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Dr. Darrel Ray is an atheist, humanist, and psychologist. He is the author of The God Virus, and specializes in issues relating to religious deconversion. [ more ]
If you have an issue relating to religion but no one to talk to, ask Dr. Ray. He doesn’t promise that he has all the answers, but hopefully he will be able to provide insight and experience that will be beneficial for both you and for the many other young people in similar situations.
Atheist funeral

Dear Darrel,

I have recently decided that I am an atheist. The problem is that I am now much more anxious about my own mortality, and the mortality of the people I care about. It is scary to suddenly feel like there isn’t a God looking out for us, and that there will just be nothing after we die. Also I can’t help being afraid that if I am wrong I will go to Hell. How should I cope with these fears?

From Dr. Ray

Many people fear their own mortality. I don’t want to die either; not because I fear going to Hell, but because I love living and don’t want to stop. It is natural for a person to not want to die.

Unfortunately, religion teaches an unnatural fear of death, beginning when we are very young and incapable of understanding such profound concepts for ourselves. The “Salvation” that religion preaches as a way to lessen the fear of death also serves as a bullying tactic  against those who do not adhere to that religion’s dogma.

Religion distorts children’s natural fears before they are old enough to examine information critically. What you learned as a child can be difficult to unlearn as a teenager or young adult, and irrational fears are often the hardest to overcome.

Remember that your fear of Hell is an accident of your birth and not an indication of reality. Your parents taught you to fear Hell because they fear Hell. If you had been born to Hindus you would have been raised to believe in reincarnation. If you had been born a Viking you would have been taught that the only way to get into Heaven was to cross a rainbow bridge after dying gloriously in battle.

Consider joining a Recovering From Religion group to meet others dealing with the same issues. Many people who have been atheist a long time will tell you they had similar fears when they first left religion. Listen and explore how they dealt with those fears. If you can’t find someone to talk to in person, go online and ask some of the atheists on forums and websites like Atheist Nexus.

Read and research for yourself what other atheists feel about death and mortality. When I left religion, I felt anxiety about my mortality. I read a number of authors that helped me understand myself and my fears better. In the process I felt my fears slowly melt away. It was one of the most liberating things I have ever experienced. I can live my life without looking over my shoulder to see if a god or devil is watching me. I can live my life in a way that enhances my life and those around me. I can enjoy talking with people like you and explore and learn how to live this life to the fullest.

I contributed to an interesting documentary series on the subject. I also recommend Bertrand Russell’s “Why I Am Not a Christian” as one of the best books of all time. I have not yet read Christopher Hitchens’ final book “Mortality,” but you may consider reading that as well.

Many atheists report that finally coming to grips with the idea that this is the only life they have liberated them and gave them new focus on living their life to the fullest and for the good of the people around them. How much more rewarding to know you are doing things that support and enhance other’s lives because you love them, not for some reward in a later life.

Living life without religion means we have to cherish the time we have now with those we love. We aren’t going to see them after they die, so we need to make amends sooner, love more and live so that we have no regrets later.

 

Finally, if you were raised in a religiously and psychologically abusive home or church, you may need more professional help. Consider contacting a therapist in our Secular Therapy project. They are trained to help people leaving religion. (The website is free but the therapists do charge for their services.)

The more you talk and interact with other atheists, the more you will see how they deal with this common problem and you will find ways to move forward with your life, making the most of your time, unburdened by unnatural fears.

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