Were You Better at Something When You Had Religious Faith? December 27, 2009

Were You Better at Something When You Had Religious Faith?

This was on PostSecret today:

It raises this question for me:

Is there anything you were better at doing back when you were religious?

I guess I could say I was better at calming myself down in stressful situations (because I would pray)… but there is some power in being able to rationally think my way through a tough situation even if the conclusion may not be something I like. Of course, I can also attribute a lot of that to age.

Atheism hasn’t taken anything else away from me.

I wonder if there might be different answers from people who became atheists later in life.

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  • maddogdelta

    I was better at being suckered by sales pitches.

    I was better at condemning other people, including family, for being human.

    I was better at being a self righteous prick.

    I was better at “letting god do favors for me”, rather than working for what I wanted/needed.

  • Kahomono

    Oddly enough, I could sing better.

  • As a teenager, I wrote angry poetry a railing against “the system”, as in organized religion, some things about how the government work, etc. I didn’t call my an atheist then (I still saw myself as a secular deistic Jew or something like that without knowing how to say it).

    I think my poetry and writing has improved as I came out of said atheist closet. School and self-research didn’t hurt either. Yet finally admitting to myself and to the world freed me up. I realized how beautiful and amazing the world and nature can be, and my poetry is like almost never angry..unless due to a specific situation/person..and so very rare.

    Inspiration (for me) comes from nature, other artists, life. I never had that kind of faith to inspire me and I never needed it. Atheism and my love of science and nature inspire me constantly with my real artistic passion, digital manipulation. Which, if one is intersted, my artwork can be seen at interhuss.com

  • alnonymous

    The closest I got to faith was being married to a Catholic and going through the RCIA process (about six months).

    As best I can tell, during that time the only things I got better at were:

    1) lying (mostly at the request of my now ex-wife – “we just have to say a couple Hail Mary’s and it’s all good”, probably a warning sign in that) and

    2) not gritting my teeth at outlandish, self-righteous BS (lucky for me, or I probably wouldn’t have any teeth left 🙂

    Oh, I suppose my faith in triathlon has made me much more sociable. 😉

  • Ron in Houston

    LOL at mad dog…

    I firmly believe that religion triggers areas of the brain that may not be triggered often by other activities. So, it makes sense to me what Kahomono says that you may be able to do certain activities better.

  • prospera

    I was better at taking unnecessary risks.

  • Things, in general, are harder for Atheists because we have to do it on our own. Religion presents you with the numinous, with moral laws, with justifications, with social connections, etc.

    But for Atheists, we have to find all these things for ourselves. We have to go out and seek the numinous, we have find our own morality within us and make up our own justifications, and we have to work to make our own social groups.

    Beauty is out there, and this person will write well again when s/he finds it.

  • not to sound too scornful or anything, but honestly I was better at turning my nose up at other people for perceived faults.

  • No, nothing at all.

  • the only thing I miss about church is seeing those fine ass single women dressed in those tight clothes on sunday mornings…

    lawd have mercy

  • CJ :)

    Going to church. That’s it. Positive that I don’t want to regain my faith for that, so it’s all good. 🙂

  • Shannon

    Nothing. It might be different for people who are raised in a faith, but briefly trying it out as an adult, I found nothing that faith in general gave me that I didn’t already have.

    Now church in particular – I miss singing in a choir. That’s the biggie. There are just no regular outlets for 40 year old decent, but not professional quality, singers around here. The church I went to welcomed all parishioners to sing so that was nice.

  • Hugh Kramer

    I was better at feeling guilty about things I had no control over.

    I was better at assigning blame for things others had no control over either.

  • qwertyuiop

    I was good at telling lies to children about the world and not seeing anything wrong with that.

    I was good at imposing my will upon others using the law.

    I was good at thinking I had all the answers to every question that could ever possibly come up: God did it.

    I was good at thinking I was right and everyone else was wrong.

    I was good at condemning people to the flames of hell for being different from me.

    I was good at looking to scripture and religion to justify and to be forgiven for any and all disgusting behavior toward my fellow human beings.

    I had lots of friends who thought just like I did. Unfortunately atheists, especially open atheists, are a small minority. But I’d rather have a few rational friends than a billion irrational ones.

  • Soulless

    I was better at being a victim and forgiving all manner of abuse I took from bullies in school for 12 years when I should have beat the hell out of each and every one of them, daily if necessary.

  • Carrie

    I was never religious. I was raised in a secular home and never wondered even for a split second if there was a god. My parents never told me that there wasn’t a god, so I wouldn’t say I was raised atheist. I just always considered Christianity to be a myth like the Greek gods (and truthfully I probably know more about them than I do Christianity) I wonder what it feels like to believe…

  • I was very good at being self-righteous and looking down at other people.

    I was very good at displacing responsibility away from myself.

    I was very good at the mental gymnastics necessary to convince myself of things that, deep down, I knew weren’t true.

    I don’t miss any of those things.

  • I find I play the piano just as beautifully and with as much inspiration as ever. 🙂

  • Sounds like most were better at being worse lol

  • Praying ;-).

    Finding thin rationalizations for believing things that, in the face of the evidence, looked somewhat unlikely.

    Suffering fools gladly.

    I do somewhat miss singing in the choir, and am no doubt a worse vocalist just from lack of practice. Really, I’ve got no excuse: there are several secular choral groups in this town that I could join if I wanted. Mostly, I’ve just taken up other hobbies this decade.

  • unique.smile.within

    Nope, nothing. I’ve gotten better at things, though, does that count?

  • Reality Chic

    Not a thing comes to mind.

  • This secret could be my own. I was a much better writer when I was a believer. Perhaps it was my long period of something-like-bitterness that followed my deconversion two years ago. Still, ever since, my writing has been less “inspired” and much less eloquent, thought-provoking, and creative. I miss writing that way very much, and need to bust out of this bubble.

    Even so, I do not wish my touchy-feely faith back.

  • AnonyMouse

    I do find that I was a lot more patient as a Christian. In many situations, this was because I assumed that God would sort everything out and I wouldn’t have to worry about it; other times, I thought it was because he wanted me to bear whatever stress I was going through. I’m much less tolerant of that kind of thing now. I’m more a person of action.

  • Stephen P

    Yes, there were one or two things. Like rock-climbing for example. But that was because I was younger, not because I was religious.

  • jugglingbuffoon

    I was better at rationalizing. Pretty much everything. I never took the time to analyze what people were saying, why they were saying it and if it made any sense at all.

    I was also better at getting very insulted whenever anyone talked bad about judaism or Israel. Even incredibly minor things (like having more christmas songs than hanukah songs in the school holiday chorus performance) could literally make me start crying(that actually happened in 4th grade). It was because I was taught that I was persecuted.

  • King Awesomeson

    I was better at ignoring things that bothered me. I was better at comforting myself at things that scared me. Once I threw away that security blanket, I see the world much more clearly than any believer can.

  • Forgetting the ass-load of prayers they taught us in 3 languages. That freed up a lot of room. Knowledge of prayers is a skill right?

  • I’m curious as to whether this perception that one’s writing is worse is jusitified. I wonder, for example, whether others, not knowing which works were written before and after deconversion, would have the same opinion about the writing.

    On a similar note, I recently started reading Anne Rice’s ANGEL TIME. Its the first book of hers that I’ve read since her conversion to Christianity and I found it one of the most unendurably tedious things I’ve ever attempted to read.

    In her case the effect on her writing was the opposite of what’s described here (at least in my opinion). She wrote far better before the conversion.

  • Most fresh atheists I know were better at interpersonal relations as religious people. I certainly was when I first lost my faith; I had to relearn the hard way that just because I had discovered atheism did not mean I was obligated or allowed to bludgeon the religious with my “newfound rationality,” despite the fact that I had in no way gained any substantial skills at reasoning.

    I was fortunate that I was still surrounded by intelligent, rational religious people and spent my time arguing with them, because they helped me learn perspective–that there is really nothing inferior about an intelligent religious person and nothing superior about a blind atheist, and that it is quite possible to be both. Eventually I managed to get over the fact that I was an atheist and have normal, friendly human interactions again.

  • Lisa

    I was a lot better at accepting things at face value. That held true for things the church said (raised Catholic) and bled over in to the rest of my life. If an authority figure said it, it must not be questioned. Thankfully I had a great family that encouraged learning so I began to see that not questioning and just accepting was not the way one should live their life.

    Off topic-

    Shannon says:

    I miss singing in a choir. That’s the biggie. There are just no regular outlets for 40 year old decent, but not professional quality, singers around here

    Shannon, if you are interested in singing in a group setting might I suggest looking to see if there is a barbershop chorus in your area? In the States it’s a rare place that doesn’t have both a men’s group (Barbershop Society) and a women’s group (Sweet Adelines) that can help fulfill your need to sing. The educational opportunities found with either group are exceptional. Members range from professionally trained vocalists to everyday folks like you and me. I currently don’t sing with a chorus, but I retain my membership and can happily visit a chorus anywhere in the country I might find myself.

  • I could sing better, too, as a believer, but that has more to do with church and college choirs where I frequently exercised my vocal chords. If they had a community choir around here, I think I would be just as fine. Not that I’ve ever been great, but I have a decent choral voice.

    I was NEVER good at the piano, but now I never play. It used to be such an outlet for me, but when I sold my piano and got a very crappy keyboard, I stopped playing. I no longer feel agonized over everything around me. Music could say what I couldn’t say or write because I was so afraid of what people would say or think. I realize now it was mostly therapeutic, and things have improved. I’m also no longer afraid to use words, so I’ve channeled that into other outlets.

  • JulietEcho

    I lost a lot of my confidence in my decision-making. When I was a Christian, I believed that I was part of “God’s plan” and that so long as I wasn’t making sinful choices, my choices were leading me through that plan and God would take care of me.

    Now decisions are much harder and I second-guess myself a lot. It’s hard to adjust to asking yourself, “Is this what I really want for my life?” instead of “Is this what God wants for my life?”

    On one hand, this is a good thing – I’m taking my own needs and desires into account more and opening up new possibilities for my future. OTOH, it’s hard taking off my blinders and seeing those new possibilities, and there’s no comforting feeling of a “safety net” that’s going to make sure my life all turns out “right” somehow.

  • Tizzle

    I used to be better at talking to people at parties. Then, I knew we had one thing in common, and I was able to start conversations with strangers. Now, I’m working on it.

    I sort of miss the thrill of being gossiped about. Think of all those little old ladies wasting their time worrying about what little ol me was(n’t) doing. Back then, I was more able to feel special from any provocation.

  • I was better at poetry. The bible inspired me. I could write about the wonders of being saved. Now, the bible just annoys me, with it’s xenophobia and misogyny, among countless other things. It doesn’t inspire me.

  • Twewi

    After I stopped believing in god, I stopped building forts from pillows and sheets. Correlation or causation? You decide.

  • Julie

    To Ron

    I saw a study that showed that Bhuddist monks in meditation and Catholic nuns in prayer were using the same parts of the brain.

    Also, New Scientist reported that when we think about god’s attributes it uses the same parts of the brain as when we think about our own personal attributes. However, when we think about the attributes of other real human beings, other areas of our brains are activated.

    Personally, I was better at…ummm (looking for something positive)…ummm

  • I have a friend who was actually much better at writing and poetry when he was agnostic. Now that he’s turned into a super religious Christian (ugh) all he does is write about Jebus. It’s all drivel. It’s really quite sad, since he was an excellent writer.

  • Fritzy

    I am unable to think of anything I was better at when I was religious–at least not anything I would want to hold onto now.

    I’m going to turn this one around–I got a lot better at being happy with myself, accepting the things in life I cannot change and employing skeptical reasoning skills the further I got away from religion. These may be partly a result of maturity but it’s difficulty for me to think that some of that isn’t a result of leaving my religion behind. I know plenty of religous folks that are sincerely happy and extremely rational, but I was not able to personally reconcile these skills with any religious belief with which I had experience.

  • Anon

    yes, denying reality.

  • flawedprefect

    No. Wait… no.

  • I think rather than “when I was religious” I would go with “when I was younger”. Same diff? Though I doubt I was ever especially religious. Choir every Thursday and an occasional Sunday, and that’s about it.

  • TychaBrahe

    I was a practicing pagan on my way from Judaism from atheism, and I wrote some AMAZING goddess-related poetry and songs while reading things like Drawing Down the Moon and The White Goddess and WB Yeats.

  • muggle

    Funny on the writing side, I think I opened up to my true niche now — poetry, but just recently.

    I stopped writing fiction cold about the time my grandson was born and just took up poetry about a year ago. In between, I went through a phase where I turned my hand, pretty good but a bit rough, of drawing. I think, however, just like I went through Judaism and Agnostiscism en route from Christian to Atheism, that was a fad passing me through to where I needed to go.

    I used to write a lot of fiction for which I got lots of complements but it was always — always moral driven — and, now that I look back critically instead of emotionally, I can see that not only was the fiction not adequately researched, the characters really were not fleshed out well enough and the plots over dramatic and contrived.

    Poetry is much easier. I like free form so I don’t necessarily rhyme but I have a real sense of getting the feeling down in an inspiring way. I am much more satisfied with it than I ever was the fiction. I am tentatively thinking about marketing some but am unsure. I write for pleasure and it would be just to have readers and to supplement the pension I’ll be on in a few years. I’m not sure if that will motivate me enough to do the work involved, especially as I can get share my poetry on-line and maybe at some local readings so it’s not for the readers even.

    My grandson has inspired a couple of children’s books that are pretty cute and he sure loves them. Again, may or may not do something with those. If I do, those will definitely wait until I retire.

    I don’t regret the false starts even though I’m going on 52 and am in poor health. I think it was a necessary stage for me. And it was very therapeutic, even if very bad, during my divorce, skipping state with my daughter to protect her from her abusive father and while I was a single parent in an extraordinarily difficult situation. So it served its purpose, kept me sane and got us through. Now I’m right here where I should be.

    Some of this was also maturity as others are saying but, lol, so was losing my religion.

  • muggle

    One more thing, I just wanted to post separate so the two very distinct thoughts weren’t lost.

    I was “better” at low self-esteem when I was religious. I was suicidal as a teen, very. I had to fight the urge to draw a knife across my wrist whenever I saw one. There’s a certain man my age out there who will never know that he probably saved my life because I often called him instead of making an attempt.

    At 17, desperate for reconciling my despair with the false hope held out to me, I started reading the Bible in a desperate attempt to get closer to “God” and understand him better. It led me to decide Jesus couldn’t have been the Messiah and I lost faith in him but not Jehovah.

    Shortly after that, I graduated high school and left my fundy mother’s house. Amazing how the suicidal tendencies disappeared almost the instant I did even though I didn’t totally leave religion behind until I was 27. All it took was to get away from a constant barrage of hellfire and the freedom to spread my wings and embrace life on my terms.

  • shaxanth27

    Actually the little poem up there was pretty good to me.
    Is the writer really sure he was a better writer when (s)he had faith? A lot of religious people I’ve seen don’t exactly assess the quality of their work very accurately.

    Any Before/After examples?

  • roxanne

    before i realized i was a full-blown, strong atheist, back in my early 20’s, i was very fanciful, i labeled myself spiritual, but not religious.

    i saw hidden symbols & meaning in natural phenomena everywhere i looked, and hence, was amazingly poetic in my speech, eloquent in my writing, & had what i called a “rainbows & unicorns” outlook on life.

    i reveled in my innocence, delighted in the magic i saw in the everyday, & found meaning in the mundane. things back then just seemed to “fall into place” & somehow i managed to always get money when i desperately needed it, have amazingly little coincidences that happened, seemingly, daily, & found delight in the possibility of the supernatural.

    so now i’m a wee bit jaded, but more worldy & i find that my understanding of the universe allows me to appreciate the world in a manner more complex & complete than ever before. and that has humbled me far more than any other experience i imagined before.

    although my artwork has become more fanciful, surreal, & cutsie, when befor eit was more realism.

    funny how that worked put.

  • indyfreethinker

    I was a better lyricist and songwriter.

    I could pray out loud better.

    I could quote scripture with more conviction.

    I could sing better, and lead worship better.

    I was better at pre-judging people based on my narrow world view.

    I was better at being duplicitous, and keeping secrets from people I loved. Since I stopped believing, I find it very difficult to be dishonest, and i feel more like a single person (as opposed to my previously split personality)

  • Diggity

    GodlessGirl, are you sure you wrote better back then, I mean as per the opinions of others or just yourself? We can often be biased when it comes to our own work.

    In looking at the adjectives used, it sounds like the writing could have been more contrived, but now could contain more realism?

  • I think I was a better friend. Then again, I say this because a lot of my religious friends are a bit peeved I don’t share their views anymore. I’ve not met many others who think like I do now so this opinion will hopefully change.

  • That reflects more on them than you, Lyvvie. Its hardly your fault that your old friends are so insular.

  • Shannon

    @Lisa – thanks! I googled and found a local chapter (only about 25 minutes away). They meet on a night I’m not available right now, but I’m very happy to know they are there. I also really like their website and how they stress the *fun*. They sound very welcoming too!

  • RG

    I was much better at ignoring scientific facts.

    I was also much better at not annoying people by questioning their beliefs.

  • We Are The 801

    To echo a recurring sentiment here: I was better at having low self-esteem.

    Also, I was better at being dishonest with myself.

    Other than that, no.

  • The only thing I lost was fear.

  • I guess I was better when confronted with death. Since I came from a large extended family, someone was always dying. We were always going to funerals. I suppose it is easier to say to someone “He/She is in a better place” even though I didn’t believe it. Now, I usually say nothing. Awkward silences are a lot of fun .
    So, I guess you can say religiosity helped me at funerals.

  • Jake

    I was better at feeling soul-crushing guilt (no pun intended) for things which were perfectly natural. Like not wanting to go to confession.

    I was also better at getting really excited about certain things having to do with my religion, such a those religious advice books.

    Also, I used to really like anything that was essentially secular, but which had a slight air of religiosity to it. (Think books like “The Moviegoer,” “Chronicles of Narnia,” etc. Or musical artists, like Sufjan Stevens.)

    Although, now I have just moved those interests into things like science, history, and philosophy.

    Also, during my “transition” phase away from Catholicism, I spent about a year being REALLY into “woo” stuff, like Taoism, and meditation, and Traditional Chinese Medicine, the Tao Te Ching, etc. While I recognize it’s basically homeopathy wrapped in Eastern Mysticism, I still catch myself getting excited, even when just vaguely thinking about it.

    The stuff from Catholicism, though, I’m so detached from it now, I can’t even remember how or why I was ever really excited about it. I just remember that I really, really was. Now, I don’t think I could get into this stuff even if I wanted.
    Sorry, I just can’t turn my brain off any more.

  • DGKnipfer

    Nope, can’t think of anything. I haven’t changed that much by letting go of the last dregs of religion.

  • I’ve never had a religion and I can’t imagine any benefits to having one. Karen mentions death being easier to cope with but I think I would blame a god if I’d had faith and watched my mother wither away from cancer and die in pain and my grandfather and partner’s father fade away with alzheimer’s till there was nothing but a shell left. I think if I’d believed in a god I’d end up hating him for that.

    It is much better to believe that there is nothing protecting us and nothing singling us out. It is simply nature at work. I think this is one way that religion can really harm people.

  • WK

    I’m bipolar, and my natural writing style, nay, the way I think, tends to read, to others, like a freshly manicured nail sliding down slate at a perpendicular angle. When I was religious, I’d be up one day, down the next, it was bad and painful for me and everyone around me but I wrote, and wrote and wrote. One day I figured I’d share some of the collected writings. Upswings aren’t always happy, so some of it is optimistic, some of it pessimistic, alot of it sardonic, but according to a few people, all bipolar, the mania shows through pretty darn clearly.
    I never made any real money (other than enough for a hamburger or two), or even thought of myself as an artist, but there were alot of people who seemed impressed with what I had to say, or how I said it, or both. I feel I should note that when I recited, I did so with all the fervor I had when I wrote them down.

    When I finally gave up on faith, the mood swings went too. I’ve leveled out and no longer take any psychiatric medicine whatsoever. I still get little “manic lite” days, but they’re mild enough that I can deal with them using Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. When the mania left, the writing left, and so did the screaming on the top of my lungs about wittgenstein and winnie the pooh wearing a 5x shirt and boxer shorts to 30 to 40 people in a coffee house.

    I’m pretty embarrassed of it now, but it was passion and I think that’s what attracted people. Well, okay, honestly it could have been like watching an emotional trainwreck, or it could have been the fact that on a few occasions I’d wear a mumu with a bright yellow speedo temporarily hidden underneath, but I’d like to think that it was because I had passion.

    I still have passions, but it’s not the same thing. I’ve become interested in science, studied, graduated, found work, but my passion for understanding the world around me is nothing like thinking that waterboarding a stuffed animal is somehow an expression of my inner turmoil.

    Long story short, or All the Teal Deer Look Here: Manic Depressives will tell you that the feeling of mania, the happy euphoric mania, is addicting. Some people will go off of their meds to feel the highs only to realize how their memory downplayed the lows. I miss the mania sometimes, even though I remember the rock bottoms all too well, and it was religion that seemed to be what made me manic. In a way I miss religion, like an ex addict misses his/her poison of choice.

  • To Each His (Or Her) Own

    I am not an atheist (I am in fact a Christian) but am an avid believer of question. Always question! Question your government (which is why I’m liberal), and question what people tell you religiously. NEVER just take things for what people say, because humans are still humans and tend to put their personal interpretations into messages when that may be their mere opinion. If you simply take to heart whatever you’re told, then you never know WHY you believe something. Only that you’ve been told to. It sounds like the bulk of you guys are not so much angry with your previous faith but at the leaders of it. Because the qualities you guys are saying you possessed while believers are not qualities of the Bible, this I know. In fact, Jesus taught AGAINST self-righteousness (encouraging the service of others) and arrogance, as we are ALL imperfect sinners, including Christians. ESPECIALLY Christians. If your church encouraged “high noses” among others different from you, then that is an error of the leader, NOT the faith. That is a core example of the necessity to always QUESTION QUESTION QUESTION! The very same way you may be armed with an artillery of evidence against religion, when you did believe you might have benefitted from having strong evidence supporting your faith. 🙂

  • christina

    I wonder…is it possible to be religious and atheist at the same time? Is that a dumb question? Maybe religiously atheist? hah.

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