People often ask me what it was like leaving my faith. Sometimes they are asking about the social repercussions (there were too many of those for just one conversation), but other times they mean for me individually. What was it like transitioning from believing in God to not believing anymore? Was it difficult? Was it disorienting or scary? Disappointing? Sad? What emotions did I experience? That question always makes me think of the moment in Toy Story when Buzz Lightyear discovered that he was not an elite intergalactic space ranger but a kid’s toy with pre-recorded catch phrases, phony stickers, and entertaining sound effects.
This discovery hit Buzz hard. As it was for most people I know who went through losing their religion, for me it didn’t happen all at once like it did for Buzz. For Buzz, all the cognitive dissonance and the shock and the emotions came crashing down in the same instant. Fortunately, leaving one’s faith usually happens much more slowly so you get more time to process what’s going on (sure would be nice, though, if there were more qualified and sympathetic professional therapists to assist with the difficulties that arise along the way. May their tribe increase). But Buzz’s epiphany illustrates this experience well in a short time.
One minute you’re defending the WHOLE GALAXY, and suddenly you find yourself sucking down Darjeeling with Marie Antoinette and her little sister.
Can you imagine what that would be like? Yes, as a matter of fact, I think I know exactly what that feels like. See, most Christians are taught that they are a part of a sweeping, cosmic drama with a story arc that spans all eternity. There’s a courageous hero, a sinister villain, an army of invisible evil henchmen, and an all-powerful creator orchestrating all events toward a carefully-planned and victorious resolution. In my particular version of the story, the church served a crucial role in the unfolding of this epic adventure, exhibiting “the manifold wisdom of God to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms” (Eph. 3:8-11). It was almost as if the entire universe revolved around what was going on inside my own little world. How important that made me!
As a member of the elite Universe Protection Unit of the Space Ranger Corps, I protect the galaxy from the threat of invasion from the evil Emperor Zurg, sworn enemy of the Galactic Alliance!
But then one day he saw something (in this case a commercial) which opened his eyes to the truth. He checked his sources of information again (pushed his buttons, then later peeled back a sticker) and discovered that they weren’t reliable sources of information after all. All at once the realization came crashing down on him that everything he was led to believe about his identity and his purpose in life was just made up. It’s quite a letdown to learn that the cosmically significant narrative which you were programmed to believe was never real in the first place. As it turns out, your own significance, while real to you and to those to whom you matter, plays out on a much smaller scale than you were taught. Buzz took the news hard. First came the shock. Then came the depression. Then came the absurd irrational behavior.
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