Why I Keep Talking About Religion after Leaving It Behind

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Recently, I was standing in the kitchen, 15 minutes deep into a conversation with my wife, Krista, about our individual views on religion and morality when I looked up and said, “For a couple who is no longer religious, we sure do talk about it a lot.” We got a good laugh out of that, but it does introduce a question worth asking: Why do I keep talking about religion, when I claim to have left it behind? After spending a lot of time assessing my reasons for leaving and figuring out how to articulate them, why do I still think about the many things that I was taught throughout my Christian upbringing?

Religious Teachings Formed My View of Self and the World
I continue to feel the effects of so many unhealthy and outright strange beliefs. In my last post, I outlined a number of examples of this, like being taught that I was born in sin or that if I didn’t follow “God’s will” I could possibly face chronic illness as a result. While I have been able to bury a lot of it, I am still processing some of those teachings because they were part of my formative years as I developed a view of reality. My interest in religion is partly motivated by my desire to continue to untangle the last remnants of the harmful aspects of it all.

Some of what I learned was good, but when the good is intertwined with the bad, it becomes difficult to parse out that which is of value. For example, when “love the sinner, not the sin” is used to quietly promote how Christianity is about love, while simultaneously condemning the love a gay or lesbian couple have for each other, that leaves a confusing question mark around what “love” means. Conservative branches of Christianity have gone to great lengths to avoid a desperately-needed look at how they interpret the Bible on that topic. Threads of those kinds of teachings ran throughout my religious training when I was younger, and it’s something that can take a long time to untangle.

Religion is Ubiquitous
About 6.6 billion of the 8 billion people on this planet are at least nominally religious. From Rastafarians to the many versions of Christianity, the threads of religious belief run through every aspect of every society on earth, for better or worse. To ignore the topic would be like walking into a rain shower without an umbrella, acting like you won’t get wet. Regardless of what we conclude about religion, it has an impact on our world and to understand that impact can help us know where religion can help make a better society and where its influence should be lessened, like in the case of more extreme religious ideologies.

Relating to Friends and Family Who Are Still Religious
If I work to understand my religious upbringing and the impact religion has on the world, I can better relate to religious friends and family. Reconciling these things on my own has enabled me to listen and be curious instead of lashing out when a comment triggers a painful connection. In the not-so-distant past, conversations about religion have been a powder keg for me, but I’ve realized the lack of inner work within myself was the problem, not the fact that someone still believed something I now reject.

Religion is Intellectually Interesting
Increasingly so, my most significant reason to continue to talk about religion is that I am incessantly curious about human existence. To consider what people believe about their own existence is to also explore the nature of religion and religious teachings.

While I do still talk about religion, it is mostly part of a broader conversation about the questions of our existence: morality, relationships, mortality, and the meaning of it all. So I’m game to talk about any of it; just give me a tobacco pipe and a good scotch and I’ll be there for hours if you stick around and want to talk.

Sitting bench on hiking trail
Bench #38 at a local hiking trail, where I’ve spent a lot of time reflecting.

Why I Keep Talking About Religion after Leaving It Behind Curious Heretic

7 thoughts on “Why I Keep Talking About Religion after Leaving It Behind

  1. This is a really great article. In her book Leaving the Fold, Marlene Winell cites all those same reasons for continuing to talk and think about religion.

  2. We’ll-argued piece, serving to sharpen my own views.,
    1. Though I grew up in an ostensibly religious household (all three female crazy religious), I was questioning things pretty hard, and sloughed all the crap off by my early twenties.
    2. Religion is less ubiquitous than before, and what remains is fairly stupid and malevolent across the board.
    3. It’s impossible to have good conversation with cultists, so why try?
    4. Religion is now a completely boring and stultifying subject.

    • That’s so great that you were able to shake things off earlier in life! I can’t disagree that having a good conversation with cultists is incredibly challenging, though as a general topic I still find belief systems fascinating as they are so intricately tied to our psychological make up and the way people try to avoid the fact of their own mortality. But to your point about conversations, I’ve yet to find a religious person who actually wants to talk to me about it all now that I’m not in unison with those views.

  3. Hi Jason, your articles are rare and valuable gems that I enjoy enormously. Keep it up.
    I thought you might be interested to hear about some research I have been doing. Data from the World Values Survey shows there to be a strong correlation between the fragility and religiosity of a nation. There is also a strong correlation between national lack of trust in ones fellow man and the religiosity of a nation. To me this suggests that people follow a religion, in part at least, to gain some certainty and stability in their lives. Once society is able to provide this then interest in religion seems to decline. I am planning an article in the not too distant future but that’s the essence of it in a nutshell.

    • Thank you, John, I appreciate those words. I am quite interested in what you share about the “correlation between the fragility and religiosity of a nation”. I can already think of how that might be true and would like to learn more. I always think of the ways in which a study of religion overlaps with psychology, anthropology, and philosophy and it would do me some good to read more on this (instead of speculating on my own).

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