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I feel stupid even posting here. So many people have real problems, and I've got no business having difficulty coping, but it's been ten years and I don't know how to keep going, I feel completely trapped.

This story requires some setup. It may not make any sense to some of you.

I'm a forty year old father of two children, aged 10 and 7. I'm happily married, I love my family, I've got no indiscretions of closet skeletons in that regard. None of us was abused, I've had an almost ideal life. My parents are still married after nearly 50 years together, and while age has finally begun to impact their health, they've been wonderful to me. I get along great with my in-laws. My father and mother-in-law are a pleasure to be with. Family is really everything to all of us. And yet despite this, my problems are entirely family oriented.

This boils down to religion. (I'm not posting in the religious support forum for a reason, which you'll see shortly.) I was raised a Jehovah's Witness. So was my wife, and my family is all still in the "church." I'm not going to get into things that are wrong dogma - i see all religion the same. They're no different than any other church, that I can see, except in one way that is tearing me apart from the inside. They believe that they are the only way to salvation, and that it is so important to keep people on the "straight and narrow" that extended families will actually shun someone who leaves, or who professes a different belief. This isn't because they don't love their families, they firmly believe that they are doing the right thing - for everyone involved. They view this as both a protection to the believers, and a motivation for the erring one to turn their life around. Salvation is at stake!

Except I don't believe any of it. I'm a rational person. Reason and logic are everything. There is no empirical evidence that a deity exists. The universe, at this point, really explains its own existence. I don't claim to know that God doesn't exist, in much the same way I don't know that garden fairies don't exist. It doesn't mean I lend them any credence whatsoever. Around when my son was born I finally accepted this, and abandoned superstitions and traditions - in my mind. Furthermore, while I can't prove that God does not exist, I can be fairly sure that the christian god does not exist in any way that they believe. The bible and their doctrines are full of so many logical holes that it really isn't worth considering. An all-powerful deity certainly could have designed the universe so that it looks the way it does now, but if that deity then demands worship and faith, he or she is a jerk, because they've designed the universe in a way that would lead the unbiased observer to assume that their existence is a lie. Anyway, I'm not going any further with this, nor am I debating it (please, nobody try to save my soul here, it won't help.)

So for the last decade I've appeared to be "drifting" as far as the others are concerned. I agree with them, I nod and smile, I spout the same religious platitudes, but there's no sincerity behind it. It's a facade, and a decaying one at that. I simply can't maintain it. I was at "church" the other night and heard one of the speakers explain how Genesis 1 was all the proof we needed that Evolution and the Big Bang didn't happen and I was hard pressed not to roll my eyes and walk out. It gets harder every time.

My children believe, and would be horrified to find out their daddy does not. My parents would be devastated and cut off contact, and my father likely wouldn't survive the stress. My wife, who's entire life revolves around her family, would find that they would no longer visit our house or go on vacation with us, she'd have to go to them (without me.) But my kids have noticed. They ask questions about why I don't do this or that, or why I seem not to care. They have even started to express a desire to have a greater share in religious activities. Congregation elders are trying to "help" me, and I can't even tell them why I'm having the troubles I am. The entire facade is crumbling around me. I mean, they're all good people, even the people in the church trying to help me, but they can't ever understand. I'm losing myself. I don't have anything other than these people, at all. I have no support structure in my life except for these people, and they're the reason I need support. I simply don't know what to do anymore. I am not who these people think I am, and if they ever find out, I lose everything.

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Hello, welcome! :)

I see that you're "trapped" and that it must be difficult :(... It really isn't stupid (-as you said) that you posted here about your problem. of course you're lucky that you have a loving family, a home, health, ... but that doesn't mean that you couldn't hurt - for instance because of such a dilemma as you presented here.

I suppose you want just see some opinions, not "guidelines to solution" - as it's only up to you to decide - mainly what your priorities are and will be and what you're willing to sacrifice for them. As I see it, your dilemma could be briefly expressed by "honesty (openness, frankness, life in accordance with your beliefs and opinions, ...) or family". From what you wrote, it seems to me that your family is the more important priority, but I see that knowing it doesn't (or didn't yet?) solve the problem.

So... may I ask you (to understand you better and also to help you thinking "more deeply" about it): What precisely causes you your suffering? Could you describe it in more details? Is it the "inability/impossibility" to live in a way that would mirror your own worldview, is it the fear that somebody who loves you would find out and reject you, is it the need of pretending, ...?

It seems that you don't have the need to change your family (or at least kids), to convince them that their religion is absurd or anything else (that makes the situation easier as then your problem seems to concern only yourself).

Can you imagine a good way how you would answer the questions of your kids (or others) and how you would even prevent them from having such doubts/insecurities about your behaviour? Maybe there is a way but you haven't found it out yet because when a problem causes too much emotions, we cannot come with something rational and useful to make it easier. I don't know the situation among J.W., but in some religions, there is a possibility to be less (religiously) active and still not rejected by the community. Some people can explain it by emphasizing the importance of internal qualities/thoughts/beliefs/... over external expressions of belief. Have you tried this or it would be rejected/criticized? Or you don't want to say anything explicitly negating your opinion/worldview? In my opinion, if you choose, in the dilemma, your family, some lies (very well chosen, mainly consistent) will be necessary. Lying and pretending would be your sacrifice in this case. Choosing your "freedom from lies and pretending" would, it seems to me, lead to scarifying your family life. It sounds harsh, I know :(. But I see there something positive: Your conflict isn't very morally difficult. Just imagine (sorry I don't have a better example, but there are surely many of them!) that you'd be born to a Nazi family, having to pretend being a Nazi, too, and fearing that you'd be killed if they would find out the truth... Imagine that the difference between you and your family would make you to hate them for what they think/believe (because it would be a dangerous ideology)! In your case, you are able to accept them as they are, without feeling "morally sick"; that's great.

There are (as I've read somewhere) some marriages between people with totally different worldview about some issues (religion, politics, vegetarianism, ...) and they can co-exist happily. Your case is different because you have to (-at least it seems so; I cannot know if they really would reject you, although it seems so very probable) hide your difference. But the difference itself doesn't have to cause a problem. The reason why they would reject you is not "you" or "them" but just a doctrine they have been taught to believe too strongly. As you know, that doctrine is a nonsense. So, in fact, you lie just to avoid a dangerous impact of an absurd doctrine. If you "trick" an absurd doctrine, isn't it less morally relevant than some other kind of lying?

I don't know if such thoughts can be helpful, I just tried to make you think about it more and perhaps from a different perspective.

(Some words about me possibly relevant in this context: I'm an atheist, a 31 y.o. woman. As you can see, I don't master English very well, but I hope what I write is understandable ;)...)

Take care!

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Thank you!

Yes, you're understanding this correctly. I have at some point decided (consciously or not) that the lie is the lesser evil than the truth in this case. The problem is now with me. It's a facade I'm having a very difficult time maintaining. I'm so obviously not interested in religion (even my children are noticing.) They are still at an age where they look at my opinion as everything, and then they ask me something that a believer would have a completely absurd answer for, and I sit there looking at them, my mouth moving and no sound coming out, as I try to figure out how to give an answer that is not absolute nonsense and yet does not cross their religious sensibilities. Here's an actual conversation i've had.

"Dad, at school they said birds came from dinosaurs, is that true?"

"... um. That's what scientists believe."

"...are they right?"

"It's very flattering that you trust my opinion more than the scientists. Thank you. But really, what you need to do is investigate it for yourself. Because scientists know far more about science than I do. I really like science, but I am not a scientist."

See, what my son is looking for, is my opinion. If I say "Yes, birds evolved from dinosaurs," then I'm affirming the theory of evolution and that's a big no-no here. (Which also drives me crazy. It's such an obvious, basic fundamental fact of biology... religion does terrible things to logic and reason.) But there's absolutely no way in hell I'm going to say "No, Genesis says God created the flying creatures of the heavens blah blah blah."

My daughter asked me the other day why I look so bored when we're at church.

I think the issue here is the lie is so hard to maintain, and at this point, it doesn't take much to see there's absolutely no conviction behind the lie. What makes it harder is I have absolutely NOBODY to confide in on this. I can't talk about it anywhere.

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First of all, I have to say I admire your way of responding - at least in the case you mentioned here! You seem very clever, eloquent, and trying not to confuse your children. But I understand that it doesn't guarantee a good outcome of every conversation like that :(...

I'm sorry I have no advise... Just some thoughts.

why I look so bored when we're at church

- Does the religion command to be enthusiastic about it? Are the rituals so very important; would it be also "a big no-no" to say that you do not need to fully/deeply experience them because your spiritual life is something you can experience yourself in the moments when you're alone and when you feel you need it [=not at a place and time chosen by others = a church]? (You wouldn't mention that that so called "spiritual life" doesn't include religion, but that would be just an omission, not a "real" lie...)

- Couldn't you find something interesting about the church and the masses? Something different than others find there. For instance, you could, in your mind, play a role of an observer from a different culture, an ethnologist or anthropologist, or sometimes perhaps an alien (from a different planet) - then you would think about what happens around you without looking bored and also without looking as not being present. (And it could perhaps be also a kind of mind exercise.)

(BTW; I suppose it would be much easier to your children (than to any adults with the same religion) to accept that you have a different opinion/worldview, but at the same time, such a secret would be a too big burden for them to keep.)

What makes it harder is I have absolutely NOBODY to confide in on this. I can't talk about it anywhere.

Well, as Ian Ken also suggested, there are possibilities to "talk" about it at least on-line. I know from my experience it can help a lot and I hope it will be helpful for you, too. (That organization for ex-JW sounds very promising!) But I have a suggestion; if possible, use a way where it won't be visible for other people than community members (as blogs on this site, for instance), because in your position, I would fear that someone who knows me would find me by chance and recognize me...

Journaling can also be a great reliever (also according to my experience), but there's always the "paranoia" (-metaphorically) that "someone could find the journal", so... (However, there's an option to set a password if you write it in a computer!)

Good luck!!

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Is there any chance confiding to your wife is possible without creating another stressor? Any? I don’t know how long you can carry on without some support and a plan of action on how to cope, or share your feelings. I can hear how stressed you feel.

It is possible my wife would keep my secret, as she's not very devout (thank someone-other-than-god). But in the end, she does believe. I think she would feel obliged to bring it to the attention of the church, ironicly for my benefit. Even if she did keep it a secret, her belief and her conscience would end up stressing her out probably as much as this is currently stressing me out, and I don't want to do that to her.

I also remember the pain of losing my faith, initially; of wanting to believe so badly and yet having reason and logic tell me otherwise. I've come to terms with that, I've found peace with my view of the universe, to the point that now I find the religious worldview a touch repulsive. But it was not a smooth ride. (Actually, this paragraph sounds a lot like stories I've heard of people who managed to quit smoking.) It's not something I want to see her go through ... she already has occasional problems with depression.

You must see with spiritual eyes!

I don't know in what spirit this was posted, but there is no more spiritual experience for me than standing on the deck of a ship, in the middle of the Caribbean sea, out of sight of any land, late at night, and watching the ocean and the stars, and thinking about our insignificant little place in space and time, and how marvellous it is that I can even contemplate such things. You don't need god to see with spiritual eyes.

(Unfortunately, I live landlocked in a northern --currently snow&ice covered-- country, so I don't get to do that often.)

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It has to be very difficult to not have anyone to safely talk about this with. Is there any way to make friends outside of your family who might be understanding and supportive of your feelings and situation?

I like your description of a spiritual experience as it feels to you. Very beautiful. I enjoy nature too. I think we all have our own feelings about this and what feels spiritual to us as individuals.

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  • 1 year later...

It's been a long time since I've posted here.

Absolutely nothing has changed. The façade remains up, though it remains a soul-sucking chore. Coping is difficult today.

Studying some neurological views of Sam Harris has helped, particularly his views on "free will." If you can accept what appears to be some basic biological truths, it eliminates any cause for animosity toward others.

I am, however, still so very alone.

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I've been reading 'Waking Up'.

A close friend was 'born again' about 5-6 years ago, and then started studying to become a minister. Our views aligned somewhat religion-wise previously, and we could talk for hours about anything. Once her beliefs became more dogmatic, i would explain a problem to her and she would reply with glib, religious, pre-programmed responses that she would say anyway despite knowing that it flew in the face of everything i believed. So frustrating. Now we dont talk much. I cant even imagine how difficult your situation must be. I really think you need your own set of pre-programmed responses. One's that you decide before hand ( this is how i will handle this situation...) So you don't have to think about. I do it all the time working with kids from many different backgrounds and beliefs.

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  • 4 weeks later...

Hello RaggedyEdge. I completely understand what you are going through because our situations are almost the same. For most of my life I've had to lie about my religion and it has taken a huge toll on me, but I can't see any other way. I too, don't want to lose family and friends, and I would actually be in physical danger if anyone found out I had been lying about my religion all these years. All I can say to you is what someone here on these boards said to me and I agree with - it's what we feel inside that matters, and if we have to lie to get by in life, we know we are doing it to help keep our sanity and our life in general, intact. It's a hard struggle to have to go through, but please know you are not alone.

P.S. I am sorry I am unable to go into greater detail here on the open forum, but if you want to discuss your and my problem more deeply, you can pm me.

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