of that. bad enough i had to watch my atheist parents react to my newfound faith thirteen years ago.

  35. SamG says

    My family is not religious. I tried to go some as a kid. I’d bum rides to church. I seemed to need the feel like part of something bigger. But, alas, I found out I”m not a joiner. I ‘came out’ to my hubby’s side of the family at Christmas. They weren’t surprised and have been fine with it. So, it wasn’t hard or painful for me. I probably wouldn’t go to meetings etc. either. It’s just the ‘not-a-joiner’ in me.

  36. says

    This is nothing new; I remember this kind of thing (strongman demos during services) being popular in the 1980s – in fact, I think Hulk Hogan (among others) was a part of it; one of the other popular tricks was breaking bats…corny.

  37. Valh587 says

    I lost my church before I lost my faith, and it made it so much easier. I grew up in a small church (50-60ish) where everyone knew each other, and everyone in my youth group had pretty much been friends from birth. My family fit in well, but we were always just a bit of the outsiders because of geography. Most of the church lived on one side of town and often got together outside of services while we lived on the complete opposite side of town, and didn’t drive the 30-40 minutes to just ‘hang out.’ Once we got into high school and my friends were going to the same schools and events while I was still the only one on my side of town, I started to feel pretty left out of the church group.I also started asking questions at youth group that my leaders didn’t like, and challenging them on statements that didn’t make sense. I had boyfriends when no one else did, and so on.By the time I got to college, I was pretty uninterested in finding a church or campus group since I had recently lost my lifelong Christian community. It took another 4 years to shake my theism completely, but losing the community was definitely the major turning point.

  38. Reddabsinthe says

    i was raised a Zoroastrian, which i would describe as being not as extreme as some of the major religions today. I was brought up in a religious family, but with a very open minded mother, who pushed me, right from when i could grasp what religion was, to question what i believe. I dont think she meant to lead me to finally accepting that there is no God twenty years later. I never really thought to question the existance of god, because that was all i knew. but when i was 16 i went through a very tough place in my life, at which point i was angry at this god, and stopped any sort of prayer or religious ceremony. but i still believed he was there, i just believed he was uncaring, not just about me, but about the world. it took a couple of years for this anger to slowly fade and lead back again in to questions. it wasnt an overnight decision i made. it took a long time. my parents didnt understand it, and nor did any of my friends, so i had no back and forth with any one but myself, so yes it was a little bit of a struggle to let go of this figure i had grown up believing exists. i wouldnt dare compare it to finding out your adopted, but its somewhere down those lines. i think the real process began one day when i had a conversation with someone i had just met, about how i feel like there is no god. he noticed that while talking about him i never said it directly, i would twist my words to make it mean that i didnt believe and he said, if thats how you feel, just say it, say youre an atheist. and for the first time i did. and yes, like so many people have said before, it was freeing. everything was clearer to me, and i felt so much more confident because i realised the only person i truely have to rely on, isnt father figure that we have forced into existsnce, but just myself. im not so proud, however, to say to any one, that i know for certain that there is no god, because i dont, and i think it would be vain for someone who believes to tell me that they think for certain that he does. i dont think the thought process stops at proclaiming youre an atheist. i think its a constant momentum that allows you to move in a certain direction, and its a big lesson in tolerance.mine isnt a story you make a movie on, or one that will pull on your heart strings. but it was how it happened for me. just plainly allowing yourself to question, having enough faith and courage to realise the difference between what people have told you to believe and what you actually truly think is real. i think its a process everyone should allow themselves to go through, not to get the same end result, but to reinsure that what you believe in isnt just a direction from someone else.apologies for the essay, i thought it would just be five lines!love and light to you, Jen.

  39. Jo says

    That was the nail in the coffin for me too. I saw nothing wrong with premarital sex at all, saw nothing wrong with gay people, and saw nothing wrong with practising Wicca or other things that I had heard about provided no ill intent was there.When I asked these questions to anyone, I was met with lots of anger, and frantic trying to convince me otherwise. When I was told I had to make sure I dressed appropriately so I wouldn’t tempt the boys, I flat out flipped shit and walked away.

  40. Valhar2000 says

    I guess what’s important now, is just that I made it, and not to beat myself up over the past.


  41. ADA says

    I want to share the thumbnail of my story. I’d go into more detail, but it wasn’t fun to go through, and I just don’t feel like reliving it all at this particular time. I left Judaism when I was a teenager and my mother wanted to throw me out of the house. My dad was the only reason I got to stay. My maternal grandmother “still hasn’t forgiven me” (quite frankly, I don’t give a fuck). My relationship with my mother took years to improve, and when I announced my engagement two years ago (I’m married now) to my atheist partner of nine years, she almost threw our relationship away again because she “still hoped one day I’d be marrying a Jew.”

  42. jimmyboy99 says

    Not a woman…but this post caught my eye: I was a (very) devout RC when I first read His Dark Materials. I was totally bowled over by a wide shower of really quite deep emotions raning from offense to total admiration, to real shock: it was the first time I’d eve really encountered a suggestion that the Christian god might actually be bad…not just the church (which I was begnning to suspect).It’s a stunning trilogy and contrasted very naturally for me with the CS Lewis futuristic series, which I really liked as a kid, but looked shallow in comparison.

  43. Karen says

    I often wonder if I will ever truly break the cycle of organized religion in my own mind. I’m riddled with guilt for not going to church, and although I abide by the philosophies of “do unto others” and “Forgive and move forward”, it never really seems like enough.I don’t want to be a hypocrite and stand by these people knowing I don’t believe as they do, but you’d be surprised how many people comment on my choice./

  44. Paisley says

    I grew up in a fundamentalist evangelical Christian household. My mom got ‘saved’ at 18 after having a religious experience while tripping on mescaline (I wasn’t told about the use of drugs in the vision she experienced until I was 22 – and that was when I made the transition from kinda-afraid-to-be-an-atheist to atheist). Anyway, after she got saved she joined a ‘church’ that met in someone’s basement. That’s where she met my dad, and 9 months later they were married. My mom, having been a runaway and recently off drugs was completely dependent on my father and with the encouragement of the ‘church’ they began an ultra-patriarchal marriage. My parents weren’t part of the Quiverfull movement, but they were sorta de facto Quiverfull. I did, however, get to go to public school and ended up with a big scholarship to a state college. It was while in college (separated from my family and the church) that I lost my faith. To get to why I think women leaving the church is so difficult. Well my mom was completely financially dependent on my dad (she now works herself and with that her religious adherence has faded quite a lot). Leaving the church would also be leaving him. In my case, when I was 17 the church already knew who they wanted me to marry. I was really pressured to begin dating him (but I didn’t) but may have begun to if I hadn’t left for college. It is possible that I would have married young and into a relationship where I wouldn’t have agency, strapping me into that church-life which would be really difficult to leave.I’m not out to my parents. I don’t attend skeptics/atheist events because I’m now married to an atheist and work in science. I feel like I have enough of a support system.

  45. says

    “Good Night Nurse, she’s marryin’ a jew” – Archie Bunker reacting to his niece’s wedding on an All In The Family episode.

  46. says

    Well, it was difficult for me in that I knew I would end up utterly estranged from the half of my family that remained Jehovah’s Witnesses. The religion is structured so that members are very strongly discouraged from associating with non-members (to the point that you get counseled if you have “worldly” friends). They claim it is to keep the flock pure, as it were, but the real basis is control. If you do not have an outside network, it is so much more terrifying to leave something that has made up the majority of your life. I was fortunate in that I did have some friends and family outside the religion, so I wasn’t without support for my decision. And FTR, I didn’t choose atheism until several years later; I dallied with agnosticism, but decided it really did come down to all or nothing for me. There was no question that I could have stayed a JW or been reinstated because it simply wasn’t conceivable for me–my mind could not accept the religion, and my spirit/soul/id/whatever couldn’t accept the restrictions placed on me not just as a woman, but as a person.

  47. Slacker says

    I went to parochial school and I got kicked out of religion class several times for asking too many questions that the teacher couldn’t answer. I was being called a heretic by the time I was 12. On one hand it made me angry and indignant, when I was honestly trying to get a better understanding of “my” religion. On the other hand, I was amazed that no one else in my class would pose similar question, and I felt daring and brave. I told my parents I would not get confirmed, and all hell broke loose. But in the end they realized they couldn’t force me. I haven’t “come out” to them, but they pretty much get the idea from conversations we’ve had these past few years. Funny thing is, I have a better grasp of Catholic theology and dogma than about 90% of Catholics I know.

  48. says

    For me, it wasn’t difficult leaving organized religion because I didn’t grow up attending church. My parents were religious enough to be labeled religious people, but my mother worked as an on-call nurse and my father was more or less lazy. By the time I got old enough to “try” organized religion for myself, I already knew it was a bad fit. I tried out several churches of different denominations over the years – Methodist, Presbyterian, Baptist, and even Pentecostal at the insistence of a few former friends – but I continued to feel uneasy while in attendance. It didn’t help that most of the youth pastors were about as pushy as humanly possible. Because I live in the rural South, and practically every person I knew until I left for college was a Christian, it was something that I actively tried to “do” despite the many failed attempts. I could never reconcile my own experiences with church teachings, and thinking critically about any of it gave me a fucking headache, even at a young age. The schism between their rhetoric of salvation and their horrible, hateful actions, beliefs, and attitudes was glaringly obvious to me; the constant pressure to be the perfect little believer also wore me down (considering I was raised by parents who pushed me far too hard to be perfect in everything already).It was something that really just dawned on me one day after so many years of doubt and skepticism; afterward, I realized that I had been feeling that way for a while, but it took a little time for me to actually come out and say that I was an atheist. I was 20 years old then (24 now). I’ve never admitted verbally to my parents that I’m an atheist, though it’s spread all across the internet to the point where I know they’ve noticed by now. It’s not a topic that I can broach because my family is growing increasingly religious with the years, and as long as it’s unsaid, we can have a semblance of peace. Otherwise, though, I’m pretty upfront about my beliefs.So, I wouldn’t say it was that hard, but I wasn’t raised gobbling up the scripture and sermons like so many other people I know. And I’m so damn glad for it.

  49. Slacker says

    This remind me of the time I was considering Judaism after I had totally given up on Christianity. I told my father and he said, “well, as long as you aren’t an atheist!”I can’t say I’m an atheist outright, because that for me that denotes a certainty that I cannot assume, but I’m pretty happy with my nonreligous life.

  50. The Nasty Christian says

    “When you’re part of a sexist, patriarchal religion, often the only source of power you have is in raising a family or helping with social events (cooking, event planning, making sure the Church pot luck runs smoothly). You aren’t supposed to be the bread winner or waste time on other hobbies when you have children to raise. Because of this, leaving your religion makes you lose the only source of power you ever had. You no longer have the social structure of the church, and often times you are alienated from your family.”This assertion is perhaps the most blinkered thing I’ve read all week.Freud falsely thought a person’s libido or the pursuit of pleasure was the source of each person’s fundamental drive. BF Skinner said it was conditioning, a person’s enviro…Alfred Adler, like you, suggested the struggle to gain power, or to retain power (which is your suggestion) helps compensate for these barefooted women’s obvious inferiority complexes…This raw lust for power, as these women fight to dominate their rebellious children, their aimless husbands, their fellow Pot-Luck Dinner contributors, but alas!, alas! never the patriarchal religion they find themselves in, this relentless power striving owns them, and makes ’em stay put in their doomed setting right up to their final hour!Excuse me…are you on drugs? These women are nothing like this. At least, not in the Catholic Church.You have truly entered the land of Woo.Do you just theorize about everything, from afar? I mean have you ever, actually experienced anything Churchy—for lack of a better term?

  51. Dae says

    I was flirting with atheism at the end of high school, and out about it by about a year into undergrad. I was raised by Christian parents, but they were worlds more progressive than our congregation and the southern flavor of the religion in general, so it wasn’t difficult for me to decide early on that the local religious busybodies were bigoted and just plain wrong on a lot of issues. I then adopted a sort of woo-ish conception of, for lack of a better term, the Force, which, while it was nicer than Christianity, I promptly dropped when I realized that taking anything on “faith” was in direct opposition to how I wanted to live my life in every other respect. I don’t publish papers without evidence to support the results I’m reporting; I don’t make decisions without informing myself of the facts surrounding the choice; I don’t believe things just because people tell me to. Therefore, it followed that if I wanted to be consistent, religion had to go. I didn’t miss any support structure in the church because I made friends at school and online. Coming “out” about it was irritating in some respects (my parents still think it’s a teen rebellion phase, even though I’m 23), but for the most part it was empowering. I stopped feeling vaguely guilty for despising most of what Christianity stands for, and used the brain space and time for other things.

  52. says

    It was very difficult for me to leave the Catholic Church, for several reasons:1) I had built my entire life around what I saw as God’s mission for me; I married at 18 and started having kids right away. The marriage was not very happy, but it was what I thought I was supposed to be doing. Taking away the religious motivation took away a lot of the structure and purpose of my life. It wasn’t about power–I didn’t perceive myself as having any, in the marriage, in the church, or even in being a parent–but more like “What am I if I’m not a good Catholic wife and mother?” (I was 22 when the marriage ended, and I left the church shortly thereafter.) I don’t know how much my particular situation might be relevant to other women.2) My parents were extremely devout Catholics, and my connections to them were strained by my leaving the church. At first, it was difficult for me to turn my back on my parents’ traditions; now, more than 25 years after leaving the church, it’s still painful to accept the rift between how I was raised and who I feel I really am. I think this concern about shaking up the family, possibly damaging relationships with parents and others in the family, may be something that other women experience when they leave religion behind.I’m out to my family, although they live in another state so it’s not a big day-to-day concern. My siblings are all fine with it, but my father is still bothered by the fact that I’m not religious, and this makes my relationship with him tense from time to time.

  53. says

    Wasn’t difficult for me at all. It never made sense and I’m not much of a joiner. But I do still interact with religious institutions on a regular basis. Mostly it is because I am involved in various volunteer projects and religious spaces are often the only free or cheap ones available. If you want to help your community, it often necessitates getting involved with religious groups.

  54. says

    I only read HDM a long time after I’d dropped religion. So all the way I just basically nodded along, and the significance totally escaped me.Until I went to watch the Narnia movies. Blegh.Even by cat standards Aslan just comes over as a judgy prick.

  55. says

    That sounds like a really rough place to be in. I wish you luck with that. Hopefully things will get better when you’re able to stand on your own, without their help; still, it’s hard when the family cohesiveness is based on the religion thing.

  56. jimmyboy99 says

    Hi Nasty Christian (strange name?),I’m interested that you think this is the most blinkered thing you’ve read all week: you’ve not drawn your conclusions together or made any cohesive arguments, so your point is hard to follow. But you do jump into some big accusations at the end, without much substance to back them up.”You have truly entered the land of woo”Do you understand how the word woo is used in the sceptical community? There would be quite a deep irony in the accusation coming from someone who is perhaps religious?You have misrepresented the writer quite seriously here (if you honestly ask yourself why you want to do that you might find some very interesting facts out about yourself). Did the quote say anything derogatory, or suggest it in any way, about the husbands or children? Your extension of the argument into straw-man territory tells us a lot more about you than it contributes to the debate.And you end with more irony, as you indeed, theorise wildly from afar. Beautiful.When I read this I felt it corresponded with my experience in the Catholic Church quite well. My mum was 100% pushed into the role of bringing up the family and supporting church events. That was her role and the church had a load of “theology” keeping her in that place. My sisters were taught retrograde science about sex and biology: actually we all were – but their’s came with a massive dose of complete and utter bollox about female sexuality as well.Definitely my parents were trapped in a deeply unhappy marriage because they could not divorce. Clearly the RCC is deeply misogynistic – but pretends it isn’t because they ascribe spiritual ‘value’ where rationality would not. ie A woman staying at home looking after the kids has high value says the church. Who could disagree? Except that the church says that a woman who chooses not to has demeaned herself. The large number of Catholic women I know adopted this view – because to do otherwise, was to ostracise themselves from the Church. Like all cults, the RCC does not tolerate dissent.So – no: this sounds to me like the writer probably, like me, knows a lot about Catholicism.You know what though? I only learned to think critically when I left all that baggage behind. I wonder if you might do the same?

  57. ty_ping says

    Another theory of it is that after being raised for who knows how many years being told to your face and subliminally by not just your church but a lot of approved media that you life is only completed by the man at your side (father, boyfriend, husband, male child) it’s hard to break that mental pattern to accept new truths. It’s not that they’re hardwired to be superstitious, we’re hardwired by society to be subservient. And where better to get that then at church?And

  58. says

    I concur. I read an article a while back, which I was hoping maybe someone in the comments had seen too (can’t recall it now) that made similar points. Leaving the religion is hard precisely because of those social networks. Makes it hard for women to leave due to that as well. A church often offers a social space, day care for children, support groups if you are a single parent.

  59. says

    By the way, could you please check on the comment box? Seems to cut you off after typing a certain length.To finish my thought, how are skeptics, atheists, so on to compete with that? As a heathen stuck in a very Red place where one of the Baptist churches literally runs the town, one really lacks options.

  60. Amii says

    I think you really hit something with the tally remark. How many of us have seen the face of a pastor go from caring to utter indifferance once he sees that he has not successfully added you to his tally.

  61. amywatkins says

    Becoming an atheist has been a slow process for me, and I’m still working on “coming out” to my parents and extended family. Part of what has slowed me down is a reluctance to hurt people I love. My parents are true believers whose religion is extremely important in their lives, and I know they will be sad and feel that they’ve failed me in some way if I tell them that I don’t believe in god. I also know that, deep down, they know already.In other parts of my life, I’m pretty open about my unbelief. I’ve written some articles about parenting as an atheist for, and I don’t avoid the topic with friends and acquaintances. I feel comfortable calling myself an atheist because I have friends and a husband who have gone through this move from believer to unbeliever along with me. In December, I sent a letter to the church I was baptised into as a kid, asking them to remove me from membership. Kind of a dramatic moment, in my own mind, although I’ve had no response from them.I think it would have helped me to find more websites, books, etc. that talked about atheism at the individual level. I didn’t need ammunition for arguing with folks or to have the opinions I was forming validated (both those things were readily available, and, admittedly, sometimes nice), but it would have helped to hear more stories. Another thing you touched on, Jennifer, is the unique challenge parents face. I know a lot of people who “left the church” as young adults but came back when they had kids. I think that’s because parenting is so daunting that we start grasping for models anywhere we can find them.

  62. drdave says

    The Humanist Society of Greater Phoenix is holding a “Fish Fry on Darwin’s Birthday”. Seems like an appropriate holiday and ritual celebration.

  63. JM says

    Sometimes it is easier to leave something if you feel like you have something to go *to*. I left my mainstream Protestant church after high school (I went for the youth group activities and the choir) and never looked back. I was fine just leaving. However, decades later, I discovered scientific pantheism or naturalistic pantheism (both terms are used.) I found that that perspective made me feel more a part of something larger than myself, in this case, the whole universe. Nature and the environment were always important for my family, even if we didn’t do much camping and I’ve always lived in cities. And knowing that one day when I’m gone, my atoms will still be part of all that is a good feeling.I wonder if that would appeal to some people who find it hard to leave religion. For most of the World Pantheists (one of the groups) there is no local group as they’re spread too thinly. So the social and support elements are still lacking. I’ve found those elsewhere, fortunately.

  64. Ashton says

    I grew up in a very conservative religion where I was sent to religious schools and really didn’t know anyone outside of it. It was hard to leave, but the difficulties that I had with it didn’t have anything to do with gender. I think my mom may think that I don’t want to be a part of it because the church doesn’t ordain women (she’s actually in favor of women’s ordination and much more liberal than most in the church), but that’s really just her grasping at straws and wanting some hope that I may someday come back. The difficulties that I had with leaving were the brainwashing that goes on in conservative Christian schools and churches. They really had me convinced that no one could live a happy fulfilled life if they didn’t have Jesus and somehow despite the fact that I didn’t really believe this kind of stuff had an effect. This really shouldn’t have made me keep going as long as I did (which really wasn’t all that long – I quit going when I was 19) as I was pretty miserable. I just thought that if I kept trying that maybe someday I would feel those spiritual experiences that people talked about. Somehow, deep down, I knew that I wouldn’t. It made me really envious of people who could feel that and believe easily and in an odd way also envious of people growing up in secular environments. Those people, by my rationale, even if they were going to go to hell, would at least live happy lives, whereas I knew that with my lack of faith I would not be going to heaven and I was living a horrible life. For a while I thought that maybe faith was something I could learn and I considered being a theology major in college. Boy am I glad that I didn’t do that. Now I’m completely atheist, though not completely out to my family about it. I’m much happier, although not as much as I would like. I think what made me stop going to church and later decide that I was never going back was just how unhappy I was when I went and the fact that I wasn’t getting anything spiritual or emotional (at least not in a good way – my thoughts just made me feel awful every time that I heard someone judging nonbelievers) out of it. I really wasn’t gaining any kind of power from church, it was just sucking the life out of me and it took me a while to realize that it was the religion that was doing this and not my secret doubts.

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