Why is leaving Christianity so hard?

If you’ve never grown up in a religious environment, you might not see why people make such a big deal out of leaving it.

For some people, leaving religion is just abandoning a belief system, so it is easy for them. But for many others, leaving religion is much much more than just a change of beliefs. For those people, they DO have quite a lot to lose in leaving. There are many closeted atheist blogs around, and for good reason. To leave religion is often compared to ‘coming out’ for gay people. There is an aspect of oneself which is hidden to others, which the closeted person will deliberately keep hidden, because they know that many people close to them won’t accept them for who they are, once they have revealed it. Anyways, I’m going to explain a few important reasons why leaving religion is so hard.

Reason one: You risk being ostracized by your friends and family.

Let’s get the obvious one out of the way first. To many Christians, leaving religion is rebellion against God in the worst way possible. Most Christians believe that any sin is forgivable, even if you do something nasty like murder or cheat in a relationship – provided that you repent. But don’t you dare doubt for a second that God is real or decide that you want to live a life outside of Christ – that isn’t so forgivable.

In an ideal world, your church friends and family would just accept that you now have different beliefs and move on… In reality, Christian beliefs are treated as absolutes. It is ‘their way or the highway’. They may try to win you back over because they feel you are wrong to leave, or ‘on a lost path’. This can create a tense friction between yourself and your Christian family, and they will always see you as broken in some way, and they are there to come and fix you. For these reasons, many people simply don’t bother leaving. In worst case scenarios, church friends and family will not want anything to do with you, because they will see you as a ‘bad influence’ or bad person… I really feel sorry for those people who get ostracized like that.

Reason two: You’re effectively abandoning your community.

Let’s say things turned out well and you still get along with your family and church friends; even then, leaving isn’t without consequence. Joining church is more than joining some hobby club. Your church members become like a family to you (not to mention there’s a good chance your actual family is involved in the church too!) You make many friends there, and deep, personal relationships are encouraged. In effect, over time, your church friends become the bread and peanut butter for you, during the ups and downs of life.

As I hinted at in the first reason, you’re just not going to gel so well with your church friends afterwards, because you both have different mindsets and worldviews that will clash – so that means seeing them much less often. The problem is, the support and companionship you gained from church life isn’t easy to replace. I have briefly mentioned James Mulholland before, who said in his book that church is like Walmart in that all your needs can be met under one roof, but once you leave, you must visit a bunch of different shops – it’s harder. You’re going to have to make new friends to replace what you lost, and it’s probably going to take quite some time. If you were heavily involved in the church, this might also mean changing jobs or even moving to a different place.

Looking back, many (but not all) of my church friendships were quite superficial. Easily gained but easily lost. I wasn’t friends with most of them outside church, so they had little interest in me once I left.

Reason three: Abandoning ingrown ideas.

Many Christians (including my former self) were brought up in the church as a child. This means that the various Christian beliefs are just seen as normal to you, and they are regularly reinforced by being around other Christians, so there is little reason to doubt them. Aha! Except I spent a lot of time with secular people, so that was probably my undoing. But even so, some ideas persisted for me. Such as:

  • The idea that some mysterious deity created the universe.
  • The idea that morality comes from God and that Christians invented it.
  • The idea that we all have a set ‘destiny’ in life which we must continually seek.

I don’t believe these things anymore, as I threw them out with religion, but they weren’t easy for me to abandon. These ingrown ideas make it harder for people to leave religion as long as they still believe in them, simply because religion claims to have answers to everything mysterious in life, and therefore gives people much comfort.

I still believe life can have meaning and purpose, but to drop the idea of following a specific path in life can be quite distressing for many, and maybe even depressing. It is comforting to believe in a specific set of guidelines and life pathways, because it makes you feel that whatever happens, God daddy is ultimately in control.

Of course many people who live the Christian life begin to realise that God’s ‘divine purpose’ doesn’t really stack up after a while. When times get difficult, this invisible God doesn’t do anything for them. For these people, leaving is a more attractive prospect. Over time, you begin to realise that while there is probably no God controlling everything, you can still control much of what goes on in your own life, and set your own paths; but it doesn’t have to be done solo.

Summary.

For people who choose to leave religion, it is no easy feat and the consequences should be weighed up. But for those who are unhappy with religion, the grass is usually greener on the other side.

5 thoughts on “Why is leaving Christianity so hard?

  1. Great insight. So much of what you said is me. My focus now is progress, and it’s hard to move forward when 75% of the people are waiting for god to fix everything. The power is in us to make like beautiful. No waiting required.

    Liked by 1 person

      1. Sometimes it is best to be quiet. There are still people in my past that don’t know like my father. He’s 85 and solid in his ways. He would never understand and I don’t want to hurt him. It can wait. Enjoy the day!

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Nicely written. Yes was true for all those reasons in my case. I still miss the community years later but now I am free. Free of guilt, free to be me, an imposter no more and I can use common sense to be kind, free to quit condemning because I don’t have a doctrine to defend. FREE

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Welcome to my blog and thanks 🙂 It is so encouraging to hear when others can relate to the posts I made. Yes it is nice to be truly free, and not ‘free’ in the Christian sense. I can’t say I’m completely free yet as I haven’t told a lot of people about my atheism, but that time will come.

      Liked by 1 person

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