Tag Archives: islam

Maslow’s Triangle and Religion: How The Psychology of Belonging Keeps Us Trapped in Church

It is  my personal opinion, based on quite informal observations, that perhaps the biggest reason so many fear leaving religion is because they fear losing their sense of belonging.

Abraham Maslow observed that all humans have a specific set of needs and they must be met in a specific order for us to reach our full potential, or self-actualization as he termed it.


At the bottom of the Hierarchy of Needs are the absolute minimum necessities for us to survive:  food, shelter, and safety.  Ask any homeless person (I’ve been there myself), its difficult to focus on creating the next big thing or writing the next big novel when you are worried about where you’re going to sleep that night or if you’ll have food tomorrow.   We are stuck at the bottom of the Maslow’s gig until we consistently have full bellies and safe shelter.   Once these are obtained, we can then focus on the next level of needs which is having a sense of belonging and being loved.   We must achieve at least some self-esteem and knowing that we are part of a group, then we can move on to the next and final level of Maslow’s Hierarchy, which is reaching our full potential, being successful, and helping others meet their goals.

I often wonder if many people stay in the church simply because it is their only source of belonging and sense of community.

It is a powerful feeling to know you are wanted and even needed by others.  I think this is especially true in the church setting where typically small congregations provide acute environments that affirm feelings of importance.  If a person began to question the indoctrinated principles their particular denomination espouses, if there are no alternatives to take the place of this sense of belonging, it is highly likely they will stay within the confines of religion – trapped – because the psychological need to belong and feel loved is real and strong.   It is not necessarily a conscious choice I suspect.

confession bear

From another angle, there is the ‘big fish in a small pond’ dynamic that I believe keeps some trapped within the walls of religion.   Its a mighty big world out there, and if I venture into it, I am just another part of the school.  Inside a church or mosque or temple though, I have some import.   I might be a children’s church director, or imam, or rabbi to a small community – I am a big fish in a small pond.   Any human would have a rough time giving that up.

I write about these psychological dynamics because it seems to me that as atheists, we should be sensitive to this issue. I think that sometimes when we hear so much cyclical arguing about ‘the bible says therefore it is’ that its only an argument fought from the corner of fear.   I think what many are really saying is “I know my place in here, I know I belong, I know I am needed, I know I am important and I am too afraid to give it up.”

Statistics show that more and more people are questioning their faiths, some of them may turn to us who have already trod the path for answers.  We should be aware of the power of the need to belong.  We need to offer support where there might not be any.  We need to form bonds within our communities so that we exemplify the idea that belonging is also achieved outside the four walls of a building.

It’s not easy to leave the confines of religion for many many reasons.  I suspect the psychological need to belong presents one of the greatest challenges to leaving the four walls of the church.   I am confident that we atheists can rise to the occasion and be sensitive to the issue, provide support, and form bonds to help our brothers and sisters.

Peace kids –


In Remembrance….

As an atheist, I do not condone this attack.   My heart is with these families…may peace and strength be their lifeboats. Regardless of religion or no religion….we are all brothers and sisters still, let’s make sure to act like it kids….Frankie.


Through the Pinhole

It is the smallest of windows

Wholly created, voluntarily accepted

Without a moment’s thought

Without a soul’s reflection

It is a single portrait viewing

The colors never fade, never change

Never adjust to the light

Still life in a perpetual state of fix

It is a changeless visage

Allows for only redundant interpretation

How oft can the brush stroke be dissected?

Countless opinions fight to death.

It is merely a pinhole picture

A finite vision carved from infinity

Chosen for its narrow path

Endorsed with eternal fear

It is a singular lens

Projected at grain of reality

Produces warped lines

Cages light in a prison

It is the smallest of windows

Wholly created, voluntarily accepted

Without a moment’s thought

Without a soul’s reflection

Declaration:   Atheist – No Small Announcement to Make in the U.S.

I was having a conversation with someone the other day; we were discussing the topics that I write about on this blog.  Obviously there is quite a bit of content about atheism (positively speaking) and religion (negatively speaking), I mentioned this to him “I write a lot about atheism, since I am an atheist.”   He responded to this comment by saying that, basically he was too, but he “just didn’t feel comfortable putting it out there,” for fear of backlash from family, friends, and this being America and all…..we then talked a little bit about how the term and those who identify with it are wholly misunderstood, somehow deemed evil, angry, hateful and without morals.  I would challenge us to readjust our thinking about the kind of people atheists really are.

One of the most common questions I get, especially from those who know my ‘christian up bringing’ background is:  “Why do you hate god?”  I respond with the truth:  there is no hate involved, only a logical conclusion reached by a few years of doing my own research and an understanding that science really does unlock the mysteries we are obsessively keen to understand.   “Besides,” I reply, “It’s difficult to hate something that doesn’t exist.  The same way I have no emotion towards Zeus or Mithras”

I suppose, by extrapolation, a perceived hate in god also translates to a perceived hateful disposition because one of the other more common misunderstandings is that atheists are unhappy and not at peace.   In fact, in my experience, the bulk of us seem to be utterly content in the life they lead and this is made especially more meaningful since we are well aware that this is our only shot at life and that in itself is cause for celebration.  (Not to negate the small percentage of the human population who are somehow miserable no matter where their deist preferences lie).  Truthfully?  It is my strong contention that peace comes with understanding, it does not surpass it. On the other side of the coin, I believe that religion itself can rob a person of their peace.  I remember the numerous conspiracy theories that blew through church during the Clinton administration.   I recall distinctly the fear instilled by the church about this or that issue and although I had ‘god to cling to’ I will confess to harboring a certain paranoia when I look back.  In another part of the world, a religion prevents successful healthcare because it ‘comes from the west’ and is secretly poisoned.

Sometimes, atheist hate is perceived by many where really a passion for the truth is the compelling force behind our actions. For instance, we will petition for the ten commandments to be taken down in courtrooms, or sit out the pledge of allegiance in schools, or refuse to include the words ‘so help me god’  in our  reenlistment oath – not because we are evil, not because we are hateful, and not because we are angry.   We do these things to raise awareness to the obvious breech of our nation’s constitution:  that no preference is given to any religion.  It’s simply a matter of exercising our pragmatic right to call out a social injustice and violation of the law.

For those who are raised in closed, religious environment, legends abound of the misdeeds and immoral acts atheists are ‘known’ for.   I had a friend and her lovely little family over for thanksgiving dinner last year.   They are former members of that-one-religion-that-doesn’t-celebrate-holidays-or-birthdays and this was their first thanksgiving or any holiday dinner they’d ever attended.  After the feast, an afternoon of football, visiting, and pumpkin pie, she looked at me and queried, “This is it, fabulous food and football?  No baby sacrifices?  No bloodletting?  No dancing naked around a bonfire?”  We laughed at her joke and I responded that “nowadays, we tend to keep that stuff to just once a year, at winter solstice.” (festivus is celebrated much like thanksgiving, the exceptions being prime rib for dinner instead of turkey and A Christmas Story marathon – completely lacking in blood sacrifices….)

Lacking religion, or a belief in a deity, is usually and also equated with a lack of morality, and I would contend that this is perhaps the biggest misconception of all.   The reality is that the burden of morality is probably greater for an atheist.   We have nothing to blame our goodness or weaknesses on except ourselves.   We accept a deep level of accountability for our actions and typically are motivated to do good just because it’s the right thing to do, rather than expecting some promise of eternal reward in return – neither are our good deeds motivated by fear of being punished if we don’t do them.  We have a sense of camaraderie, in that all humans are connected and are brothers and sisters who share a moment in time together.  We don’t cheat on our spouses because we are bound by some command or fallible piece of literature, but because we take our vow to be faithful seriously and we wish not to cause pain to our mates.  For a real study in the ‘moral’ and ‘religion’ connection, check out those countries where religion is quite the minority, their crime rates are actually lower.

Then there’s the point to be made that religion itself is not so ‘moral’ after all.  Within the realm of christianity, the catholics are dealing with one kind of horror, while protestant churches allow known offenders back into the pulpit.  And, sadly, more and more often there appear headlines of pastors or youth pastors abusing their positions of authority.  Islam’s recent violent surge has all but shattered its claim of being a peaceful religion.

The bottom line, straight out truth is:     Morality is not confined to religion.

“What about love?” they’ll often ask, “How can you really know love if you don’t know god?”

Two responses:  One – god isn’t necessarily all loving himself.  One only needs to look around at the injustices that occur on a daily basis in our world, and yet ‘he’ doesn’t intervene.  I mean, does it make sense that an omnipotent god would curse part of this rock and its inhabitants whilst conveniently blessing another to the point of overindulgence?  Two – religion doesn’t have the monopoly on love.   The dedication and passion I have toward my husband are wholly voluntary, I don’t need to have some outside love to validate or motivate me to love him.  I love him because of the connection we share and the chemistry we create together.   Furthermore, he has confidence in that love because he knows it is purely motivated, not borne from some obligation to a historical manuscript.

A capacity for love, a passion for justice, a logical conclusion, and morality are not limited to the four walls of any church, mosque, or synagogue.  These characteristics are borne of conscious decision, an open mind, and a desire for truth.   These are the earmarks of atheists.  Eventually we’ll have developed a healthier perception about atheism.  Then we can be free to announce our un- belief with confidence and without prejudice.  In the meantime, we’ll go on living our lives and making a difference in the lives of others.

Rock on kids….


On Matters of Faith

I made the decision to forgo religion several years ago….having been ‘raised in church’ my journey from christian to heretic consisted of rigorous study, much contemplation, and no small amount of courage to break free from the manacles of fear.  But there was something else to my decision to leave religion and I didn’t realize it until recently….somewhere along the line I completely lost faith.

The subject of faith came up during a recent conversation I had with a family member about it and occurred to me that announcing one’s lack of faith to a religious person is akin to admitting a loss of innocence or purity somehow.  Or virginity.  I’ll never forget the look of total wonderment when she posed the question “Where is your faith?”   It struck me that a lack of faith would indeed seem illogical to the religious because it is paramount to any religious belief.  Without faith we are unable to make the mental leap needed to ignore reality and believe in fantasy.

It takes faith to believe, like many of our ancestors did, that an invisible god by the name of Helios drove the sun across the sky in his chariot.    It takes faith, as demonstrated by many Native Americans, to believe that a turtle arising out of the sea with earth on her back was the beginning of mankind.  It takes faith to believe that Thor killed all the Ice Giants, and it takes faith to believe that a talking snake can entice a couple of people down a road full of suffering for an entire planet’s worth of offspring.

In the face of scientific fact and reality, faith dies a quick and painless death (so quick and painless – it turns out – that I never even noticed it was gone until years after I proclaimed myself a non-theist).  We know that the sun rises and sets because of the way our solar system is designed.  For me to hail Helios as the mover of our star means that I absolutely must put out of my head what I know to be true and can be seen with my own eye as I ponder photos sent back from the Hubble Telescope and the Mars Rover.  That same telescope has allowed us the privilege of divining the beginnings of our vast and mysterious universe, thereby giving us the reality of our existence:  we are all made of stardust, we are literally and only a speck in space, we can deduce how suns came together and have good understanding of the dynamics involved in planet formation.  These are all solid, visible attributes of our existence.  In order for me to ‘have faith’ again, I would absolutely need to ignore the truth and the evidence to support it and then take the additional step of willingly choosing to believe in a very human entity that is very much like all other entities that we humans have created.  Not only that, but I must declare one particular faith, because all other faiths have it wrong (according to religion).  So a talking snake and/or dictation from a wayward angel must necessarily become part of my schematics.  These inexplicable, acutely isolated occurrences have to blend with the fabric of my thoughts so that they are embedded there, making up the premise of my worldview, all in order that I have faith in them.

I simply cannot do it. The logistics of our knowledge resolutely anchors me to reality.  But what of innocence?  What of that esoteric spiritual purity, the virginity of believing in something fantastical and otherworldly? I can say in a most robust reply that I would a thousand times over choose the loss of innocence for the tenfold wonder that the truth unleashes.

And there is plenty of wonder that goes on when contemplating the odds against which we have been given a shot, a one time shot, to do something with this brief moment we have.

Be Well,


I have a heavy heart……

There were a few postings yesterday on my facebook feed concerning the show “Duck Dynasty” (never watched myself).  Apparently there were complaints about the whole ‘god and guns’ theme that runs through the show and many were celebrating the fact that the gig was renewed, happily keeping it’s ‘god and guns’ component.

God and guns….

Allah and jihad……

Israel and Palestine…..

Someone one said ‘imagine no religion’.

Just imagine………

Be Well,


A Choosing: The Struggles and Difficulties of Forgoing Religion and Leaving Church

It’s not easy, ya know.  It’s not easy at all to stand at the edge of the proverbial cliff and cast off everything- you’ve- believed- in- with- your-whole-heart-so-much-you-would-die-for-it.  And yet, I did it, like many others before me.   I decided to leave religion behind and live my life based on the evidence that there is no god.

It’s not easy for a number of reasons.  First, we must admit that what we’ve been taught to believe as infallible truth is, in reality, a falsity.  It’s not easy to come to terms with the years of life I spent devoting myself to a ‘truth’ that I came to understand as antiquated and, well……made up.  Jesus’ story is no more or less the same as the thousands of other heroes that we humans have invented.  So what platitude can I offer to placate myself for squandering years of my life?  The answer is somewhat inconsequential.  First of all, just like any other life experience, I am able to find value even in negative circumstances.  I would not be able to write this note if I hadn’t had the experience of ‘growing up’ in a church, for instance.  On a deeper level though, what I came to understand is that I have the opportunity to live my life in the present, knowing I only have this one shot, so whatever else it was I did before, I am not doing it now and that’s really what matters.  Besides,  whatever it is I am doing now I am doing with a freedom and consciousness I’ve never known which makes me that much more effective to my world and present reality.  So even if it seems like I wasted years of my life believing a myth, what matters is now and the choices I make.    It isn’t easy though, and I suspect that many stop right here at this juncture because of the difficulty in admitting that what was taught as truth, is really a lie.  It is painful to tear one’s self apart from the matrix of religion, proclaim it a fabrication and declare independence.   It does not prevent many of us from doing so however and we come to learn that the pain is temporary, the scar – minimal.

Making the choice to leave religion behind for evidence and reality also means that we leave behind a fellowship of friends and family.  For many teenagers it means being kicked out of the house by parents, or having college funds cut off, or being disowned completely.  Yet, we flee.   Makes ya wonder, doesn’t it?  Why would we ‘give up’ the fellowship and love and security of these social groups?  This is an especially critical point because love and security are the second most needed elements according to Abraham Maslow.  In other words, we have a strong inherent need to feel that we belong and are valued by others and without it we cannot achieve our full potential.  Shrugging off religion means giving up the social status of belonging to a group and any value gained from it.   How do we manage to separate ourselves from the grips of acceptance and familiarity?  Some may already have other social groups they can plug into. Some, like me, adjust to having a few close friends and cherishing family gatherings.  Ultimately, the struggle to break free of dogma and the peace that comes with embracing reason overcomes any instinct to remain with the religious social group.  It isn’t easy, but we leave religion anyway, and we discover that the pain is temporary, the scar minimal.

I recently came across a very informal poll/question in an online forum that asked “What one word would you use to describe being an atheist?” Before I read any of the answers, my first thought for my own answer to the question was ‘freedom!’ – it was automatic, I didn’t even have to think about it.  As I scrolled down to read the comments of others, I was not surprised to see how often that sentiment appeared in some form or another.

It’s not easy to throw off years of belief and teaching.  It’s not easy to leave behind friends and the sense of belonging that religions have to offer.  It’s not easy to endure accusations of being ‘deceived’ or ‘led astray’.  Yet the freedom that comes with recognizing reality and accepting the truth is far more enriching and fulfilling than anything we might have left behind.  An atheist’s life is one where freedom is sweet, and the effort is worth it.

Be Well,


That Love Thing……

I was out walking a while back, contemplating that love thing.  I found myself considering it in terms of the Christian belief:  that god is the only source of love for humans; man is a fallen animal and is redeemed only through the love of a specific supreme being. Many of us are brought up with this mindset (myself included, which is probably why my thoughts came here).  Yet, once we figure out that science debunks the myths we’ve created in order to explain the mysteries of nature, religion and its gods become a dying paradigm as well.  But what about that love thing?  Part of the process of leaving the confines of religion is dealing with this notion of a divine love. Do we have an innate need to be loved by some creator?  Is there something wired within us that seeks to feel loved specifically outside of our own reality?  If I declare myself an atheist am I forfeiting an omnipotent attachment? This was some serious contemplation.

As I let my mind wander around its landscape I eventually ended up with a fairly basic question: Why did we need to invent religions in the first place?  Did we create them because we needed to feel loved by some unseen force?  Was there some place within us that can only be filled by a benevolent deity? What was the impetus for creating these early cultural narratives?

It turns out that our need to create religions and their heroes wasn’t because of any craving for divine affection.  Instead, we constructed our myths and gods as a means to explain our world. We invented them because we have an insatiable curiosity to understand how the universe works, and in the absence of scientific information, some wild stories ensued; Helios in his chariot driving the sun across the sky comes to mind, or a magical dirt act that created humans.

I recalled as well that many religions are sprung from specific socio-economic and political soil, as a means to cope with oppression or chaos.  The prospect of an all-saving messiah must’ve sounded really good to an entire populace who had been suppressed for centuries by foreign rule. The early international town of Medina and its surroundings was fraught with a materialistic, lustful lifestyle – a voice of strict religious tactics that sought to bring order to both home and government was welcome to many. Islam also provided an important common ground and unity to the various tribes of the Arabian Peninsula, who were more often fighting amongst themselves previously. Confucius’ sage words were a reasoned response to the inconsistency and injustice of the political climate of his time.  There is no quest for love in these religious histories, only the attempt to bring a sense of control to the current social environment.

Our religions were composed around worldly issues for their ability to provide answers to our curious questions and comfort to our social plight, not for the need of supernatural attention. I decided that leaving a religion didn’t mean I was giving up some vital element to my being; it merely meant accepting a more logical answer to the questions of the Universe.  My need for love was provided more than enough by my mother, siblings, friends, children, and spouse – not to mention an unusually large helping of self-esteem.

I contemplated a little further.   I considered the lives of those of my family and friends who live without religious influence, just to make sure I wasn’t alone, and I examined the love they exhibit as well as the love they accept.  This completely unscientific observation allowed me to witness that we are capable of immense depths of unconditional love entirely on our own.  This makes sense though, if we consider the fact that many other species in the animal kingdom share a sense of caring and compassion.  And if we consider that Homo sapiens have a tendency to perfect that which is evident throughout the animal kingdom, it is no stretch to assume that we humans are also capable of perfecting those traits of compassion and caring into…..that love thing.  We don’t require an outside source of adoration; the lives we lead provide us the opportunities to fill that need perfectly.

By the end of my walk I concluded that there is no inherent need within us to bond with an unseen power. That love thing is a wholly human notion, not something instituted by a mysterious deity.  Leaving behind a religion didn’t mean I was losing a source of mystic compassion, the reality in which I live provides all that I need thanks to those wonderful people I am privileged to share this time with.

Serious contemplation, over……for now.

Be Well,