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HomeCommentaryLeaving Repressive Religion and Toxic Beliefs Behind: Part 4

Leaving Repressive Religion and Toxic Beliefs Behind: Part 4


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Read part three

Living Life NowConfronting Dissatisfaction

Most conservative fundamentalist Christians have acquired the attitude that no matter what there is to enjoy, no matter what humans accomplish, nothing compares to the spiritual realm of God and heaven. “I saw all the works that were done under the sun; and behold, everything was vanity and a striving after wind, a vexation of spirit” (Ecclesiastes 1:14).

This attitude puts a gray pointless gloom over all of life, which you may experience as a feeling of depression. I myself have certainly battled with the idea that nothing in the world is good enough compared to my former religion and purpose. After the delusional euphoria of being one of the chosen elite, the enchantment of helping with a heavenly kingdom, or the satisfaction of doing God’s work here on earth, ordinary life can look—well, pretty ordinary and pointless. Since meaning and purpose in life are no longer simply bestowed on you, you have to become more active in creating your own meaning in life.

At times, this problem of dissatisfaction may become severe to the point of dysfunction. The world can feel and appear incredibly unpleasant, life can become pointless and people seem contemptible and intolerable. Disappointments can be devastating and leave you feeling hopeless or panicked. These reactions are understandable when you realize that you were taught to think you needed life to be ideal, filled with pacifying absolutes and the euphoric feeling of being chosen. You most likely were taught and believed that without this, you would have a void in your life, which only God and the “truth” could fill. The implication was that you had a grand purpose, and your needs, especially understanding and acceptance, were being met perfectly. Only God could truly understand you, and you felt that you needed to be understood completely. Only God could give you enough purpose in life to make it real and fulfilling, and you had to have a magnificent, compelling purpose.

Confronting dissatisfaction is an intricate and essential part in your releasing and reclaiming work. It can mean the difference between a successful reclaiming of your life, going back to the religion you left, or joining another repressive religion. At worst it can mean total isolation and suicidal ideations.

Next to the trauma of expulsion, disfellowshipping or shunning, meaninglessness and dissatisfaction are the largest inducers of disheartening, disabling fear and isolation. If you have been convinced by an abusive religion that the false and impossible ideals of a satisfying, purposeful life are necessary and true, then you will feel much more anxiety if they are not present and will possibly suspend your critical reasoning while desperately searching for or clinging to substitutes.

People who see their lives as irremediably dissatisfying cannot find a worthwhile purpose in self-advancement. The prospect of an individual career cannot stir them to feelings of accomplishment, nor can it evoke in them faith and a single-minded dedication. They look on self-interest as on something tainted and evil, something selfish and prideful. Anything undertaken under the auspices of the self seems to them foredoomed. Nothing that has its roots and reasons in self-satisfaction can be good and noble.

For many who have left a controlling religion, often their innermost craving is for a new, purposeful life—a rebirth—a chance to acquire new elements of confidence, hope and a sense of purpose and worthiness. Sometimes this natural craving is so intense that they take the easy way out by identifying with a holy cause or some other form of substitution. If they rejoin their former faith as repentant, full converts, they are reborn to a new life in its close-knit collective body. If attracted by another “holy cause,” they will find elements of confidence and purpose by identifying themselves with the efforts, achievements and prospects of that religion or movement. The warning here is: be patient, take baby steps and nurture the wounds you have acquired during your courageous journey. Spend at least an entire year discovering your new self and your new meaning and purpose before making any decision to join a new religion or cause. Take some time off from devoting your life to anything but yourself.

Are You On A Hero’s or Heroine’s Journey?

In Greek mythology, the equivalent of modern-day psychology, magnificent and powerful stories and images are used to portray the colossal journey of heroes and heroines. The journey that you have begun, perhaps not for the first time in your life, is represented in these age-old stories and images. Joseph Campbell aptly describes these myths:

“Throughout the inhabited world, in all times and under every circumstance, the myths of man have flourished; and they have been the living inspiration of whatever else may have appeared out of the activities of the human body and mind. It would not be too much to say that myth is the secret opening through which the inexhaustible energies of the cosmos pour into human cultural manifestation. Religions, philosophies, arts, the social forms of primitive and historic man, prime discoveries in science and technology, the very dreams that blister sleep, boil up from the basic, magic ring of myth.”

These important myths from around the world, which have survived for thousands of years, all share a fundamental structure that tells of the hero’s or heroine’s great departure, usually due to the soul’s calling of them—many times against their will.

The hero or heroine starts in the ordinary world, and receives a call to enter an unusual world of strange powers and events (a call to adventure, to grow into who they really are). If the hero or heroine accepts the call to enter this strange world, they must face tasks and trials. Many times, they must face them alone. At its most intense, they must survive a severe challenge, often with help earned along the journey. On their great adventures, each one must pass through an initiation of trials and tribulations before they are able to reunite with their true selves and souls, discovering important self-knowledge. The hero or heroine must then return to the ordinary world, often facing challenges on the return journey. If they are successful in returning, and their quest has finally reached its end, the hero or heroine are forever transformed, with deeper and richer understanding and appreciation for all life. They return with a greater sense of wholeness and a mature spirituality, which brings them greater peace through enlarged being. This may be used to improve the world.

Brien Pittman
Brien Pittman
Brien’s articles for FāVS generally revolve around ideas and beliefs that create unhealthy deadlock divisions between groups. He has received (minor) writing awards for his short stories and poetry from the cities of Portland, Oregon and the city of (good beer) Sapporo, Japan. In 2010 he was asked to present several articles for the California Senate Committee “Task Force for Suicide Prevention” and has been published by online magazines and a couple national poetry anthologies in print form.




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charles vaden

Thanks Brien, mature spirituality, you hit the nail on the head with that one.


Thanks Charles!

Tom Schmidt

Yes, very good. Toxic religion is joyless, and joy killing. However, the goal of developing a joyful response to our experiences and relations will take more than aiming at that effect. Often the toxicity of that joyless religion has become hardwired into our nerves to the extent that any new experience will be initially met with the brain habitually defending itself and hiding behind walls that compound joylessness, or build (as in addictions) a false and dangerous faux joy. If we, as children, experiences a non accepting parent, one who was distracted into their own frustration, one who did not have any ability for courageous fear, our response to any object that is similar to that insecure parent-object will be joyless. To find a joyful, non-toxic life and religion we must also experience, over and over secure, loving relations, either directly, or second hand. I agree with you, but see the solution as very difficult, more than your description of the tellos of a non-toxic belief.


You are absolutely right in your comments Tom. For many, with out the help of knowledgeable support, their toxic religious expereinces remain with them a life time. Often unconsciously manifesting repetitive self deminishing behaviours. Thank you Tom bringing attention to that little know reality.

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