Just to be clear, this is not about why religion is bad. This is about how my life is better now that I’m not religious anymore. Because my experience of organised religion is based on Christianity, this post is going to be very much Christianity focused. If you’re a Christian, please don’t take it personal.
A few years ago, I realised that I had reached a point where my being a Christian was not really making a difference to my life. I wasn’t praying, I wasn’t going to church, and I hadn’t picked up a Bible in ages. I picked what parts of Christian doctrine to live by, completely ignoring others. I basically wasn’t doing any of the things that Christians would normally qualify as being a good Christian.
So I put my religion up to some serious scrutiny. What was Christianity really doing for me that I couldn’t do for myself? Did it give me inner peace? I could get that with meditation. Purpose in life? Didn’t need Jesus to figure that out. Guidelines on how to live? I could take advice from the Bible without actually being a Christian. Heaven? I figured if I worked hard at being a good person and God still decided I wasn’t good enough for heaven, then I didn’t want to be in that heaven anyway. Push come to shove, I would just hitch a ride to a different heaven. Anyways jokes aside, I put some serious thought into what I really, truly believed – my personal creed, if you will – and found that I didn’t need to be a Christian to believe it and live by it. So I stopped calling myself one.
My life has improved tremendously in many ways since I left the church, but here are the five major ones:
I don’t feel guilty for doing what makes me happy: As a Christian I found that I would repeatedly do things that Christianity frowns upon, feel bad for doing them, and apologize to God, only to go back and do them again. Basically I was a hypocrite, telling God I was sorry for doing things that I knew I would most definitely do again. I realised the reason for this was that I wasn’t really sorry, because I didn’t truly believe what I was doing was wrong. I only felt bad because the church said I should. When I stopped listening to the church, I stopped feeling bad and started feeling free to live my live the way I want.
I don’t feel like I have to make excuses for God when bad things happen: As a Christian I spent a lot of time wondering why the world is so fucked up and why God ‘lets’ bad things happen. I would make up all kinds of explanations as to why a supposedly benevolent God lets his creation suffer. Things like ‘God works in mysterious ways’ and ‘this world is not our final destination’ are some of those flowery words I would come up with, that sound like so much hogwash to someone who just lost a child in a car accident, or lost a mother to cancer. These days I acknowledge unfortunate events as things that just happen, I grieve and then I do something about them if I can. I don’t spend valuable time asking God why, or searching the Bible for ‘answers’, or trying to explain on his behalf.
Sex doesn’t make me squirm: Christianity has a particularly strong disgust for ‘sexual sins’, like pornography, fornication, masturbation, homosexuality, and so on. I’ve never understood the link between marriage and sex, and why I should ‘wait’, or ‘save myself’, so I had sex, a lot. And enjoyed it. I also didn’t see why pornography was such a big deal. So I watched it. But my Christian upbringing also meant that I would sometimes feel dirty afterward. It seemed to me that I was expected to feel dirty and ashamed for enjoying a beautiful, natural act that isn’t shameful at all and doesn’t harm anyone. Sexual freedom is taboo in Christianity, especially for women.
Female virgins are celebrated in the Bible as though the state of one’s hymen is the measure of their worth as a human being. But now that I no longer subscribe to Christianity’s aversion to sexual matters, sex is no longer a furtive, shameful thing to me, and the fact that I’m not a virgin is a non-issue. I’m very comfortable talking about sex, and I don’t get irrationally worked up and feel the need to preach to people who masturbate, have sex with as many people as they like, or enjoy pornography. After all, who has consensual sex ever harmed?
I’m way more open-minded: Seeing as my framework for morality is no longer based on the Bible, there are a lot of things I previously condemned as being wrong (without really understanding why) that I am now more willing to evaluate objectively. For example, as a non-Christian I am now more open to understanding why some people are transvestites, or why some people are sexually attracted to animals, without passing everything through the ‘Bible says it’s wrong’ sieve. I don’t necessarily agree with everything I used to think was wrong as a Christian, but I now find it easier to evaluate things on their own merit, not against the (often arbitrary) Christian standards of right and wrong. My framework for right and wrong is now based on logic and universal principles any rational person can agree with, regardless of religion.
I don’t have to struggle to stay awake in church: The struggle was too real. Each Sunday morning I would grudgingly drag myself out of bed, scan my closet for something church-safe to wear (I usually settled for the same dress every Sunday, it became like a uniform), get to church and promptly fall asleep in my seat. The over-sabi usher who found joy in waking me up in the most embarrassing way possible was my mortal enemy. But now that I don’t feel an obligation to go to church, my Sunday mornings and afternoons belong to me. I go to church if I feel like it, not because I must. So if I’m tired, I don’t go. If I’m not in the mood to be told things I already know, I don’t go. If I have other things to do (like sleep an extra 5 hours), I don’t go. Which is very often. In a weird way I kind of miss that usher though.
Over to you! Have you also discovered that you don’t need religion? Do share your experience in the comments. If you’re a religious person, let’s hear about the impact of your religion on your life, whether positive or otherwise.