How can I forget / remove values that were taught to me when I grew?
July 31, 2011 4:08 PM   Subscribe

My parents are conservative Christians and I were brought up with Christian values. As I grew older, I began to question my faith and after years of searching, I finally discovered that Christianity; like other religions are based on ideas and concepts that are mostly outdated. I am an atheist now and I am happy with that. But the thing is... I have an animosity towards Christianity; I feel that years of my life wasted in believing lies... years that I can not ever claim back. And worse... some of the values taught to me seem to stick like chewed up gum sticking on shoe. I don't know how to get rid of these Christian values I want out.

The concept of virginity and pureness for example. Christianity forbids premarital sex and label a woman impure / sinner if she had sex outside marriage. This concept is of course silly, but it seems that there is a hardwired connection in my brain that when I hear this girl had sex with that person the next thing that come up in my mind is that this girl is a bad person / sinner / etc. Things like this have ruined my relationships in the past. There are other stupid Christian values that I seem can not get rid of. At times I feel frustrated, why does my brain think and feel like this... while I want it to think and feel differently. I don't know what to do... I feel like crying sometimes...

Is there anyone with the same problem as mine? Any help in getting this brainwashing out of my head?

Now, I don't blame my parents for teaching the things they taught me. I know that they were teaching me values that they thought were right. And I apologize if my post offend some people, but I need to illustrate my feelings.
posted by bbxx to Religion & Philosophy (37 answers total) 16 users marked this as a favorite
I was raised Catholic and feel similarly... I note whenever the religious values pop up and try to correct myself in my head. I also try to make jokes out of it! Also, in a way, my 14 years of Catholic school are great fodder for arguments. People are surprised I can debate about theology, but it's because I know "the enemy." I think it gets easier... I feel less angry with time. It's also interesting to me how heartbroken my mother is that none of her children are religious/catholic. I think I'm a good/ethical person, but she says she "wasted" 14 years of private school on me. That part is hardest to deal with, thinking that just because I'm not religious my mother feels like I can't make ethical choices. I hope your folks aren't too judgmental about your life!
posted by ShadePlant at 4:15 PM on July 31, 2011

Also, everyone here always says "Therapy". I recommend it if you can do it, but the most helpful thing my therapist says is something like "just notice, don't judge." Try to notice your "religious" thoughts, and when you have them, but don't beat yourself up over it. The less upset you get about your indoctrination, the less it will bug you. It will fade with time. It takes time to undo a lifetime of values/culture/morals.
posted by ShadePlant at 4:22 PM on July 31, 2011 [5 favorites]

Maybe create a 'swear jar'-type thing, where you put a buck in a jar every time you find yourself doing some mental slut-shaming/other religious train-of-thought that you no longer find true or helpful, and then occasionally donate that money to $CharityAlignedWithNewValues? Or spend it on an expensive dinner/toy every couple months to remind yourself that Life Is Not That Serious.

I wonder if it would be helpful for you to consider that this is a pretty normal process of identity-formation. Everyone has moments where they're like, "oh shit, I sound just like my mother and I promised myself I would never say/do X". You're formed by your past but not bound by it; the decisions you've made and the life that you live are not set in stone. (Maybe predestination is a deeper religiously-based concept that you need to explore your current relationship to?)
posted by tivalasvegas at 4:32 PM on July 31, 2011 [3 favorites]

This is one of those things that gets easier with time. I have a similar background as Shadeplant, and as I've progressed through my forties, I've found myself becoming less and less angry about it all.

I guess something more concrete you could do is to join a [volunteer | social action] group that aligns with your current values, and spend as much time around people who share those values as you can. Absorb their ways of thinking. Kind of a reverse-brainwashing, I guess.
posted by SuperSquirrel at 4:36 PM on July 31, 2011 [1 favorite]

I spent over 14 years as an acolyte, lay reader, and general leader in the Episcopal church. I call it lazy catholic now. In reading a lot of philosophy, I came to the conclusion that morals and values are up to every person; no institution can establish them it for the individual.

Since every person has a different set of experiences, their morals and values will differ. I try to live my life using my good and bad experiences to establish my morals and values. If they differ from what religion states, that is the religion's problem. I am more than happy to live life according to my standards and my standards alone. It took me a lot of introspection to come to this conclusion. YMMV, but that is what allows me to make it through each day.
posted by Nackt at 4:38 PM on July 31, 2011 [1 favorite]

I'm also an atheist - I was (briefly) a born-again Christian. Fortunately for me, my parents aren't really that religious. We went to church when I was in high school because that was the thing to do in the area where we lived. So being atheist is Not a Big Deal with my family.

But really, I think what you're describing doesn't have that much to do with religion. I hold some beliefs about people that aren't always helpful, and sometimes I hear that judgmental voice in my head. Like ShadePlant says, you can just notice that you are thinking something, but not get all upset about it.

I've done a (very) little bit of meditation, and one of the key practices is noticing that you are thinking about something, labeling it "thinking" without judging the thought or yourself for having it, and letting it go. This can be helpful out of the meditation setting as well for thoughts you want to groom out.

The next time you find yourself thinking, "she's a slut!" you can label the thought ("that's one of those things I don't believe anymore"), let it go (I imagine the thought encapsulated in a soap bubble, which then floats away and pops) and mentally move on to something else. Rinse and repeat.
posted by jeoc at 4:39 PM on July 31, 2011 [4 favorites]

I wonder if it would be helpful for you to consider that this is a pretty normal process of identity-formation.

I think this would help a lot, and also thinking of what you learned less as "lies" and more as the information that helped you form your own system of beliefs that makes you happy. You didn't waste those years; those years helped you toward becoming the atheist person that you are happy with. Perhaps if your family were more moderate in their value system, it would have taken you longer to find the real you. By having an extreme or outdated value system to question, you were able to discover your own.
posted by dayintoday at 4:40 PM on July 31, 2011 [5 favorites]

I was not raised fundamentalist, but I do have some awful prejudices as a result of my upbringing. When I experience one of these prejudiced thoughts now, I just hold it in my brain, let it play out, and then firmly think "That was a bigoted thought, and it comes from a place where I don't live any more." If you just try to squash such things, they have a tendency to lurk and inform your subconscious. Better to go ahead and let the thoughts burble up and then identify them as what they are. Over time, the thoughts are getting less potent for me, and I just think of them as an unfortunate defect in my cognition, like a trick knee but mental.
posted by KathrynT at 4:42 PM on July 31, 2011 [12 favorites]

While the rationale behind thinking so and so is impure because of premarital marriage (or whatever it is) comes in part from Christian upbringing, I think the root is common to everyone...judgeyness. So, if you were raised a vegan tree hugger you might be judging people for eating cheese and buying plastic water bottles. If you were raised a Republican you might judge people for not pulling themselves up by their bootstraps. Etc etc.

So, you might try to separate some of this. Don't blame everything on your Christian upbringing. Surely some of it is just a consequence of being an imperfect human. The details of what you judge is likely a result of your upbringing, but the judgement itself is largely unavoidable I think. Not to say that you can't grow and get over it to some extent, whether you were raised Xtian, vegan hippie, rightwing survivalist, smug bohemian, shopaholic sheeple, blue blood yacht people, above-it-all intellectual...whatever. We all should strive to grow beyond our nests. Then we can raise some more little humans and impose our new better sexier belief systems on them. :P
posted by ian1977 at 4:51 PM on July 31, 2011 [7 favorites]

I think you have a very human problem, one of having thoughts or beliefs that you wish you didn't have, and then tripping yourself up by beating yourself up for having them in the first place. Most folks I know have some version of this - unconscious thoughts we aren't proud of in the least popping into your head at the worst moments, and making like they mean to stay in the front of your mind for a really long time. They are about everything. About thinking that others aren't our equals (because they aren't saved, or don't believe in God, or because they are more sexually experienced, or because they are women, or have different political believes, or are a different race or ethnicity, or gay, or whatever, on and on.)

The best answer in such times, is Rumi's poem, The Guest House. You can google it, but the upshot of it is that you don't try to banish such feelings, but you welcome them in, watch them enter, watch them stay, watch them leave, and realize they are not the only things you are thinking or feeling at the moment, and that there are other 'guests' in your house (mind) that also deserve your attention. But you don't waste time fighting thoughts. All thoughts, good, bad and other, are just lessons for us. That is to say, you allow yourself to think everything, but get to decide upon which thoughts you want to act on, because you've made your own decision about what is and isn't true for you, and how you are going to act.

So, if you see the girl Y across the room who you know slept with X, you get to think all the thoughts: There's Y - she's attractive. She slept with X. That makes her a sinner. I'm judging her. I shouldn't be judging her. I just talked to her last week. She's funny. And attractive. I wonder if I'd want to sleep with her. UNCLEAN SINNER! Ugh stop! Annoying-ass thoughts. Girl Y isn't a demon. She's fine. She's friendly. She's nice. She's some nice, sexually active chick who I might want to sleep with who is standing next to the salsa and chips. Mmmm, salsa and chips. Salsa. Chips. Hungry.........when did I eat last?

All the thoughts come in, and pass by you on their way out. like you're in the middle of your own wonderful parade. That's just the way unconscious thoughts work. Know that there is all sorts of shit just like that probably running through the minds of most people you meet, everyday, including girl Y. That's just how people are wired. But you still get to choose to walk over to girl Y, and the salsa, and the chips, and smile and say - girl Y, how have you been? You get to choose to behave well, and be gentle with yourself for thinking such crappy thoughts, and hopefully gentle towards others if you ever learn that they are judging you. (Oh, hey, there's bbxx, s/he went all hard core"atheist". What does that even mean? How could such a good looking gal/guy take such a silly stance? S/he is good looking though. Snappy dresser. Standing by the beverages. Beverages. Mmmmm, pepsi....)

So it isn't that you need to banish these thoughts. Your crying suggests a frustration at failing at the impossible. You just need to live with them, and realize they are a part of you, or a part of who you were. Be okay with who you were, and be okay with who you are now, and how you're handling thoughts you aren't proud of. I wouldn't hide them from friends. The list of thoughts and feelings we'd like to scrub out of our brains with soap is long my friend. Very, very long. Hopefully that involuntary blather will give you a sense of compassion for yourself and others about what it means to be human, and you can acknowledge it with humor, and let it pass in it's own time. Your specific religious-based judgy-ness isn't the only thing you are thinking or feeling - so feel free to pay attention the other thoughts and feelings, and let your actual experience with girl Y reshape the landscape of your thoughts over time. Or not. But regardless of what you consciously or unconsciously think of her, you have the ability to always, always treat her with respect. And be proud of the fact that you do.
posted by anitanita at 4:56 PM on July 31, 2011 [7 favorites]

I don't think this has anything to do with religion. I think it has to do with set patterns in your mind. Relearning anything is difficult. Think of it as switching from using your left hand to your right. Or training from being a runner to a swimmer. You are going to automatically go into your runners warm up before a swim and have to take a minute and rethink to get yourself into your swimmers warm up until you have done it long enough to be as automatic as the runners warm up was.
posted by Vaike at 4:59 PM on July 31, 2011 [1 favorite]

I have felt similar to you. I had trouble with silly things, like my language. I didn't realize how much I said, "oh my god!" and "thank god". I had to find other expressions to use that I felt comfortable saying - old habits die very hard. I know what you mean though, it's all knee jerk reaction kind of stuff, but I've found really thinking about it helps.

My suggestion would be to first identify those things that have stuck around but aren't congruent to your current belief system. Make a list if you have to, really think about it and just write down the stuff as it comes to you. Once you are aware of those things, you can just make a mental note and try to catch yourself when you start that old way of thinking. Just being aware is going to help you to shake those old thoughts. You need to really think about your new beliefs and have something to replace the old belief with as well.

As far as the "wasted time" feelings, try to let them go, there is nothing you can do to change it and although it is a religion you don't believe in anymore, there are good things you got out of it that have helped shape you into who you are today.
posted by NoraCharles at 5:08 PM on July 31, 2011 [1 favorite]

For the intrusive thoughts, everyone around here recommends Cognitive Behavioral Therapy - it's a way to get your thinking process and thought associations under control. You can google plenty of self-help alternatives!

Your problem with associations is not unusual. You are not a freak.

Even mindfulness meditation will help. Also, life experience. Don't sweat this too much,just take positive steps.

I had great success with hypnotherapy to knock out some of the more annoying thought associations and false beliefs (oh the anger!) I still carried with me after growing up in a dysfunctional household, getting out, and then doing years of conventional therapy. What happened was that I married a lovely lovely guy, and more than ever, I saw the lies in everything I was ever taught. Lies that justified my suffering and mistreatment. I needed that extra something something, and a GOOD affordable hypnotherapist (4 sessions, total) really sealed the deal on all the work I had previously done. It cemented my positive change. YMMV.


We've ALL mistakenly believed things that have hurt ourselves and others because someone or something we loved and looked up to taught us wrong.

Thanks for this question. It reminds me to be compassionate. Like you, I still slip sometimes, but so so SO much less now that I did the HARD work of over coming the crap I was taught.

You'll make it. You will.
posted by jbenben at 5:09 PM on July 31, 2011 [2 favorites]

I was also raised in that tradition (no sex before marriage, purity rings, Focus on the Family, etc.), and, focusing on the purity issue, I think what helped me change my views was coming to see sex not as a sacred act but as a healthy part of life--something that any adult can and should enjoy. I'm not sure if you're currently in a sexual relationship, but having lots of sex (complete with laughter, conversation and just plain fun) with someone you love can -- over time -- really help wear down those old biases. It's not unlike the way that getting to know people who are different from you can erode preconceived notions: having sex with a caring, patient partner can help you recast the way you look at sex in general.

But be gentle with yourself; these hang-ups can take a long time to go away. Many years later, some of those old attitudes still pop up, and I have to deliberately push them down. They don't have anything to do with my life anymore, but they're still there. And I'm kind of okay with that because they make me who I am: someone whose open-mindedness is deliberate, rather than default. This might sound kind of cheesy, but try coming up with a mantra for how you *want* to view sexuality, or anything else for that matter (a little "values statement" of sorts that you aspire to), and then when those judgmental thoughts creep in, repeat it to yourself until the new attitude becomes more instinctual. But really, that tug-of-war between old ways and new ways is okay; it means you are taking control of your life, and that's awesome.
posted by cymru_j at 5:43 PM on July 31, 2011 [2 favorites]

Been there. It took therapy and a lot of time and I'm not even completely "cured." I still have a lot of animosity towards certain Christian groups. Therapy definitely helped with the cognitive dissonance... I hope you'll consider it.
posted by IndigoRain at 5:48 PM on July 31, 2011

Changing your faith is a major effort and it helps you understand things others who agree with you take for granted. It can't happen without believing one thing (and spending time on it) and then believing something else (spending time on it.) As far as your opinions about is possible that your new life philosophy isn't actually as tolerant and care-free at the root as you would like. I recommend searching there.
posted by michaelh at 5:58 PM on July 31, 2011 [1 favorite]

... when I hear this girl had sex with that person the next thing that come up in my mind is that this girl is a bad person / sinner / etc. Things like this have ruined my relationships in the past.

Speaking as a lifelong atheist: you ain't Christian enough yet.

The point of Christ's teachings is that we are all sinners, which makes the process of judging one another for our sins something that needs to be approached with the greatest care, humility and self-awareness. Go brush up on the whole "cast the first stone" thing.

A mature atheism is not opposed to enlightened values, regardless of the context of their acquisition. If you can avoid falling into the standard convert's trap of rejecting all pre-conversion beliefs out of hand, I am sure you will eventually find a synthesis between the positive values you grew up with and the facts you now believe are true. I am equally sure that doing so will help you understand the sources of the negative values you grew up with and forgive yourself for having internalized some of them, which will in turn reduce their power to screw up your life.

You reckon you've got gum on your emotional shoes? Imagine how Christ would feel about this kind of brand dilution.
posted by flabdablet at 6:00 PM on July 31, 2011 [20 favorites]

Perhaps you could begin by taking the example you cite and research other, more positive attitudes about women and women's sexuality. Learn about privilege and the way patriarchal religion privileges men at the expense of women. Explore the concept of patriarchy (of which Christianity is a powerful enforcer) and recognize the ways ideas from religion about the role of women persist in society in many manifestations.

My own journey is one I believe many people take, discovering and discarding harmful teaching and working just as hard to discover truths that I can and do believe. It took quite a few years to indoctrinate us into a system that is inequitable and condemns the nature of some while it privileges others. The damage is not undone merely by discovering the wrongness of what we were taught. The mind must be fed better ideas, the very best we can find.

We have internalized these social attitudes and values, such as judging women's natural sexual responses and behavior (not men's) as shameful. You might read some feminist writings, join a community online or in person where everyone is working on these and related issues. Discover your truths and give yourself time to absorb them. There is much for each of us to learn about living a true and meaningful life.

Learning, especially philosophy, is a lifelong activity. Keep going.
posted by Anitanola at 6:03 PM on July 31, 2011 [2 favorites]

As a longtime, full-time practicing atheist, I'd suggest practicing up on your forgiveness. It's one of the hardest things for any christian or atheist to do, but one of the most rewarding and, you know, soothing.
posted by fivesavagepalms at 6:07 PM on July 31, 2011 [1 favorite]

Is there anyone with the same problem as mine?

Anyone who has ever grown up and expanded his worldview to encompass more than just what his parents or town or religion or peers offered him. Seriously. You're not alone--and that's a very good thing!

I grew up Evangelical. I subscribed to Brio Magazine, wore a pro-life pin, attended youth group twice weekly--in short, I was in it socially. I think that's the key. The ways the community shapes your social life is huge. You and I grew up in a particular culture, and it's hard to shake that off, no matter how far from home we eventually settle (physically or mentally). We didn't adopt our views about sexuality based on biblical texts, we adopted them based on the way our community talked to itself about biblical texts. (You'll notice that most Evangelical communities have found a way to make peace with divorce, not surprising given how few members they'd have if they shunned divorced members--yet premarital sex and homosexuality are called out as dirty and immoral because it just hasn't been socially necessary to accept them.)

Others have suggested therapy, which I agree could help you to process some of the genuinely tough emotional experiences of leaving your childhood faith. However, I'd also suggest that you just keep expanding your social circle. Do whatever you can to meet the most diverse range of people you can. Closed-mindedness thrives when you keep mental walls between people: break down those walls!
posted by Meg_Murry at 6:10 PM on July 31, 2011

I had the same kind of upbringing and many similar ugly thoughts, but in time I got over most all of them. Of course, it will always affect you somehow, so think of it as a lifelong process that gets easier and easier - and more satisfying.

As someone who feels much better about himself now, I will tell you - I think you're lucky to be facing these problems the way you are. Christian teaching has a pretty unmistakable signature. Especially the shame and guilt parts. You can use that signature to help you.

What I mean is this - not all people who face these kinds of ugly, intrusive thoughts know why they have them or where they come from. When they come out of the shadows they are very hard to fight. But lucky you - when you are making a judgment on a woman (for example) you know where that judgment is coming from. It's not from you - it's from the crap teaching you faced your whole life. So recognize the emotion for what it is - an unfounded, knee-jerk reaction. When you recognize where these things are coming from, you should move to your new strategy: evaluate that woman on some other axis.

Specifically, when you feel that way about a woman (again, for example) look at her other qualities - her intelligence, her good-heartedness, her mechanical skills, programming abilities, the way she carries herself, the way she brings people together, whatever. And let those experiences remind you that the knee-jerking has little to do with how great a person she is.

It is a deliberate and difficult thing you must do, but it is also a thing that will develop your social abilities, your thinking abilities, and your fullness as a human being. And it will help you forgive those people making ugly, knee-jerking judgments on others because of what they were taught as kids. Over many experiences you will see and feel that the women in your life are amazing, valuable, interesting, lovable people and that there is no direct connection between sexual history and, well, anything else. Also, I can almost guarantee you that the most interesting people in your life will have the most storied pasts.

In short - learn to use your experiences and newfound awareness to override your training. Pay close attention to what is outside and let it diffuse and redirect what is inside. And in the process, become the person you wish to become.
posted by fake at 6:46 PM on July 31, 2011 [1 favorite]

I would also be really mindful and spend time de-constructing your language and assumptions. What is a slut? Why is that behaviour bad, anyway? Do we apply this standard to men, too, and why or why not? What is a sinner, exactly? Who decides what a sin is and what the consequences are?
posted by DarlingBri at 6:58 PM on July 31, 2011 [1 favorite]

"just notice, don't judge." Try to notice your "religious" thoughts, and when you have them, but don't beat yourself up over it.

posted by ShadePlant at 7:22 PM

I don't think you'll find better advice than this anywhere.
posted by Salvor Hardin at 7:10 PM on July 31, 2011

"just notice, don't judge." Try to notice your "religious" thoughts, and when you have them, but don't beat yourself up over it.

I clawed my way out of a Pentecostal upbringing, and this is what I learned to do when I decided I wanted out. Out of not just Pentecostalism, but religion, period. I had to acknowledge the feelings I was having that were residual, because why would I not have them? I was raised with them! When they came up, I acknowledged them and worked through them, one by one. But you really have to be willing to face those thoughts and work through them, like untying a giant knot.

However, I'd also suggest that you just keep expanding your social circle. Do whatever you can to meet the most diverse range of people you can. Closed-mindedness thrives when you keep mental walls between people: break down those walls!

Yes yes yes. Just keep exposing yourself to different people and experiences. You will meet people who defy the values you are trying to fight - for example, you will continue to meet people who are more sexually open, and many of them will probably be really great people. Some may even prove to be good friends. And you will slowly find yourself removing their sexual habits from the equation because you will see that they simply do not affect how good of a person he or she is. I moved to NYC about 2 years after I broke with my religion, and it was like a huge crash course in diversity - and it accelerated my recovery (as I call it) exponentially.

It's a very interesting journey - it will be hard sometimes, but the end result is so, so worth it. Please Mefimail me if you'd like. I had no one to talk to and it was one of the harder aspects of my process.
posted by DrGirlfriend at 7:41 PM on July 31, 2011 [1 favorite]

I'm a former believer and current atheist. There is a lot of good advice above re: reflecting on your thoughts, where they are coming from, and what values they represent.

I'm in the middle of some cross-cultural sensitivity training, so that is my model for thinking about your question -- which is a version of a question that I have asked myself many times.

If it helps to think of it in non-religious terms, rephrase your question along cross-cultural lines, in terms of Country X and Country Y. "After growing up with my family and social traditions in Country X, I encountered the traditions of Country Y. Now, I see Country X's traditions as outdated and I want to embrace the culture of Country Y." This kind of acculturation is very complex, conflicted, and ambiguous.

Some people, in some conditions, appear to take on a new culture 100%, but this is not the standard. Usually, people spanning two cultures become a kind of hybrid, or live in a 3rd culture space. You say that you dislike Christian values and identity, but you don't identify what you're moving towards.

Values go deep, and I'm not sure that it is possible to change them through reflection alone. You are able to change the expression of those values. Reflecting on judgments, again, is a great exercise to take a hard look at those values and where they come from. Would you be able to take a look at your judgments about Christianity, as well?
posted by anotherbrick at 7:45 PM on July 31, 2011

Agree with the above that it's not Christianity that is the problem so much as judgmentalism. That happens with any strict faith or culture. (I've never been Christian but see similar issues in my own faith.) Christianity is a big tent--there are denominations that have a much more relaxed attitude.

But, you aren't a Christian anymore, so I wouldn't advise seeking out a new congregation. ShadePlant's advice is spot-on: Just be mindful of your thoughts without judging them. Eventually time and experience--empirical evidence, if you have a scientific bent--will help mute them.

One thing you might do, when you have a judgmental thought about someone, is to use that as a reason to try to get to know them and find something you like and respect about them. And if it's someone you're wanting to get close it, it's perfectly okay to say, "I'm sorry, I grew up in a really strict home and even though I don't agree with those values anymore, it still taking some getting used to. I'm trying to be more open. Please bear with me while I learn."

The tough thing about deprogramming yourself from the values you were raised with is, as you say, because your parents acted in good faith and with good intentions, and clearly that way of life works for them, and I gather from your post that you are okay with that. So don't treat it as an adversarial transition--think of yourself as an immigrant rather than an apostate. By trying not to be bitter about your upbringing, you'll feel less bitter about the habits that were ingrained in you.

tl;dr. you went from a very secure place that wasn't right for you to a very undefined place that is right for you. You're looking for footing, finding your way. It's hard to define who you are now against who you were then because who you were in the past was a very strong identity, and your new identity is still forming. Embrace the uncertainty for now. Realize that you've brought some baggage that will spill out from time to time. It's okay, you're learning the ropes. You'll figure it out.
posted by thinkingwoman at 7:53 PM on July 31, 2011 [1 favorite]

If you can avoid falling into the standard convert's trap of rejecting all pre-conversion beliefs out of hand, I am sure you will eventually find a synthesis between the positive values you grew up with and the facts you now believe are true.

THIS. Former atheist, now Catholic. I find the former Catholic atheist of the mold described above* to be among the most insufferable reactionaries to be found on this planet. "I can justify rejecting your worldview out of hand with no reflection just by mentioning that my parents made me go to Mass twice a year/Catholic school/whatever."

*They aren't all like this, but there really are a lot.
posted by resurrexit at 8:28 PM on July 31, 2011

Another former Christian here. I think of it like this. Your upbringing built a house of beliefs for you. Some of those things you've decided you definitely want to change. Others, maybe not.

When you find yourself having a reaction to someone that seems out of line with your beliefs, it's an opportunity to re-examine that room and see if you want to leave it as is, do a little remodeling, or tear it down and re-build from scratch. Journaling can be a good way to do this, or talking with a friend. I think talking or writing is better than just thinking.

"She's a slut!" Whoa, did I just think that? Hmmm, where did that come from? What do I really think about people who have extramarital sex? Is it important to be chaste? Why? What do I want for myself - chastity or sex? What would I think of a woman who slept with me? What would I think of myself? Is it wrong to enjoy and desire sex? Why? Does it harm anyone? What makes something wrong or right?

"He's a killer! That's wrong!" Hmm. Yup, that one still works. No renovation here.

In other words, don't just tell yourself the thought is wrong but examine the idea and create/find your true belief on the subject.

For the record, the old beliefs I've had the most trouble with are the ones that in some way dovetail with my fears. For instance, in the past I've judged men for being sexually casual because I both desired sex and feared being hurt.

There are a lot of ideas in the Bible that I really appreciate - and others I find appalling. And in fact the very premise of your concern here is expressed in a saying of Jesus: Judge not that you not be judged.

You get to pick for yourself which work for you and which don't. It takes a little time and effort but it should be interesting to say the least :)

Good luck!
posted by bunderful at 9:06 PM on July 31, 2011 [1 favorite]

bbxx: "Is there anyone with the same problem as mine? Any help in getting this brainwashing out of my head? "

Keep the good stuff, ditch the bad stuff. My church had a great community spirit while I was growing up, I valued that and keep it as an example. I remember it so much more vividly than Bible Study.

Oh my goodness, of course a lot of people feel this way, though. Not just about religion, either. Plenty of us have moved away from non-religiously-motivated racism, sexism, homophobia, etc. by folks who are good people who were not hateful, just prejudiced.
posted by desuetude at 11:30 PM on July 31, 2011

I really feel for you. I've been through something similar over the past 5 years, and it is hard. However, there is a light at the end of the tunnel - things have dramatically improved for me in the last year or so and I'm definitely the happiest I've ever been. Much of the guilt and judgement that were installed in me as a child has faded, and I'm finding it easier and easier to be less judge-y myself.

Things that have helped me:

1. As the others have said, therapy. There were a lot of things I held to be 'self evident' and that I couldn't see around and my lovely therapist really helped me see a different perspective I hadn't ever considered.

2. Addressing hateful thoughts - sexist, homophobic, generally judgemental thoughts (like others above have said). I amused myself by repeating 'Judge not, that ye be not judged' - one of the few Christian sayings that I still believe (which I take to mean: if you're harsh on others, you will be harsh on yourself. If you forgive others, you will find yourself more forgiving of your own faults).

3. In order to address the hateful thoughts, it was really important for me to stage an information campaign. I really liked The Purity Myth by Jessica Valenti. I also enjoyed Quiverfull by Kathryn Joyce. I read Stuff Fundies Like and broused a number of anti-fundamentalist forums. On a more positive note, I also read everything I could about the people and lifestyles that had been villified in my childhood, and found, of course, that in most cases there really was nothing to judge, only love.

4. I apologised to friends I'd hurt in the past.

Good luck!
posted by brambory at 12:56 AM on August 1, 2011

As somebody who has never had a god/religious belief, I can confirm this is not an issue that is purely the realm of religious upbringing. Rather, this is a useful mechanism of human development. In a society or community, you will pick up on many rules and conventions that will keep you safe (don't cross the street without looking), healthy (brush your teeth!), and functioning smoothly within the community (say please, thank you). Many of these rules are useful generally, but many are very specific to certain communities, and might be confusing or even harmful outside them (drive on the left side of the road, tap water is safe to drink).

Basically the way to change these unconscious values is the same as with any habit. first you have to become aware of it. Then you remind yourself on each occasion why that habit is wrong, and correct yourself. Eventually you will not need correcting.

The important thing is not to feel angry or ashamed of your reactions. Just be aware, evaluate, and correct them.
posted by HFSH at 3:44 AM on August 1, 2011

I totally understand where you're coming from. I grew up in the Catholic church and took many teachings to heart. Was atheist in my college years but now consider myself spiritual believing in a higher power for myself. With that said, the way I try to get over judgmental thoughts is putting myself in other's shoes and asking what if I was in theer situation? 'Cause a lot of these thoughts can actually wear on your self-esteem. In truth we're judging ourselves harshly when we do the same to others. What I also want to make clear is, theres a difference between judging someone who is a threat to our security of whatever it is and judging them for something that's their business only. Sometimes it helps categorizing which box to put that is, just to gain perspective.
posted by InterestedInKnowing at 8:23 AM on August 1, 2011

It is okay to feel angry towards religion: there are plenty of extremely sound reasons to do so. I would go so far as to say that it is a sign of a healthy, rational mind to be at least impatient with religion, and possibly rather more than that. What's not so helpful is the whole bitterness about how religion affected your own young life.

I rejected religion at 14, but I suffered its nasty little aftershocks until I was in my early twenties - not least the whole guilt about sex thing. I dealt with the guilt and bitterness by understanding that my religious upbringing still gave me something valuable. It gave me an insider's knowledge of something bad. It gave me the ability to criticise religion from the point of view of someone who had been fully religious; who knew what it felt like to really believe in god; who said his prayers, intoned those mantras, and feared that judgement. I came to realise that this was a very good grounding - the best - for being an informed atheist and rationalist. If I could live the first fifteen years of my life over again, making any adjustments I liked, I would not change the fact that I was raised a Christian, even though it gave me so much confusion and worry. It also tempered me.
posted by Decani at 12:13 PM on August 1, 2011

"in my brain that when I hear this girl had sex with that person the next thing that come up in my mind is that this girl is a bad person / sinner / etc. "

This is self righteousness. If you see someone as a 'sinner' before you see yourself as the 'worst sinner you know' then you are self justifying, whereby you compare your 'not so bad' behavior with someone else's 'very bad' behavior. The problem is though that Christ came to call sinners, not the righteous to repentance Mk 2:17. So the person who thinks she is better than someone else, by Christ's own standards, has no need of a Savior since they are now their own savior (this is illustrated by Christ's parable of tax collector and pharisee Lk 18:9-14)

It sounds like you were reared by God's law (sermon on the mount Mt 5-7), which according to Christianity, is the ultimate standard for right and wrong, and when you violate it, your conscience condemns you with guilt. Is this what you're 'trying to get rid of'? You now have to make a choice: To try your best to live up to what you think is right and try to numb your conscience to make the guilt you feel go away, or despair of all your self-righteousness and trust that Jesus accomplished the obedience on your behalf and bore your sin and your guilt on the cross.
posted by yoyoceramic at 3:02 PM on August 1, 2011

(Orthodox Jew turned atheist.)

I suggest really analyzing these beliefs. Sit down, think them out, or better write them out, and find out what you really think. As long as they aren't examined, just thinking that they're stupid isn't necessarily going to stop them. Think about WHY they are stupid.

Also, therapy. :-)
posted by callmejay at 3:19 PM on August 1, 2011

Response by poster: Hi everyone, thank you for sharing your stories, experiences and advices. They are very helpful guide for me on how to handle this frustration.

I printed this thread and spent couple of hours reading it, trying to understand, thinking and contemplating. Here are the things I learned from this discussion, I hope these can help you too:

I realized that I will never be able to forget the Christian teachings and values that I was indoctrinated with. However, I can make those values insignificant in my life.

From reading your stories, I can draw a conclusion that hating / regretting the fact that I “wasted” years of my life being a believer of Christian teachings will only cause endless pain and hate.

Do not be judgmental. Argue and reason with myself when conditioned thoughts popped up in my head. Also practice other CBT techniques.

I am reminded again that even though I feel somewhat “damaged”, it is okay. It is okay to be imperfect, nobody is perfect. Nothing in this universe is perfect. Only for imperfections in the universe we exist.

I also like Rumi's poem the Guest House that anitanita suggested:


This being human is a guest house.
Every morning a new arrival.

A joy, a depression, a meanness,
some momentary awareness comes
as an unexpected visitor.

Welcome and entertain them all!
Even if they are a crowd of sorrows,
who violently sweep your house
empty of its furniture,
still, treat each guest honorably.
He may be clearing you out
for some new delight.

The dark thought, the shame, the malice.
meet them at the door laughing and invite them in.

Be grateful for whatever comes.
because each has been sent
as a guide from beyond.

-- Jelaluddin Rumi,
translation by Coleman Barks

What he said in the poem... the way you see yourself and mind as a guest house; a place where emotions (guest) come and go, is an interesting perspective. I never thought of it that way. I think memorizing this will help me to let go my negative emotions.

N.B.: Extra thanks to ShadePlant for sharing your story and suggestions.
posted by bbxx at 5:20 PM on August 1, 2011

The important thing is not to feel angry or ashamed of your reactions. Just be aware, evaluate, and correct them.

I think that HFSH hit the nail on the head. I grew up in an evangelical church too, and years after I stopped believing that Jesus Christ is the only key to salvation and living right, I can still see how I'm shaped by having grown up in that culture.

Many aspects are positive. Other are poisonous. I think it's important to be able to think about these in a detached way, as free as possible of anger and resentment. (Not to say that you can't be made justifiably angry by the horrible things about evangelical culture and teaching).

One thing that helped me get more positive attitudes about sex was having sex with a person who I could otherwise talk to and who could listen to me talk about my experience. It's also accepting that you might feel guilty BUT that you are not guilty and that you just need some time to adjust.

Another thing that has helped me was to meet religious people who were nothing like the people I grew up with- people who didn't think their faith was better than someone else's, or better than a atheist's point of view- People who could be challenged about their beliefs and talk about it without getting angry, defensive, judgmental and otherwise ridiculous. (i.e. mature people).

I also like the reminders from other responders that EVERYONE has these kinds of issues, they just might come from a different context, not religion.
posted by beau jackson at 6:35 AM on August 2, 2011 [1 favorite]

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