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The Struggle of Accepting Mortality

It’s common for apostates to have a looming fear of hell even long after they stop believing in it. People who were raised in deeply religious circles have essentially been branded with the idea that hell awaits them should they step out of line.

The concept of hell is a traumatising, inexcusable mess, so it’s no surprise they struggle so much. The christian faith has always been able to thrive in society despite it conflicting so dramatically with scientific research. Similarly, christian principles stick around long after followers abandon the church itself.

But there’s one other burden that ex-religious individuals carry around with them in life – a fear of the so-called “abyss”. Let’s take a minute to discuss accepting mortality, the lasting effects of being convinced of an afterlife, and the uphill battle that is coming to terms with reality.

Fear of Death is Rational, but not Necessary – Renato Danyi

The Ex-Evangelical Baggage

Studies have show time and time again that the human brain is exceptionally good at blocking out the intuitive fact of its mortality. At some point in human evolution, it became impractical to be painfully aware of our impending doom.

If we’re brought up in an honest, healthy environment, death is slowly but surely introduced to us as a concept in our younger years. Death remains a terrible, tragic thing, and yet passivley remains as a peaceful thought in the back of our heads; a reminder that all pain is limited.

However, if we’re instead first introduced to the idea of an afterlife, hidden away from the realities of death the way young children are hidden from the truth about Christmas, it can be a disheartening blow to realise that no such paradise exists.

Many apostates are plagued by feelings that their actions have little or no significance. With no “reward” at the end of the line, life itself must be satisfying enough. When you’ve been chasing a carrot on a stick for years, finding out it’s made of plastic is unsurprisingly heartbreaking.

So how do apostates deal with the realities of death? How do you go from believing you’ll live an eternity in heaven, to spend it with your family, your heroes; any and everyone who was saved by Jesus Christ – to the belief that soon after your passing, you will be nothing but dust and ash?

The Devil in Us – The Confident Man Project

Fear of the Abyss

The christian position is bolstered by the dramatic change that can be drawn from believing in an afterlife. They can dictate to followers how they are to live in order to get into heaven, because they claim absolute knowledge of good and evil. They can mould the world to their ideaology. Leaving religion is so difficult because it’s designed to be difficult. Leaving one’s family, friends, entire life behind can feel like one is going completely against what’s right. But what positive change comes with turning away from baseless claims about death?

Well, for starters, they can allow themselves new freedoms. Previously limited by the christian frame of morality, apostates can now begin to express themselves and live their lives in ways they had once seen as detremental to their salvation.

There’s also a destinct value in living in reality. Nobody can retain a healthy rational perspective while also turning a blind eye to some of the most weighted and crucial questions of the modern age. Either slowly veer off into delusion, or abandon the idea of a God until someone gives you some actual evidence.

Whatever emotional or psychological benefits religions bring are widely overshadowed by the toxic systems they’re built upon. Christianity is oppressive, deceptive and demanding by design. By leaving the church, you open the doors for other members of your commune to glimpse a ‘way out’, and should you ever have kids, they could be given a choice you never were. In essence, you’re not the only person who can benefit from your secularism.

In truth, this isn’t a crusade. People will vehemently defend their faith untill there is nothing left. Just make sure you have good reasons for what you believe. Especially if you intend to share it with others.


  1. Nice write up, Michael, very interesting topic.

    Of course in the ancient world no one ever really believed in anything quite like “heaven.” The Jewish idea was more of a shadow world that seemed dark and banal. Of course one of the main ways in which Christianity spread so quickly was through this false notion of a life after life, although few really bothered to look into it to find out what it would really be like. In fact, they continue to sell this ridiculous nonsense today and it continues to reap in the doing help after 2,000 years! Few “products” have had this continuous salability.

    But why wouldn’t one choose to believe in such a notion if you thought you’d be meeting your friends loved ones instead of laying in the cold ground? People jumped all over it and the ones that didn’t were, of course, forced into it. Nice.

    I tend to keep open the possibility of “something” (not sure of what, exactly) happening to the “energy” that powers our bodies. I think Einstein had some ideas along this line although he would have leaned more towards Spinoza’s ideas that “god” and nature were one and the same idea. I have an idea that something must happen to this energy since – as Einstein taught us – it can not be created nor destroyed so then, what does happen? I’ll leave this question open and look forward to whatever it is that nature does to us after our physical lives end.

    • Hi RaPaR! I’m so glad you enjoyed this read. The question of life after death, or even just the continuation of some part of ourselves beyond our usual depiction of reality and conciousness, is an interesting one.

      You’re right, in that Chrisitanty’s big mistake in this discussion hasn’t even necessarily been the assumption that some part of us does continue to exist after our death, as much as that 1. they know what this would look like and 2. our post-mortality experiences are directly tied to our morality on earth.

      Keeping an open mind is always healthy, and I understand many people feel that the admittedly brutalist depiction of death is an insufficient explination for what happens once we die.

      We see energy transform all over the universe. Even within our daily lives, we often find ourselves transforming kinetic energy into electrical energy, thermal energy, potential energy, mechanical energy – do these objects and machines also “retain their energy” in the way it’s often described – or are we observing a simple but fascinating element of physics?

      I personally see no reason to seperate our own internal mechanisms from those of the energy converters we engage with every day.

  2. Hi Michael,

    Thank you for this post! As a former fundamentalist Evangelical Christian who still finds the thought of my future death sad and terrifying, what you had to say resonated with me.

    I particularly liked how you said “Leaving religion is so difficult because it’s designed to be difficult.” In my experience this is 100% true.

    Still, it is encouraging, as you say, that my own journey of deconverting provides an example and gives permission to fundamentalist Christians who still know me to be exposed to the possibility. Although sadly for me a lot of the feedback I get tends to be “I’m glad you found peace Dave” which always feels a little condescending.

    I would be interested to know what you think of the following:

    1. Ernest Becker summarised in his book The Denial Of Death that he thought ultimately Freud and Kierkegaard recommended religion as a vehicle for overcoming death anxiety. I have always tended to be of a similar view to you which is there is value in living in reality. I don’t know if Freud and Kierkegaard were thinking of fundamentalist (which I define as denominations of religions that take a literary list view of their founding texts) religions when they recommended religion, but if for arguments sake we say they were, what is your view on that? Do you think it is possible for some people that membership of a fundamentalist religion could be their quote unquote “best life”?

    2. As I was deconverting from fundamentalist Christianity in 2017 there was a move in the modern Western Evangelical Churches that I was tracking towards Christian Mysticism (here I am defining Christian Mysticism is essentially a branch of Universalism that all religion essentially points to one God/universal force but this branch has decided to pursue knowledge of that universal force primarily through a non-literal interpretation of the Christian Bible). Using my definition of Christian Mysticism, do you think Christian Mysticism is a more benign form of fundamentalist Christianity, or is simply the same fundamentalism/mind control being repackaged in order to seduce new converts?

    Thanks again for your post.

    • Hi Dave!

      First off, thanks a lot for reading my post! It’s always enlightening to get the perspective from former evangelicals – especially in relation to this post specifically. Although I speculate a lot based on my interractions with Christians across the world, it’s nice to hear that the questions im posing are ones you ask yourself on occasion, too!

      The condescending nature of people reacting to your ‘finding peace’ may truly be disheartening at times, but I am happy to hear that the majority of responses you get are although patronising, yes, perhaps not directly abusive.

      When it comes to your first question;

      That’s a book I need to get my hands on. It’s curious you should bring this topic up. It sparked a conversation between me and my partner yesterday.

      As I understand it, people try their best to derive moral behaviour even from an immoral foundation. The overall interest to be a good person seems less related to an individuals own belief system and more their set of personal values. Though these can often be tied together, I don’t think one’s religious philosophy necessarily equates to their actions. Many Christians are known to be extremely loving, caring, selfless people and it’s not without sense to attribute this laregly to their assosciation with faith.

      As a result, we can (and should) critique the religion and it’s followers seperately. If we find individuals in the world who hold deeply engrained fundamentalist values, its not likely they found themselves deep within a structure of faith on their own accord. More likely they were brought into, or raised into, their religion. So, for some people, there simply is no ‘choice of lifestyle’ the way there is for the irrelgious.

      I think the hold the church and religion as a whole has on people is so strong, we cannot afford to look at evangelical christians and think of them as people ‘choosing a lesser life’ or even ‘striving for a better one’ simply because their choice and freedom to make that choice are masked by the many obstacles in the way of becoming an apostate.

      Religion is a clear path to a hazy sense of morality and an imperfect foundation for truth. Those things will impair any person’s ability to live said ‘best life’, at least in my opinion. And the important factor that is lost in the phrasing here is that one’s best life as an individual can differ greatly from the outcome that is best for everyone. This dominionism is closely tied to all religions, and Christianity especially benefits greatly from this self-centred view. It aids in the justification of otherwise seemingly vile, inexcusable acts against humanity and nature.

      In moral discussions we often lose sight of the actual effect we have on the world around us, focusing instead on the internal struggle we face. But in ethics and morality, our effect on others is paramount. And while christian values may indeed be a great tool to feel better about one’s self, be it one’s mortality, political views, or whatever, it doesnt provide us tools to live our ‘best life’ towards anyone who doesnt adhere to the religion at hand. In a widely christian society, this has value – in an increasingly secular or religiously divided one, I would argue it might not.

      And as to your second notion;

      The issues I have with Christian Mysticism are rooted in the Universalism it stems from. The attempt to take the similarities in abrahamic scriptures and explain them away through the claim that “they all describe the same thing, in a different way” always struck me as strange, due to the incredible amount of hostility between these religions and their followers, both historically and currently.

      It’s a more modern view of faith as a whole, and through funneling it through a non-literal interpretation of the Bible it certainly fits better into our culture. In a world where faith is inevitable, I would rather the world be full of such believers, yes.

      However, I would be as adamant about my arguments against their faith as I would any other. Because here’s the kicker, at least for me: If your Bible isn’t meant to be taken at face value, how do we correctly interpret it? How do we learn from it? This largely comes down to the institution at hand. Some modern religious groups make strong efforts to use the Bible almost as a book in a book club. We read together, we analyse, and we interpret. Inherently, I love that structure. Unfortunately, too often are the speculations about the Bible still ignorant of the many issues within it, and ignorant of the observable limitations of reality. And, personally, I don’t find it particularly productive to spend thousands of years trying to justify one book.

      My ‘Unbiased Bible Study’ series attempts to tackle this idea as a whole. That for the bible to be good, even as a metaphorical source of loose inspiration, we first need to adress the many atrocities scattered throughout – and if Christian Mysticists recognise the fallability of the Bible, why is it so crucial to preserve the connection to it? Why then can’t their belief in God drift from this outdated text and towards the positive christian values that kind-hearted christians embody in their everyday lives?

      The truth is, it’s because a dissasociation from religion has become almost necessary in order to see it for what it is. I genuinely wish I one day see a world where religion doesnt inspire hatred the way I feel it does today. Where being a christian is more about your character than your grandiose views on the origin of the universe.

      • Yes, if you haven’t read them I do recommend Becker’s most well-known books: The Denial Of Death (published 1973), and Escape From Evil (published 1975). I personally believe they should be read together. Denial has some outdated and intolerant views, and is weird in places. In my opinion Escape manages to remove the worst stuff in Denial and also builds on Denial’s central themes.

        Becker does have his critics though, and I am currently trying to track down the best of this criticism so I can read it.


        Thank you for your replies to my questions. They were interesting and enlightening and have given me a lot to think about.

        I liked your point about the tension of being a fundamentalist Christian and trying to live your “best Christian life” in an increasingly secular and also multi-faith world.

        I do find it hard to envision a world where “being a Christian is more about your character and your grand use views on the origin of the universe”. But this may be more about my own personal resentment of being indoctrinated with fundamentalist Christianity from birth.

        I’m interested in your statement ‘In a world where faith is inevitable…’If you want to, I would love to hear you expand on that. When you say that, do you mean it in the broad sense that we all place “faith”(hope?) in something some of the time? Or more specifically do you mean a portion of humanity will always practice personal faith inspired by at least one religion?

        Thanks again.

      • Hey Dave! Im definitley gonna give them a read. And hey, nobodys word is gospel right? The end goal is still to pick out what you can learn for yourself from any and all sources.

        My overall optimism towards the future of religion is heavily tied to my destinct optimism for humanity in general. I strongly believe in the goodness of humanity at its core and it is due to this belief that I am confident that even the worst of people can change for the better.

        So by extent the issue of religion to me can not be solved realistically through an expectation of an atheistic ‘crusade’ of any litteral or metaphorical kind. This shift is a natural one as imbedded in us as the inital instincts that drove the first men to create tools.

        But as we abandon our ties to religion, as mankind moves on, there will be a long, drawn out war of ideas and beliefs.

        My hopes are for this time to be one of peaceful cultural and historic preservation of the obvious impact religion had throughout various cultures. I dream of a world where you go to a museum to learn about religion, not to a church.

        And that brings me to the inevitability part. What i mean, in essence, is that it is unreasonable to expect the world to ever truly be secular. Just like it is unreasonable for it to truly be fair. So as faith, or religion, might be inevitable, its current power over people, or demanding interest in spreading lies about history, don’t have to be. The husk of what remains when you remove those aspects from faith is still something, though. Some religious people are good people. And they do good things sometimes, even if they do it for bad reasons. So if the church does have to exist in some form, I would rather it be an uplifting, community-driven organisation than one that relies on indoctrination and control.

  3. Thank you for your reply Michael.

    I liked what you said: “I dream of a world where you go to a museum to learn about religion, not to a church.” Yes, I share that vision too.

    And I think I agree with your realism too, if faith/church/religion has to exist, I also hope they exist in the most beneficial forms.

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