A few thoughts for religious believers struggling with doubts about their faith

In various places on my old atheism blog, I mention that I’m willing to engage in a bit of email correspondence with religious believers who are struggling with their faith, or who have recently deconverted, and who are feeling a bit lost, worried about nihilism without religion, and so on.

I noticed recently that my first email reply to most people who contact me about this is roughly the same, so I might as well write it up publicly so I can link to it.

Here, then, is my “FAQ for the sort of person who usually contacts me about how they’re struggling with their faith, or recently deconverted.”

 

Now that I’m losing my faith, I’m worried that nothing really matters, and that’s depressing.

I remember that feeling. I was pretty anxious and depressed when I started to realize I didn’t have good reasons for believing the doctrines of the religion I’d been raised in. But as time passed, things got better, and I emotionally adjusted to my “new normal,” in a way that I thought couldn’t ever happen before I got there.

I’ve collected some recommended reading on these topics here; see also the more recent The Big Picture. It’s up to you to decide what your goals and purposes are, but I think there are plenty of purposes worth getting excited about and invested in. In my case that’s effective altruism, but that’s a personal choice.

But really, my primary piece of advice is to just let more time pass, and spend time socially with non-religious people. Your conscious, deliberative brain (“system 2“) might be able to rationally recognize that of course millions of non-religious people before you have managed to live lives of immense joy and purpose and so on, and therefore you clearly don’t need religion for that. But if you were raised religiously like I was, then it might take some time for your unconscious, intuitive, emotional brain (“system 1“) to also “believe” this. The more time you spend talking with non-religious people who are living fulfilling, purposeful lives, the more you’ll train your system 1 to see that it’s obvious that meaning and purpose are possible without any gods — and getting your system 1 to “change its mind” is probably what matters more.

Where I live in the San Francisco Bay Area, it seems that most people I meet are excitedly trying to “make the world a better place” in some way (as parodied on the show Silicon Valley), and virtually none of them are religious. Depending on where you live, it might not be quite so easy to find non-religious people to hang out with. You could google for atheist or agnostic meetups in your area, or at least in the nearest large city. You could also try attending a UU church, where most people seem to be “spiritual” but not “religious” in the traditional sense.

My spouse and/or kids are religious, and my loss of faith is going to be super hard on them.

Yeah, that’s a tougher situation. I don’t know anything about that. Fortunately there’s a recent book entirely about that subject; I hope it helps!

Thanks, I’ll try those things. But I think I need more help.

I would try normal psychotherapy if you can afford it. Or maybe better, try Tom Clark, who specializes in “worldview counseling.”

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