There are scores of people who have lost limbs or other body parts for various reasons. Most of those who have lost these parts will have some relief from the ailment that caused the loss in the first place. However, according to Wikipedia, 80-100% of amputees will “experience a phantom limb.” This means that they feel that the part that was removed is still there. I’ve been out of school now for over a quarter century and my ability to process numbers isn’t as good as it once was, but 80-100% is a huge number. What does that number mean exactly? Most. It means most. That’s significant.
The majority of amputees that experience phantom limb syndrome also experience some form of phantom limb pain. Somewhere in the neighborhood of 80% will feel some sort of pain, often from nerve damage. This is real, physical pain that is felt for a reason. Some feel pain where the limb used to be, not just where actual damage still exists. Others may feel nothing more than phantom sensations, such as thinking the limb is still actually attached. This is not always an issue…unless it’s a leg that you think is still there and you decide to go for a stroll, only to fall on your face.
All of these things are justifiable, known phenomena. There is something real that is taken away and the loss of it has real, physical effects on the body and mind. But what about spiritual loss? What about the loss of faith? Faith so strong you once thought it was indistinguishable from the rest of you? What if your once deeply held belief was unexpectedly removed from your body? Is there damage? Is there pain? Is there the sensation that it is still there? Is this pain also justifiable? Yes. To all.
I was once a strong Christian. I was once “filled with the spirit” and ready to “go to war” with the dark forces in this world. I once thought that my life had no meaning without God and Jesus in it. I was so convinced that I devoted my whole life to it and even dragged my family along for the ride. My son, at age 6, wanted to be a pastor because of what I taught him. I was living the good life; the one God created me for. And then something changed. I educated myself.
Issues with the church caused me to look elsewhere for spiritual guidance; within. I prayed to God as I took it upon myself to do the research and ask the hard questions no one in the church seemed to want to answer. I may have asked God for help, but all the work was done by me. What I found was that I was believing for all the wrong reasons. I believed out of fear. I believed out of ignorance. I believed out of poor teaching by well-meaning loved ones. My faith weakened just a bit at first. But then my foundation cracked and my walls started to crumble. As time went on, there was nothing left. No house of faith to live in any longer. I was out in the wilderness on my own. It was scary at first, but then I started to slowly undo the damage that was done to me. I began to rebuild my home on facts, instead of wishes. Evidence was my new foundation. Gone was faith. Or so I thought.
Over the years since my deconversion from Christianity (4 years now) I have had instances where I have second-guessed my choices. I second-guessed my decision to leave it all behind. In the beginning, I still prayed, though I was fairly certain no one was on the other end of the line. I was in a different place, knowing so much more than I used to, but still feeling the urge to backslide into religious conformance. My intellect said no, but my heart still had a very hard time letting go. The problem? I was experiencing phantom faith pain.
You see, I no longer had faith. I no longer believed in the god I was raised to believe in by my parents and the god I was encouraged to still believe in by the church. That was gone. The feeling that a god was listening to, and answering, prayers? Gone. The belief that the Bible was infallible and full of nothing but things that were good and healthy for mankind? Long gone. But still…
I just can’t shake religion. It’s certainly not based in facts or evidence, but it’s still here. It’s not something that has ever been good for me and helped me grow, but it hasn’t left me. I think about it when I pass my old church. I feel it when I watch a religion-based show on tv or hear a Christ-based Christmas song. I cringe when I’m exposed to any of that, but I still feel the connection to it. My faith is gone. I know it is and I’ve come to accept that fact. But I still feel it.
It’s phantom faith. It is gone, but I still feel its presence. It’s not real, but it hasn’t fully disappeared from my life. There is pain felt from the loss of faith. A lot of pain. Real pain. I would guess that the number of those who have lost their faith and have experienced pain is up near 100%. That’s what religion has done to us. It has convinced us of unprovable propositions and made us believe so deeply that even when we realize the error of our ways, we still hurt. I look back at the nearly four decades of my life that I was convinced of something and the four years since. I am happier now, but at times I still hurt so much. Religion took so much from me and gave nothing but false hope in return. It is gone from my life, but it is still front and center at times.
The thing about lost limbs is that there is a reason for their removal. It could be injury or it could be disease, but the reason that they are gone is for the rest of the body to survive and thrive. The loss is necessary, even if it is oftentimes painful. The body was struggling with a damaged limb. No matter how much we may not want to lose a limb, sometimes it is the best thing for us. The same can be said of faith. Religion is a cancer. Period. It is a harmful disease that spreads. It can bury itself deep within us and make us feel that we are only whole with it intact. The truth is, amputation is the only way to recover. Removing the cancer from us is the only way to save the rest of us. It may be hard to deal with at first. It may feel like we are losing something we can’t live without. That’s not the case. In fact, to truly live, sometimes a big sacrifice is necessary.
Residual feelings of religion and faith are normal. When we carry something with us for so long, it becomes part of who we are. It becomes what defines us. But that doesn’t have to be forever. When you let go, it can be painful . It can hurt for a very long time. You might never fully lose the feeling of it. But you can accept that it is gone and you are all the better for it. I still feel my faith but I know it is long gone. I still feel it but it is not who I am. The pain I feel from it is not an indicator of me making a mistake by leaving and needing to turn back to it. It is a reminder that I was sick. I was sick and I was hurting. Cutting it off was the only way to begin the healing process.