In Singapore, we have a multi-religious society that embraces different religions and co-exists harmoniously.
It is easy to find free pamphlets or books about Buddhism, Bibles for Catholics and Christians, Qurans for Muslims, and a plethora of material to study for other religions.
It is accepted to talk about your religion with other friends from religious groups, to exchange perspectives, information on important days and find common values or teachings.
It is probably a taboo to talk about why one doesn’t believe in religion anymore, except among other like-minded people.
I wonder how many people have gone through this process of just ceasing to believe in a religion, and not because they found a better religion, but because they cannot accept the basic rule of religion, i.e. faith.
It is hard to discuss “dropping” out of religion because it is such a sensitive topic. I sometimes feel that people in general would rather you subscribe to a religious faith, than to question the entire premise of all religions.
In Singapore, we make it a point to respect all religions and faiths. Do Singaporeans also respect if people choose to un-believe / unsubscribe from their religions?
Before you slam me as another religiously-insensitive person, let me share that it is the prerogative of every human being to choose what he or she wants to believe and follow.
I’m not asking people to lose their faith, but sharing what it feels like to actually go through that process.
Here’s what I think no one really tells you about losing your religion.
1. It’s one of the loneliest periods of your life
Being in a religious faith makes you feel surrounded by a god (s) who care, and fellow people who follow the religion and accept you as part of their group.
But losing your religion means losing that connection you have been trying to hard to have with your god(s).
For Christians, imagine it to be like losing the voice of the Holy Spirit, and wondering whether that voice was really what you thought it was in the first place.
It’s like total spiritual silence because you just don’t hear or feel the same way you used to do about your religion.
2. You may lose your circle of religious friends
Losing your religion is worse than being a backslider (one who still believes but just not very enthusiastic about regular religious practices).
At least with a backslider, your religious circle still thinks they’ve a chance to bring you back to the straight and narrow path.
But once they realise your choice could possibly be contagious, are you influenced by the devil and here to sow discord? No, they will not be unequally yoked with you.
3. You actually start to pay more attention to religion
Because being an outlier is so lonely and weird, you wonder why the majority of people in the world have a religion.
Then you start reading about other religions that you would never ever have wanted to learn about in the past (because you thought your ex-religion was the only true one and you previously didn’t want to contaminate your faith by reading up on other religions).
4. You will drift without anchors till you find new ones
Having a religious faith is like having a rock in your life, an anchor to steer you back to what you should do (according to your religion) in times of confusion, anger, grief, guilt, sin etc.
Losing your faith is uprooting all those anchors and starting afresh. You find yourself having a lot more freedom and not being a slave to the religious commandments.
But it is very disorienting because there are big, raw holes that have to be filled with new anchors.
But then you wonder how to live your new un-religious life ethically, and what determines these ethics or values?
Sometimes you toy with the idea of just going back to your religion, but it is impossible. Once you’ve seen the reasons that made you lose your religion, you cannot unsee.
5. You start wondering how non-religious people live their lives without turning insane
You realise that one day, if you’re in extreme pain, you have no god(s) to pray to, to release you from your suffering. There is no hope of deliverance you previously had. You’re left to face the human life with all its blights, spiritually alone.
Then you start wondering, if I don’t believe in religion, what happens if I encounter a ghost, or demonic spirit? Prayer without belief won’t work.
6. You wonder if there’s an AA group for people like you who’ve lost their religion
But how to find? It’s not like you can casually ask, hey did anyone also reject your religion and wanna talk?
7. It is not easy to talk to atheists who haven’t lost their religion like you did
Being in a religion, and losing it, is an emotionally traumatic experience.
If you haven’t been through it, it is very hard to empathise with the issues and needs of a newly-unreligious person.
8. You keep quiet, like a secret, in case people think you’re trying to stir religious sensitivities
It’s OK to talk about various religions and what it means to each individual. But could multi-religious Singapore accept people talking about losing their religion without appearing sacrilegious?
9. You wonder if you should tell your former religious leader what made you lose your religion
By the way, it was Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand. And sort of supplemented by Small Gods by Terry Pratchett.
Religious leaders will probably have to ban these books from their congregation or religion’s devotees.
10. You feel your life has just re-started
Just as joining a religion is a new lease of life, the same applies to leaving a religion.
No more hours spent in religious activities, tithes or donations, chasing after who can contribute more to the religious organisation, no more self-censorship on what you can read or learn, etc
And no more chasing the KPI of how many family members and friends you can convert to your religion (or else you’re seen as a lousy member).
I’m not encouraging people to ditch their religion, but to be a bit more aware that it is important to consider the different perspectives of others, and make an informed choice for ourselves.
It is a bit much to ask people to respect our religious choices when we cannot reciprocate in kind.
I still think religion has an important place in our society, but it shouldn’t be allowed to cumulate in religiously elitist behaviour (that makes the believer, or group of believers, reject anyone who doesn’t agree or believe in the same religion) and create deeper divides and distrust
Featured photo: pinkquil.com
Also published on Medium.