Visiting my 23-years-hometown of Los Angeles over the past week was a blast. I spent the religious holidays with my family and friends that I felt I hadn't seen in ages, and visited some new friends I'd made over the years. I feel good from that trip!
One question that came up a couple times when people from my religious community asked me about my new life in Washington, D.C. was my religion-- or lack thereof. Usually when I'm asked that question, it goes something like this:
"What made you believe your former religion isn't the true religion? What was the question you had that wasn't answered, which led you to stop being religious? What is the right religion, in your opinion?"
Being asked these questions are an important part of growing up. They force you to think about your life and your faith in your own conscious terms, and not in somebody else's. For me, they helped me realize that my reason for leaving religion was pretty simple and didn't actually have much to do with faith, but with psychology.
And the reason was this: I simply didn't feel like being religious anymore.
According to contemporary neuroscientists, 95 to 99 percent of our decisions, emotions, actions, and behaviors are controlled by our subconscious minds. So most people are really just thinking with about one percent of our minds, even if we think we're unbiased while everybody else is driven by emotion. As long as you're human, that's the case-- no matter if you're man, woman, extrovert, introvert, artist, or scholar.
Even if you're really, really in tune with your inner self, you're only thinking with about 5 percent of your conscious mind. So you could be making major life decisions that are almost completely motivated by your subconscious mind, but without you being aware of it.
Knowing this about my mind helped me better understand why I've made certain choices in my life including leaving religion, and why I may believe certain things to be true when other, perhaps more experienced people think differently.
I didn't stop being religious because my conscious mind thought that was the correct thing to do. I didn't study Torah commentary one day, come up with some deep philosophical epiphany, and suddenly realize that religion is all bullshit.
I stopped being religious because that was what my heart, led by my subconscious mind, felt like doing. That's it, really. And I suspect most people are like this.
As a religious person, I was a walking dead person. I hated my life, hated myself, hated that I hated my life, hated the people around me because I hated myself, and wanted so badly to be free or let loose or maybe find an outlet to ease my tortured mind. Religion not only didn't help me heal psychologically; it blocked my access to uncensored public information, basic entertainment, unmoderated human connection, unlimited world exploration, and pretty much any semblance of individual power.
I was never a rebel. I was a "good" kid, incredibly obedient. I feared religion more than most, and went above and beyond to please her and convince others to please her too. But religion was never satisfied. Religion injected me with constant feelings of shame, fear, guilt, and rage. Religion forbade me from speaking about religion to others in a way that could be interpreted negatively.
When I tried to talk about it, religion told me I was the only one with a problem. A mental problem, probably. Or perhaps worse: a tainted soul. And when life burned my flesh, religion watched me with jeering eyes, and said, "SEE? YOU HAVE SINNED. YOU DID NOT OBEY ME, AND NOW YOU FACE THE CONSEQUENCES."
I did not dare kill myself, because religion threatened to discard my corpse in public shame and disgrace my family. Religion kept me alive against my will. And even after I left her, she continued communicating with me, subtly. Taunting me. Threatening me. Jeering at me. Telling me I'm the only one. Everybody around me was loving religion except for me. Something was deeply wrong with me. Religion wasn't a person or idea, but my own mental prison.
So there you go. No big genius reason as to why I stopped being religious. Just the 95 to 99 percent of my mind that commands the army of faceless voices in my head.
For many, religion had the opposite effect. I know that's the case with my own sister, who is one of my favorite people in the world and also my best friend. For such people, more religion was the outlet they needed. It provided love, discipline, fulfillment, safety, stability, perhaps also a different kind of freedom. My sister vibes with those feelings.
I'd be lying if I said I think religion is great and dandy, and life can be just as dandy and happy and carefree with religion as it is without. Actually, I've got this wet dream where I walk up to everybody who I think is religious and shake them up and yell at their faces about how they're being controlled by power hungry mind controllers who would rather keep them forever compliant than curious.
But that's coming from my instinctive self. The 95 to 99 percent I have no control over. So am I really more mentally free than they are? Eh... probably not. And that's okay.