The reality of a loss of faith

The reality of a loss of faith

There has much been written over the millennia on a phenomena known as loss of faith and I’m going to add to those many millions of words with a few of my own; those readers who are atheists might well be rubbing their hands with anticipation of a new recruit, but I think they may be disappointed in what I write now.

The first issue is about what one has faith IN. A Christian might say they have faith IN Jesus, for example; take Jesus out of that equation and what might you have left? Probably quite a lot: a divine architect, perhaps, and maybe also a general feeling of faith in the overall goodness of humanity and of creation, and a sense of one’s own rightful place it in. I have heard on many occasions people who are self-proclaimed atheists speaking of a belief in the Universe, that it has some sort of plan for that person right down to finding parking spaces at critical moments. There is essentially a great deal of unspoken baggage that goes with a faith of any kind, whether it is one of the three Abrahamic religions, or a faith that is born of reading books like The Secret that gives rise to a system of so-called laws. The baggage infiltrates every aspect of a person’s life, influences all their choices and decisions, and activities. For example, a belief that each person has a destiny in life will influence (often unconsciously) everything from profession to life partner to hobbies and ethics.

If the central core of faith disappears, everything else is suddenly on shaky ground. It’s like the whole framework of life has woodworm and is liable to collapse. It’s like you have pulled a loose thread in a tapestry and discovered too late that it was the warp and ran through the entire piece https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Warp_and_weft .

I have always believed that faith is a gift, not something obtained by effort or determination. You cannot get faith by trying. I have had friends who wanted more than anything to have a faith, seeing the comfort that it gave to their partner or parent. They were good people who lived the tenets of faith that underpin many of our cultures, while being unable (but not unwilling) to grasp that elusive will o’ the wisp that is faith.

I have never believed that those who have faith have less intelligence than those who do not, as many metrics attempt to prove. However, certain faith groups often consist of people who have had less education and perhaps have little critical ability and inclination to discern subtleties because of that and this is often what shows. Atheists are not inherently morally or ethically superior because they choose to lead decent lives without a fear of punishment from a god if they don’t.

But if you lose your faith, what then? For me, it has created a cascade of events. It’s meant a loss of faith in myself, in my own right to exist, in the belief that I have gifts and abilities that were meant to be used for something special, whether right now or later in my life. I’m not sure I am even expressing this devastating series of unravelings well enough for someone else to understand what it feels like. The closest is best expressed by a story from when we were at college (he was learning to be a vicar). A friend with children the same age as my daughter was going through some very difficult stuff because she’d discovered in her late thirties that she was adopted; every single thing she believed about herself had become undone. She said to me, “It’s like waking up and finding that both your arms had been ripped off years ago and you never realised until that moment. Everything is destroyed and I don’t know that I have the strength to rebuild.”

Almost everything I own has a deeper meaning attached to it, whether it is a statue of Our Lady, a crystal point, a plaque of the Green Man, or even my choice of duvet cover (it’s got beautiful flowers on it, with their Latin names on). Every book I cherish points to the numinous and the divine. Every piece of jewellery contains some symbolism. I am told my home has an atmosphere of sanctuary and of peace. I garden for wild-life, because I have always believed that each and every plant, animal and rock has a right to live peacefully and that human beings have wrecked the earth and mined it for their own greed, and that if a tiny patch of earth can be kept safe for the non-human denizens, then I can do that much at least. But even there, I feel the futility of it, for I have no sense of better times to come, or that I am somehow maintaining a small ark for those better times. Even the mundane aspects of living a decent life feel futile: what has been the point of all my efforts to reduce, reuse and recycle when the oceans are choked by plastic debris?

Faith in the end is more than a belief in a deity or deities, so much more that I cannot begin to express. The world has become a much darker place in recent years; the hope that the darkness will lift has gone from me, though I cannot stop doing what I have always done to hold back the outer darkness. Yet the inner darkness is engulfing me; I feel like one of those poor seabirds in an oil spill, and while the oil coating my feathers might be washed off, in trying to clean my own feathers I have ingested so much of the poison I am dying from the inside out.

10 thoughts on “The reality of a loss of faith

  1. Keep on holding on, keep that place of kindness to the wild life, you are making a difference. Yes things are bad, these are dark times indeed, but even the smallest candle makes a difference, even if it can’t be measured it is still there. Sometimes our own meaning is not through doing things but enabling others to do them. And, of course, we can assign our own meaning to our lives, and change them as life dictates. You do matter.

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  2. I am so sorry to read you feel bereft in your loss of faith. I do empathize with how hard it is to express feeling as if you’ve lost your center, perhaps even the very essence of yourself in one way or another. Or at least the best word I think that describes it is one you used: undone.
    I am not a believer in religion, but I do have faith as I think you mean it here. The sense that all is well, even when all is in a mess. I don’t always feel it, sometimes I forget. But the lectures of a fellow named Anthony DeMello described this idea to me. If you’re interested you can find the series free on You Tube. Called Wake Up to Life. I found it very valuable for both those that have an affinity for religious traditions, and those, like me, who do not.
    Either way, in your journey I wish you well.

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  3. When I feel overcome by the futility of life I remind myself of the words of a childrens’ hymn that my granny taught me – Jesus bids us shine with a pure clear light, like a little candle burning in the night. In this world of darkness so we must shine, you in your small corner and I in mine. It has helped me over the years as I love the idea of spreading a little light in a dark world, hope it helps you.

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  4. Vivienne, part of faith (for me anyway) is self-belief and having a bit of confidence that things will get better. And I think that might be part of your challenge right now. I have great faith in your abilities and enjoy your writing. I appreciate that you share your thoughts even when you are not feeling fantastic. This is an act of self-belief and it’s a great gift to be honest and open enough to share how you are feeling. The act of writing takes effort and it’s time well spent. You make me think. And you know how to write! Also, as Kung Fu Panda would say. Sometimes you just have to believe.

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  5. This post sheds light on a number of your recent comments on Twitter, Viv. I’m still not sure I fully follow your experiences of loss of faith in terms of Christianity, but I do understand well how you feel in terms of the lack of a light at the end of the tunnel. In the past, when an old order was drawing to a close, it shows up in the writings of the times long before the final events. It’s like sensitive souls feel the ripples of the change before it happens. I suspect that you (and many others, but you have the skills to articulate it) are picking up on the ripples caused by what’s coming up.

    I take the details of Revelations with a pinch of salt, but if something cataclysmic is coming, we’re going to need people who can light a candle (or flamethrower) against the darkness. In the same way I think we’re influenced by events, I believe we all influence each other, possibly on a collective unconscious level. The world is getting harsher and angrier and darker; if we *are* all affecting each other then you, and people like you, are the leaven in the lump. That’s very valuable, even if it’s a hard row to hoe.

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  6. Deeply thought, deeply felt – as always with you, Vivienne.

    I think I understand what you mean about unravelling, and I share your despair at the gathering darkness. Yet for me, the worst darkness remains within. I am not responsible for the whole world, but I am responsible for me, and my failure in that area gnaws at me.

    But it seems to me that through all your struggles and pain you have stayed true to whatever light you have at the time, true to whatever you know of yourself. In your garden, in your home, in the honesty of your writing. I can well imagine that you have created a sanctuary, and the mere existence of such places is an affirmation of faith and a light against the darkness.

    If I say ‘God bless you’ I hope it will not sound like some trite cliche, but my own small attempt to stand alongside you.

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  7. Pingback: #Sunday Post – 6th May, 2018 #Brainfluffbookblog | Brainfluff

  8. Though I’ve lost large chunks of my faith, enough of the vestiges remain with me so that I don’t feel as bereft or as devastated as you, Vivienne. I’m agnostic leaning toward belief in something like God as love, in the sense of a loving force in the world, but what that force has to do with the universe and earth and living beings is uncertain. If God is not love, then God is nothing to me.

    I believe Jesus’ teachings in the Gospels are the right way to live my life according. The Two Great Commandments and the Golden Rule are my touchstone teachings. I keep in mind that Jesus was born a Jew and died a Jew, and his teachings are right out of the Hebrew Testament. He never intended to found a new religion. My favorite from the Hebrew bible is Micah 6:8.

    He has told you, O mortal, what is good;
    and what does the Lord require of you
    but to do justice, and to love kindness,
    and to walk humbly with your God?

    No longer am I certain that things will get better; they may get worse; I just don’t know. While I’m here, I wish to be kind and do a bit of good, but I am not “nice”. When we die, I believe it’s very likely the end, except that our dust remains and maybe eventually returns to the stars, whence we came. I find consolation in the thought.

    Thanks for your beautiful post.

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  9. I appreciate you so much, Vivienne Tuffnell, for your willingness to share such private thoughts and feelings. I’ve long carried the belief that the Almighty Creator of All – what/whomever it is – must welcome renegades. Imagine creating a world that was without resistance, questioning, skepticism, etc. How boring it would be. Seems to me it would be like having a dozen pets with no individuality or defiance and who did nothing but adore me.

    Some of the greatest saints wrestled God well and long. I’ve always believed they were well wrestled and well loved! 😀

    Faith is my evolutionary challenge, work and delight.

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