Does anyone else go through difficulty growing up

Feb 28, 2013

Discussion by: uncertain18
My entire 18 years of life I’ve never felt the “divine spirit” or the voice that everyone seems to go on about at congregations or any other things of the sort that uplifts people… I always found myself rather envious of their passion for this hidden soul-mate. So out of pure jealousy I “accepted” Jesus as my “saviour” and was baptised out of hopes to be united with this long lost love, but it still wasn’t there! I attended all the church events I could out of hope of connecting with this hidden soul-mate for 18 years, and yet its still not there. So in high school I tried soo hard, desperately even, to believe in religion but it doesn’t seem like its my cup of tea. What does this mean? I’m beyond terrified to speak to my parents about this “issue” because I don’t want them to believe they’ve failed at raising me.

27 comments on “Does anyone else go through difficulty growing up

  • 1
    canadian_right says:

    It means you have a brain in your head and are a normal rational person.

    It is perfectly normal for a young adult to struggle a bit with what kind of person they want to be and are going to be. The transition from child to adult is difficult for most people. You have to become your own person, independent from your parents, while still maintaining what should be a lifelong strong relationship with your parents who most likely love you very much. Even children who share their parents’ world view can find this transition difficult so you shouldn’t feel bad about having even more stress when you find yourself disagreeing with what you say is very important to your parents.

    You parents have not failed raising you. If you are a hardworking, honest, curious person they have succeeded. You may want to let your parents know your doubts gradually. You don’t have to bluntly announce you are an atheist. You could simply say you are having doubts, that your faith is being tested. When you are more independent and have felt out how your parents may react you can decide if you want to be blunter, or continue to be diplomatic.

    It isn’t a moral failure to be diplomatic with your parents.

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  • 2
    Mister T says:

    What are your parents’ attitudes towards atheism? On matters unrelated to religion do they respect you having opinions that are different to theirs or are they very prescriptive about what you should think? This might be an indicator of how they might react to you expressing your lack of belief. Still, at least you are over 18 now and can start seeking your independence. The thing is, it’s up to you when or if you even tell them. If it’s easier to keep the status quo until you’ve made out on your own then that’s a valid approach. If on the other hand you feel you must live openly then that’s commendable but you may have to go through some pain to do it. I think you can probably make the case that your parents haven’t failed in raising you by pointing out your good qualities and everything they did right. It all depends on how receptive you think they’ll be and what fallout you can expect.

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  • 4
    Kim Probable says:

    I went to Christian schools and churches regularly and never felt anything either, though I wanted to. I get the feelings others seemed to ascribe to a god when I think about the expanse of the universe or when I really grasp an interesting concept in science and everything clicks together. Sometimes being in a crowd of people singing does it too.

    We all have different brains – what triggers certain emotions for some may not for others, and I don’t think it really means anything. Don’t worry about it. =) There’s a wonderful world out there with interesting people and fantastic stories. Find the things that bring you joy. =)

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  • Evidently the late Catholic nun, Mother Teresa, had similar experiences; she felt nothing of the divine late in her life. But just as the dough of an uncooked pretzel can be twisted in numerous ways, so too can theological reasoning. Her superiors simply reassured her that such an experience was indeed evidence for the divine.

    Hideously brilliant.

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  • 6
    crookedshoes says:

    Uncertain 18,

    You parents have actually succeeded in raising you. My advice is to stop worrying and get out there and enjoy this marvel you are surrounded by.

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  • 7
    ForFreeThought says:

    I was raised Catholic and I was confined to that small way of thinking, and that community for a long time. I then decided to sit and actually learn more about religion, and the more history and scientific facts I learned, the harder it was for me to take it seriously. I’m a closeted athiest as well. If my parents found out, it would break their hearts– and that fact also troubles me very much. It makes me think about how their love for a being that doesn’t exist might be more important than their love for me. This is not their fault, I might add– this is the crap we’ve been raised to believe. I kind of understand your predicament, and one thing I can tell you is not to stress about it. If you don’t believe, you don’t believe, and that’s okay. It means your mind is more open to other ideas and is not bound within the confines of religion. Do what makes you happy! Your parents will love you regardless. If you feel like you need to tell them than you should, but don’t give in to unnecessary pressures.

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  • 9
    whiteraven says:

    What makes you so sure that a good portion of those people who are going on about the “divine spirit” aren’t just following the herd, being dishonest to themselves or to others, or unwittingly believing their imagination or internal dialog is something it isn’t? People convince themselves to believe in of all sorts of things all the time: gonna win the lottery, gonna smoke a lifetime with a heart attack or cancer, not gonna get caught driving under the influence, don’t need a flu shot, gonna be saved by prayer if you get bitten playing with rattlesnakes…

    When you come right down to it, there’s not a lot of downside to religious belief if you stay away from the extremes, indulge in an acceptable level of hypocrisy, can put up with the nonsense and enjoy the company.

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  • 10
    papa lazaru says:

    You’re thinking too much. That’s your problem.

    You don’t have to talk to your parents about ‘it’. Figure things out as you go along, stop worrying over nothing and enjoy life on your own terms.

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  • I’m rather alarmed at the number of responses that have suggested living a lie by pretending to go along with this nonsense. Trying to fool yourself cannot be a healthy position to take, in the long run. Perhaps for a couple of years while you’re still living under the same roof as your family it would be prudent and even polite not to openly challenge them, however once you’re living independently, I’d recommend being true to yourself.

    The comforting fact is that you’re not alone! Young people are much more likely to express disbelief and have similar experiences to your own. I think you’ll find the atheist community very supportive.

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  • 12
    uncertain18 says:

    You all are truly brilliant, thank you! If I would of said any of this to anyone of a church I’m pretty sure they would just say that it means I’m closer to this “divine spirit”. I bought the God delusion today and I’ve already read the first chapter within minutes! Thank Professor Dawkins (if you see this of course) for this website and your book, I plan on finding more books of the sort as I go along my years.

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  • 13
    susanlatimer says:

    Something that whiteraven touched on in comment 9, has stuck with me as a hunch since I was a thirteen-year old in a fundamentalist christian church. I didn’t feel it either. But I went through the motions naively because I thought there was something I was missing and tried to fake it ’til I made it.

    A few years later, when I looked back at the experience, I had a pretty strong feeling that I wasn’t the only one. Most of those people didn’t act like they really believed what they said. I think the Emperor’s New Clothes is more widespread than we think. A percentage have themselves convinced but a lot of people quietly feel nothing and assuming the problem lies with themselves, just play along in the hopes that they will catch up to the “truth” that is repeated with such certainty and accepted without question.

    It would be interesting to know what’s really going on inside the heads of church people including the priests and pastors. Especially the most thoughtful ones.

    It’s crazy stuff and it only survives because groupthink is a very powerful thing. Think about almost any of these claims for even a couple of minutes and there’s no reason to believe any of them are true. Quite the contrary. They are batshit crazy claims. It didn’t add up when I was five, so how do adults believe it?

    Repetition. We are suckers for repetition. If something is spoken of with certainty often enough and not outwardly questioned, it becomes true. Secretly, we can’t get our heads around it but are willing to take too seriously that the problem is in our head. We were born bad with hearts of ice or we are thick or willfully stubborn. So, we remain part of the problem.

    That’s what’s lovely about reason and evidence. It cuts through all that.

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  • 14
    DocWebster says:

    You can feel confident in the fact that you have it right. Nothing went wrong, you aren’t supposed to suffer from delusions. Besides, anyone that tells you they are completely certain of anything is trying to sell you something. The only way your parents could possibly fail at raising you is if you deny your feelings, a liar doesn’t do anyone any good.

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  • 15
    Uriel-238 says:

    That divine spirit is actually tapping into part of your own brain according to a number of psychiatric models. In [Dialectic Behavior Therapy] ( that voice is (called your wise mind, [Transactional Analysis] ( regards this as tapping your adult self, and so on.

    One method of tapping into this wise mind is notably expressed in the evangelist motto “[What Would Jesus Do?] (” Where one imagines someone they respect or admire in a similar situation (or answering a question). Who you imagine is not particularly relevant so long as it’s you doing the reflecting and it’s someone who represents the kind of characteristics you want to engage. (Exempli gratia, What would Einstein do? What would Vader do? What would Christopher Hitchens do? What would Ronald McDonald do? …and so on).

    (This also explains how different Christians can ask themselves WWJD? and get different, often very unChristlike answers.)

    Another device is to write down the questions you’d like to ask (God, your higher self, whoever), leave for a while and then pretending you are that entity, come back and answer them.

    With practice, this sort of thing becomes easy.

    Heh. All my Wikipedia links got separated out. Weird.

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  • 16
    Sjoerd Westenborg says:

    What does this mean?

    You already answered your own question. It means it is not your cup of tea. To some people belief in God(s), witchcraft, spirits/demons, psychics, etc. comes easily. This can be the result of their upbringing, an inability to cope with reality as it is or simply a predisposition towards spirituality/fantasy. They will see your disbelief (or belief in the wrong kind of God(s), witchcraft, spirits/demons, psychics) as something wrong. Obviously, we atheists and sceptics think exactly the same thing about them. But just because many people around you think something, doesn’t mean they are right. If you have seen most of the evidence, logic and arguments behind atheism and it makes sense to you, you should rest in the knowledge that you are probably right despite what others might think.

    I’m beyond terrified to speak to my parents about this “issue” because I don’t want them to believe they’ve failed at raising me.

    My compliments on the wording of that last sentence. They didn’t fail at raising you, but they will believe they have. Your parents love you, but their beliefs might make them act in a way that doesn’t exactly reflect that. You are the best person to judge what their reaction will be. As for the consequences, there have been a number of very helpful discussions about that on this site:

    There are much more of course, but this is a good start I think.
    Dealing with a family that will be ‘hurt’ by your atheism, dealing with a non-accepting community, Catching up on sciency and atheist stuff

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  • 17
    The Jersey Devil says:

    Hi U18,

    Susan in comment 13 said it better but I’m give it a shot anyway.

    You were feeling ‘jealous’ and ‘envious’ because it seams everyone around you had this connection with the big guy upstairs. So you go through the motions (baptism and church attendence) in hopes of attaining what they have. Well, guess what? Nobody knows about your jealousy or envy but they do see your actions. They may actually be jealous of your devotion. The end result is a room full of doubters who take solice in the fact that apparently everyone else in the room believes.

    There is a saying, “Don’t compare your insides with other people’s outsides.” It’s a decent rule of thumb because alot of people are full of shit. Don’t be one of those people.

    Oh, and The God Delusion is awesome so I’m glad you are reading it.

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  • 18
    BrandonC says:

    I am 19 years old. I can relate to this story. My family raised me in the Baptist church. I was ushered into church every Sunday. I liked to use that time to catch a quick nap, but when I was awake I saw people with their arms raised, singing to the sky. They frequently claimed to hear the voice of God in their hearts. I never heard jack from the guy. I spent many of the past few years trying to convince myself that God existed. I just did not want to reject my belief Christ. One day I realized I was not afraid of Hell and I thought God was a jerk. Over time, my faith literality ate away itself. It had nothing to do with secular ideas or science. It was just the fact that I didn’t like what the Bible had to say, it made no sense to me and I no longer felt the need to believe it. My faith destroyed itself with basic common sense and a lack of fear of the punishments my religion promised me for not believing.

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  • I am also 18 and from a religious family like you. You need to embrace what your mind is telling you. Embrace the freedom of non-belief. You also have to accept that you are an adult and this your life, and you have a right to live your life how you want to live it. If your family can’t accept that; that’s their problem not your’s.

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  • 20
    Sean_W says:

    Welcome to

    I was a lot angrier than you, and I refused to continue going to church long before I turned 18.

    I’m somewhat curious about your claim to have wanted what they have. I always believed people put on a show, and that underneath the system was nasty, and goddammit they must know it. My experiences probably shaped that view. But it is one that I found a lot of people shared. This was especially true of my peers when I was younger. We thought the church was full of shit. Of course so were we for the most part. Christ it’s embarrassing to think of some of my early attempts at “exposing” the nonsense. :hehe:

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  • 21
    DocWebster says:

    In reply to #20 by Sean_W:

    Welcome to

    I was a lot angrier than you, and I refused to continue going to church long before I turned 18.

    I’m somewhat curious about your claim to have wanted what they have. I always believed people put on a show, and that underneath the system was nasty, and goddammit they must know it. My experiences probably shaped that view. But it is one that I found a lot of people shared. This was especially true of my peers when I was younger. We thought the church was full of shit. Of course so were we for the most part. Christ it’s embarrassing to think of some of my early attempts at “exposing” the nonsense. :hehe:

    I’ll always remember the summer my mom tried to convince me to become a jehovah’s witless. There were at least a dozen times I got dragged to bible study where lo and behold another elder would bring a daughter who would conveniently be placed next to me for the study and invariably relationships between the sexes would be discussed or banter would run to talk about humorous happenings in various households. Even with a cute girl paying attention I could see the con job going. The one girl I managed to actually have an unguarded conversation with started out with her apology for the hard sell and that she was barely able to contain her disgust for the machinations. I had to question her sincerity when she started to try to sell me on the idea of stringing along because her dad was was pushing her on getting together with another elder’s son. A ploy to hit me in the Gallahad as it were. Some religious people have no shame.

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  • 22
    GospelofJudas says:

    I thought that this was rather interesting, and might explain why some people get something out of church and others don’t.

    If church isn’t for you, then don’t go. The same transcendental feelings can come about through any number of means if that’s what you’re after; Fritjof Capra described an epiphany he had on a beach, when a great deal of his knowledge about particle physics came together in one moment that made him truly understand, for a short time, what it was he was studying. Aldous Huxley was quoted as saying that his father considered a walk in the mountains the equivalent of church-going.

    As for breaking it to your parents, why not do so in baby steps? Pick on tenet, question them, and say, “I don’t understand/believe that.” You can unravel quite a bit that way.

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  • 23
    This Is Not A Meme says:

    As time goes on it becomes increasingly difficult for people to believe in such things. Contemporary Christianity is much more toned down and reasonable than it once was, but it is still absurd. You can’t believe in Christianity for the same reason your parents can’t believe in Greek myths. You have advantages your parents never had. That’s why you can’t believe.

    Out of curiosity I did an experiment and accepted Jesus. I felt the rapturous joy of His love, and stuff. I’ve also felt this idolizing Bjork, in meditation, in hypnotic trance, or reading a good book. It’s like drugs, a cheap high not rooted in reality. It’s interesting but not essential. You can also have bliss and meaning from studying reality, falling in love, or pursuing a passion. That’s real. That’s worth your time.

    As for your parents, who knows? You might liberate them from the myths. I did. I used to lovingly ridicule my mother’s theistic assumptions, and she dropped them. I think it helped.

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  • 24
    SteveR says:

    It means that you are intelligent and know yourself, those who claim to have felt the divine spirit may well have felt something real. The best spiritual uplifting I had was at Woodstock when Joe Cocker did his famous performance. I don’t think Jo Cocker would thank me for worshiping him though. Try the theater, classical music, rock concerts, or even cinema. They can all lift the spirit, but to think that feeling great about something is proof of God in your life is simply a delusion.

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  • 25
    matt.cavanaugh.262 says:

    A personal anecdote might help:

    From an early age, I was fascinated by science, but also raised in a liberal Catholic family. Early on, what Science & Logic were telling me clashed with what the Church said. I remember a teary night when I was 10, sorting out an apology for God’s inconsistency. It didn’t stick, and from that moment on, I must have been a tacit atheist without realizing it. My parents (now agnostics!) had to drag me to mass every week.

    At age 16, I was shipped off to a weekend retreat called Emmaus, love-bombed, brain-washed, and staggered out all dreamy-eyed and lugging a big, wooden cross around my neck. That lasted appx. two weeks before my final and permanent apostasy. I was discretely nudged along by my high school English teacher, (a former monk whose own apostasy had been triggered while working on a translation of the bible.) “You won’t get this joke now,” he said, “but I know you will soon: ‘a man needs god like a fish needs a bicycle.'”

    Good luck; trust what your common sense tells you; remember that strength come from the truth; don’t persist in a lie just to please your parents; and never forget you have many friends out here who support you. Oh, and it keeps getting easier the more you move beyond it.

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  • 26
    Gangmember says:

    Why is it that whenever I hear a comment such as this I feel as though it’s overly dramatic? For example “So out of pure jealousy”… Be happy kid, you’re better off having Sundays free to watch ESPN.

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  • 27
    Chipmunk says:

    I could not understand more what you are saying. I was raised in a Protestant home. A lot of the things I was taught about religion didn’t make sense to me and I became increasingly agnostic. If there was a god, it seemed to me like we were in some kind of salvation lottery. So many options, and each one promising that it was the only road to salvation. What are the odds of guessing right? I was pretty sure my church wasn’t true, so I investigated a lot of major religions. Even if one was true, how would I know? I figured that I would research it for a while (just in case there was a heaven and a hell), and if I didn’t find it within a few years I would just stop worrying about it and be an atheist.
    I am now an evolutionary biologist. I didn’t end up an atheist however. I found what I was looking for. You’re a smart kid. Don’t let anybody tell you what to think. There are all kinds of things to learn in this life. Whether or not this life is eternally significant is, potentially, the most important thing you can ever learn. It stands to reason that if there is some kind of loving god out there, there would have to be a way provided to know.

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