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The burn out

lovesupreme

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I was deeply involved in Orthodox Judaism for about two years. After my inevitable falling out of my Jewish faith, it took over a year of strong atheism and spiritual confusion to get me back into a religious life.

Now, I've been Christian for a few months longer than the time when I was Jewish. My hope now is, of course, that I may Christ for the remainder of my life.

I'd like to think that one of the reasons why I've lasted as long as I have, given my predilection for obsession and other overzealous behavior, is that I explained to my spiritual father these unhealthy tendencies and we worked through a program of gradually acquiring the Faith. I checked in and continue to check in with him regularly, to assess how I was responding to any sort of new practice introduced and whether or not it was truly contributing to my spiritual growth or simply adding psychological stress to some unrealistic fantasy of "being religious."

It depresses me all the more, then, when I see people, especially those in their young adulthood (as I was when I first became religious), time and time again follow the same expected trajectory:

1) Nominally or non-religious

2) Hyper religious with unchecked zeal

3) Heavy doubt coupled with despondency, inevitably leading to...

4) Nebulous religious identity kept only out of the shame of being perceived as a complete failure, and finally:

5) Hard atheism and materialism


I really don't think we, as a religious community, do enough to combat this vicious cycle that plagues the lives of so many people who could live healthy and spiritually enriching lives. We discount the need for spiritual guidance. We insist on the acceptance certain tenants or political beliefs that are, at best, incidental to the core faith. We don't properly address the very real needs of people who come to the faith from atypical backgrounds. We attempt to fit ourselves and others into the "Orthodox mindset" without properly examining the minds we wish to conform.

I guess I don't really have any profound solutions to these issues. It just distresses me so to see people, whether online or in real life, go through this cycle time and time again. We're so hard on ourselves and each other, that we miss addressing these problems while the spirit is still willing. Often, we only see the signs of overzealous behavior and spiritual toxicity in hindsight. People are ashamed to bring up the issues that they find disagreeable or feel challenged by. There's a pressure to conform, immediately. Pastoral care for the individual is often an afterthought in the realm of lofty ideas of "correct stances."

That's all for now...
 

Porter ODoran

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I haven't seen your five-step pattern anywhere outside this forum. This is merely an observation. However, I do think it's very unusual for someone who's been serious about religion himself (I mean, as opposed to merely raised in it) to become an open Atheist -- unusual enough that if it happens it's very noticeable (and distressing). I've never personally known such a case and I have a great many religious friends in many Christian traditions. What I've seen among converts is three things: most become stable members; plenty find their enthusiasm waning, tho this amounts just to coming to church less often; and a few move on to another denomination, usually also an "unusual" one,  but for them Orthodoxy (or X) was just one instance in a lifelong pattern of this.

Regardless, your last two paragraphs are golden.
 

TheTrisagion

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I followed this 5 step pattern in my own life. After I was an atheist for awhile, the luster of that wore off and I got to where I am now. I think it is unusual for people not to go through a period of atheism in their lives. In our current society, I think it is almost a rite of passage into adulthood.
 

Sam G

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lovesupreme,

It's great to read that you've managed to break free of this cycle for yourself. Speaking from personal experience, trying to find that balance is one of greatest challenges facing converts, especially those who've come from atheism.

The only question I would ask is this: Who gets to define what over zealous is? I completely agree that we don't do enough as Orthodox Christian people to combat this tendency within our own ranks, but on the flipside I've also seen accusations of "zealotry" used to shut down valid critiques of laxity within the Church.

 

lovesupreme

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Sam G said:
The only question I would ask is this: Who gets to define what over zealous is?
I would say that falls entirely within the purview of pastoral care through one's spiritual leader.

Sam G said:
I've also seen accusations of "zealotry" used to shut down valid critiques of laxity within the Church.
I think that the charge of"zealotry" in this case is a false accusation against the Church and its teachings. Zealotry, at least by my estimation, is entirely a matter of action and attitude... and not the beliefs that govern those actions, at least not when one's beliefs are protected and tempered by the Church's holistic teaching. That is to say, we can fall into obsession over a certain teaching and develop attitudes and inclinations that ultimately go against the Church.

For example, if we focus only on the evil of abortion, as the Church rightly teaches, we might be driven to commit acts of violence against those who encourage or perform abortions. However, if we keep in mind also the Church's other teachings, such as not returning evil for evil, praying for our enemies, not choosing to live by the sword, etc. we can fully accept the evil of abortion while refraining from letting its presence drive us to uncharitable, sinful, and even fatal acts.

Of course, to some critics, even maintaining an unwavering stance on the sanctity of life, or sexual mortality, or what have you, is grounds for unacceptable "zealotry." But we seek our guidance from the Church and its shepherds.
 

lovesupreme

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Faced with the multitude of my countless sins, I at first feel this great urge to completely transform my life and do away with all the sources of distraction, despondency, and degeneracy I find in my life. Then, I feel as if my aims are all in vain, that I only seek to change out of some hidden pride. Then I realize that if I were to remove these things from my life, I would be forced to be with myself and that I would, given my history, in all likelihood veer into a deep depression where I could find nothing that would bring me joy. And so I continue to pile on distractions, allowing my spirit to atrophy, out of both a refusal to change but also a fear of changing too much, of not being able to face my own demons.
 

trevor72694

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lovesupreme said:
It depresses me all the more, then, when I see people, especially those in their young adulthood (as I was when I first became religious), time and time again follow the same expected trajectory:

1) Nominally or non-religious

2) Hyper religious with unchecked zeal

3) Heavy doubt coupled with despondency, inevitably leading to...

4) Nebulous religious identity kept only out of the shame of being perceived as a complete failure, and finally:

5) Hard atheism and materialism
Hi there.  :)

I'm a 21 year old, and have been through most of the things you've described (as evidenced by my posts - if you look through them and compare one year's writing with another, you might think they were written by different people.)

I learned that most of these things are not the fault of the Church.  I think the Church could be a little more understanding and less condemning of young people when they're going through this stuff, though. 

I learned in my classes that this kind of thing is actually quite normal.  Erikson is a theorist who talks about different stages of development.  When developing a solid sense of self, it's not uncommon for adolescents to be hyper-Orthodox, leave religion all together, or even to be hardcore Atheists, as you describe.  This is why it makes sense that this is the traditional age people lose their religion when they are younger.  In my case, I lost faith in God and religion when I was a bit older (20-ish), as I was having the "Intimacy vs. Isolation" crisis, and the idea that I have to be celibate because I'm gay but was given no support (and frankly no good reason for doing so that trumps psychological data on human sexuality) made me reexamine things and leave, and ultimately it has been good for my mental health.



This also has a lot to do with where we are with faith, and where those around us are with it and our interactions with them.  Often it's easier for people lower in Fowler's stages not to question (and ultimately leave) religion.  However, progression in Fowler's stages comes along with maturity (if ever).  This could also be why people leave Orthodoxy, or have the other responses you listed.  As I came to a more universalist view of things, I found my extremely elitist and conservative parish more and more ridiculous.



I think one of the first things the Church must STOP is treating people who go through this stuff as though they are not normal and are somehow doing wrong.  If the Church can't accommodate for people questioning and coming to different conclusions on all of this, something needs to change.  But then, for me, it's all nonsense anyway.
 

trevor72694

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Sam G said:
I've also seen accusations of "zealotry" used to shut down valid critiques of laxity within the Church.
I feel there is a difference between someone observing that some canon or doctrine is not being observed, and (as is often the case) Billy-Bob (sorry, I mean Athanasius) complaining that women are standing on the right side of the Church and he is being distracted.  There's an awful lot of ridiculous complaining, and I'd wager priests get more of that.
 

Cyrillic

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Tikhon.of.Colorado said:
That's a lot of words to say nothing.

Tikhon.of.Colorado said:
I lost faith in God and religion when I was a bit older (20-ish), as I was having the "Intimacy vs. Isolation" crisis, and the idea that I have to be celibate because I'm gay but was given no support
Tikhon.of.Colorado said:
But then, for me, it's all nonsense anyway.
Yeah, because you couldn't keep it in your pants. Nice reasoning.
 

trevor72694

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Cyrillic said:
Tikhon.of.Colorado said:
That's a lot of words to say nothing.

Tikhon.of.Colorado said:
I lost faith in God and religion when I was a bit older (20-ish), as I was having the "Intimacy vs. Isolation" crisis, and the idea that I have to be celibate because I'm gay but was given no support
Tikhon.of.Colorado said:
But then, for me, it's all nonsense anyway.
Yeah, because you couldn't keep it in your pants. Nice reasoning.
Au contraire - I've never had sex.  ;)
 

Porter ODoran

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Mr. Fowler's outline seems founded on narrowly materialist assumptions. For example, children are born with a love of God and much ability of self-direction.
 

orthonorm

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One of the Orthodox Priests I've been closest to would say, when he hears people talking about Spiritual Fathers, he begins counting the days till they leave.
 
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