Phantom Faith

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.

10 thoughts on “Phantom Faith

  1. I don’t “feel your pain” a la Bill Clinton, but I understand it. I do think it is part of the process, a necessary part, unfortunately. And this is part of the reasons why I believe proselytizing your children is a form of child abuse.

    I various parts of our society we have what are called “ages of consent,” the earliest age at which children can make their own decisions. Some of these are straightforward, others parts of laws (old enough to drive a car, buy a beer, etc.), but the institutions that have the lowest age of consent are religions, some of those being as young as eight years old. They want them young and malleable. As we get older we get more suspicious and less gullible. And real harm can occur from this, as you testify to.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Abuse is the best way to describe it. If religion isn’t introduced to someone when they are a child, it becomes much more difficult to indoctrinate and convert later on. Once the human mind matures, it becomes much less of a super-absorbent sponge. We still absorb lots of information and accept a lot of propositions, but we are much more selective in what we accept. Due diligence comes with time. Children are not equipped for that and the churches know it.

      Liked by 2 people

  2. Ben … it’s called indoctrination: the process of repeating an idea or belief to someone until they accept it without criticism or question.

    You wrote that “You might never fully lose the feeling of it.” You will. Someday. If I remember correctly, you haven’t been out of the church for very long. It took me at least 15 years before I finally felt “free.”

    I think one day you will gain the “freedom from religion” prosthetic and thus be able to move forward with newfound confidence.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. I no longer hold onto to any of the “spirituality” I once had. It’s the hurt, anger and regret that tend to linger in my life. It’s the feeling of “how could I have been so stupid as to believe such nonsense?” that is hard to shake. I know it wasn’t my fault. I know I was indoctrinated as soon as I left the womb and had that message hammered into my brain until I was well into adulthood. Still, as a fairly intelligent person, I feel I should have been able to see through it earlier…or at least speak up sooner when I had questions and doubts. But as we all know, even smart people can make bad decisions, especially when those we trust tell us that they are not only the right decisions, but the ONLY decisions we can make because of the obviousness of God.

      I thought by now, I would have been able to fully let go. I have fully let go of God. I have fully let go of the prospect of an afterlife. If there is one, there is. If not, so what? It’s not the supernatural I can’t break free from. It’s the hurt. It’s the regret. It’s the shame. It’s real damage that’s been done. Real damage takes time to repair. I just didn’t think it’d take so long.

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      1. I don’t mean to sound uncaring but you need to quite beating yourself up! Instead, start patting yourself on the back for finally breaking free. MULTITUDES of people never do …

        Liked by 1 person

      2. I agree. But at the same time, it’s hard. Breaking free from religion was something I never thought I could/would do. For the longest time, even thinking like that was considered blasphemous. I try to put it in the past, but it’s difficult when relationships with family and friends have been forever changed because of it. I pushed people away when I was a believer and I was pushed aside by believers when I let it go. It’s a divisive and disgusting thing and I wish I was never part of it.

        But the past is done and the future is what I make of it. Every day my mind gets reprogrammed a bit more. Eventually I’ll be fully upgraded. Unfortunately, flaws that were programmed into my code still cause me to crash at times.

        Liked by 3 people

  3. Ben,

    This is an intriguing analogy of your deconversion. I have worked for several years in the Psych/A&D rehab & therapy field and various Suicide & Crisis Hotlines off and on, and have lived with and managed most all of my adult life with my sister’s 45+ years of addiction, relapse, rehab, relapse, repeat.

    Your post here sounds very much like Addiction too, only a slight and quite common—always struggling with the “feelings” whether they be soothing or painful, it’s always a menagerie of hormones to thoughts to more hormones to more thoughts. The cognitive pathology is interestingly similar. And though all our human endocrine systems are alike, so many variables in each person’s life from birth, thru childhood & adolescence, what environments we are exposed in and interact with, our adult interactions and those environs, etc, all contribute to make EACH individual have a unique evolution thru life’s changes, struggles, and successes.

    What am I rambling on about? 😄

    Your journey, though unique as it truly is, is not so dissimilar to thousands of others LEARNING the best coping mechanisms (or not?) for YOUR life. The trick in this Circus of Life is to be living it based primarily upon how the Universe and our beautiful Pale Blue-dot planet within it DICTATE those laws, those realities of life. You’ve accomplished this Sir! Now you are refining your changes, your lessons, and wonderfully… your direction and general blue-print for life, yours AND your wife’s and to a degree, your kids’ as well. 🙂

    I believe you are doing just fine. In fact, you are doing SO MUCH BETTER than many! HAH! 🤭 Take for instance __________ … oh never-mind. 😉

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Thanks. Like I said to Nan, I have let go of the delusions I once had, but the hurt, shame and regret…well, those take longer to let go of. I had a lifetime of religious indoctrination running the show. I just hope it doesn’t take another lifetime to put it all behind me.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Missed this post for some reason?
    Phantom Faith pain.
    Excellent term!
    Although I’ve never been through the indoctrination you suffered I can imagine it was quite the wrench when you realised the con you had been subject to for so many years.

    I can only say that if it is anything like kicking tobacco addiction then you will eventually get to the point where you’ll wonder what ever made you start in the first place. But of course, like religion, it was all to do with peer pressure of one sort or another.

    Liked by 1 person

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