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Switch to Forum Live View Friends in Faith Transitions - Looking Back
10 years ago  ::  Aug 30, 2008 - 11:46PM #1
Posts: 26
I've been here for a while, but I'm generally more a lurker than a poster.  As I feel that my faith transition is beginning to wind down, I also feel the need to post a critique of my personal experience transitioning to a new religious identity with new tenets.  I haven't yet found a faith, but I think that I have found some tenets I value in a religion.  I also feel that a couple faiths call to me now that I have healed a little bit over the past year.

I feel that American culture as a whole makes faith transitions incredibly painful.  I don't think faith transitions are ever easy, they involve deep searching and uncertainty.  My faith transition tore apart my religious identity and shredded my certainty in how the world works.  For me it was sort of like stepping off a cliff.  I couldn't turn back, I didn't know how far I would fall, or if I would survive.  I felt the pain of loss even as I felt the need to continue.  There's a lot of uncertainty and internal risk that accompanies a faith transition, no matter how well the family and friends support a person.

Society should do its best to offer support to those who transition to a new faith or religious identity, but I feel that society does not support faith transitions.  In my faith transition I felt shunned, misunderstood, and neglected.  Friends emotionally blackmailed me, church leaders demonized me, and I still feel that my family doesn't understand quite why I did many of the things I did during the last three years.  I have an entire social group of friends, roommates, and classmates that I don't communicate with anymore because we no longer have the ability to communicate.

Maybe I'm universalizing my experience, but I think there are very particular reasons why American society reacts so badly to faith transitions.  I think that American society largely views spirituality in black/white terms.  Spirituality and religion isn't something to work towards, you either have it or you don't have it.  A faith transition means that you aren't spiritual or moral.  The emotional blackmail used by some of my friends hinted at this perception.  If I wasn't going to church or participating, it was because I was behaving immorally.  This emotional blackmail was very harmful for me, and I know I'm still angry at my former friends for disregarding my needs during this time.

I think that American society, though once again perhaps I'm universalizing my experience, reacts so badly to faith transitions because of general ignorance as well.  I think that society at large is ignorant of different forms of spirituality and religion.  I feel that the ignorance of different religious and spiritual traditions breeds a sort of fear that lashes out during faith transitions.  People only know their own faith, so when they see someone who needs to experiment or doesn't feel the tie to that tradition they lash out in fear.  I'm a little unsure how we as a society could address this ignorance, but in a pluralistic society with many faiths I feel that it is dangerous that so many people lack even rudimentary knowledge about faiths.  This ties very closely to the on/off perception about spirituality.  Instead of assuming that different paths exist many people assume that only one path exists and outside that path there is only evil and whatever bogeymen inhabit the imagination.

Finally I think that some people simply express fear of faith transitions.  If my friend/roommate/whatever is doing all these things that are scary because I have no idea what's out there, maybe I'll someday find myself wandering off into bogeyman territory.  I think a lot of the fear and social castration I felt was because as someone they personally knew it made the possibilities of a faith transition immediate.  That sense of immediacy linked with a lack of knowledge about alternate paths and bipolar view of the world meant that my friends and roommates could easily transfer my own search for a new identity onto themselves.  So instead of supporting me in a fragile moment, many of my friends bolstered their own religious identity by attacking me.

I may be preaching to the choir, so to speak, but I look over the internet and find all these messages of fear and uncertainty by those experiencing faith transitions.  Messages ask for support or confirmation or information or even simply social acknowledgment of their transition.  To be fair most of the responses here are very supportive and informative.  If you know someone who is experiencing a faith transition, be supportive and understanding.  Sometimes you may not know what lines in the sand exist, as they rebuild a spiritual identity and perspective.  Faith transitions are scary, a person shouldn't need to also deal with isolation and betrayal by their friends.  Support can help someone grow into a new religious or spiritual identity, one that more adequately reflects that person's personality.

Thanks for reading.  I will note that these comments are based on my experience, so perhaps I have too negative a view.  If someone has a more positive social experience of their faith transition I'd be interested in reading it.
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10 years ago  ::  Sep 01, 2008 - 5:55PM #2
Posts: 671
Hi, Erne. :)  I'm so sorry it's taken someone so long to respond to you.  Thank you for sharing your experience.  I agree that faith transitions are often really hard and are not supported--not necessarily in this country but perhaps all over the world. 

I'm so sorry that you have had such a difficult time.  Remember, though, that when--for whatever reason--you leave friends behind, you can also find new friends.  That sounds simplistic and I don't want to dismiss the difficulty you've had--but just want to offer whatever encouragement that I can.   As for the problems with your family, that is really painful to go through. 

I don't blame you for still feeling angry with your old friends emotional blackmail (that's how I would interpret their behavior).  Their lack of support, IMO, shows a lack of fidelity toward you and your needs.  I don't want to demonize them, because they proably had their own fears--but that doesn't make what you went through any easier or their treatment of you any less unkind.

I really like a lot of the things you said in your post.  Very compelling perceptions. :)  i agree that people often have very black/white perceptions of faith--or of life in general, actually. :rolleyes:

I hope you plan on sticking around here.
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10 years ago  ::  Sep 01, 2008 - 9:55PM #3
Posts: 26
I think maybe I'll post this again in a board with a bit more traffic.  Sometimes I forget that the boards that I like to lurk in aren't often the most trafficked boards here at beliefnet.

Wow, almost 300 posts in a month.  I started posting about 2 months ago or so and only have a post a week.  Maybe I should read more boards, or boards that go faster and have more topics than the multi-faith forums.

I'll be around, and when I find a new community and new faith I'll probably post something much more positive.  I wouldn't trade my faith transition for the world, I fit better into the world now.
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9 years ago  ::  Aug 12, 2009 - 1:52PM #4
Posts: 11

Aug 30, 2008 -- 11:46PM, Erne wrote:

I don't think faith transitions are ever easy, they involve deep searching and uncertainty. My faith transition tore apart my religious identity and shredded my certainty in how the world works. For me it was sort of like stepping off a cliff. I couldn't turn back, I didn't know how far I would fall, or if I would survive. I felt the pain of loss even as I felt the need to continue. There's a lot of uncertainty and internal risk that accompanies a faith transition, no matter how well the family and friends support a person.

So well put! Faith transition is a most painful process in the beginning its the guilt of feeling doubts, the struggle back and forth between old and new ideas, more guilt, more heart pulling, the yearning for something more, the fear of losing the familiar. Truly the 'shredding of certainty' and the tearing apart of identity is is so painful but the yearning is so powerful.

And this is not to mention the social pressures for conformity etc. You are dead on in your observation and experiences.

Thank you for sharing.

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9 years ago  ::  Aug 25, 2009 - 6:17PM #5
Posts: 916



Faith transition is about changing your identity.  That's gotta be painful, depending upon how much you identified yourself with your previous faith.

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7 years ago  ::  Sep 14, 2011 - 12:23AM #6
Posts: 47

I know this is an old post but I feel like my situation fits into it. I am concerned that my best friend has pulled away from me because I am no longer a Christian. We have been friends since we were 11 and now we are 23. Ofcourse people change over periods of time, especially through those years! We were both raised Christians but recently she has become more religious while I have become less. I am Agnostic now. I have felt her pulling away since right before she had her baby which was a year and a half ago. She told me she had started going to church again and how good it made her feel. I told her I thought that was great. When she talks to me it's as if she keeps a wall between us, not looking at my face and being cold. I expressed this to her in an email, I told her I know she is raising her baby Christian I have no problem with that. If I did anything wrong, I apologize but I really hope we can be friends regardles of our religious beliefs. She wrote that she needed to hear that and asked me to babysit once a week. It really did hurt to hear. I would never teach my beliefs to someone else's child! I don't even have beliefs I am Agnostic! After that things were going well for a little while but then she started acting that way again. She has surrounded herself with new friends that are extremely religious and at parties I feel unwanted they literally just stare at me like I have an upside-down cross on my forehead. I guess that's what I get for living in the bible belt.

I know that I just need to sit down and have a talk with her. I know that it could be that she feels that we in general don't have anything in common anymore, which is sometimes what I feel too. I guess I would like some advice on what to say IF her main reason is my not being a Christian. Because I have invested 12 years of my feelings/hopes/dreams/sorrows/love into this best friend and for that to be the only reason she is writing me off.....I don't know what I will say.....something I shouldn't.

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