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I have post-traumatic stress disorder. Like many so afflicted, I interpreted the trauma as a form of punishment. I’m not religious, but my mind spontaneously invented an idiosyncratic deity in the form of a sadistic, vindictive Fate that perpetually threatens to punish me again. And so the traumatic fear persists.

The problem is this. While I regard the above as a childish superstition born of fear, I nevertheless believe it on some level through a kind of Pavlovian conditioning. That is, the very fear of being punished by Fate brings on such paroxysms of terror that my mind then uses to “prove” the existence of this malevolent supernatural force. This may seem silly and insignificant, but it has totally paralyzed and made miserable my life.

When conventionally religious people have this problem, I think it’s called “scrupulosity.” The standard treatment is to have them speak to a religious authority, who consoles them and assures them that it’s only a misinterpretation of normal anxiety symptoms as being caused by a deity, that they’re not “bad people” deserving of punishment, etc. Using behavior therapy, they are then instructed to deliberately risk divine punishment (through thinking blasphemous thoughts, for instance) and when nothing happens the fear is extinguished. Crucially, if they don’t receive assurance from their religious authority then the fear remains (e.g., of eternal punishment in Hell) and the therapy won’t work. The problem for me, and for any other non-believer who is traumatized, is that there is no clear authority who can tell me that I need not fear supernatural punishment.

To the obvious suggestion that I seek a doctor qualified to treat this condition, I have and I am. But they haven’t helped, and they probably can’t help until one of them can answer this question and thereby give me the confidence needed to defy my fear: how to know that my superstitious anxiety about an evil Fate is, if not logically impossible, then at least highly improbable?

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  • Comments have been moved to chat; please do not continue the discussion here. Before posting a comment below this one, please review the purposes of comments. Comments that do not request clarification or suggest improvements usually belong as an answer, on Philosophy Meta, or in Philosophy Chat. Comments continuing discussion may be removed.
    – Geoffrey Thomas
    Feb 23 at 8:23
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    In my decades-long effort to comprehend how humans in general experience sources of cause; and to comprehend how humans express their ideas about sources of cause; I have noticed that most philosophers do not decompose their drama into patterns of emotion as described by Baruch Spinoza. Spinoza decomposes an emotion into a feeling of desire, pleasure, or pain accompanied by an idea of its cause. The question pertains to the judgment of good or bad; and to the ideas of the causes of good or bad; and to the fact that many humans recognize supernatural causes of good and bad. I vote to reopen. Feb 23 at 18:34
  • @Chris I don't think it is an appropriate edit to rephrase the question as "why believe in a good god rather than a bad one". The original question offered religion as an example of how people might deal with this fears there, but then just said OP doesn't have religion, so they don't have that means, and they asked how they deal with it instead. So the edit seems to deviate significantly from the original intent, and invalidates most of the existing 10 answers. An on-topic version of the question might've been to ask why one should reject belief in a bad god (@ h_undatus - feel free to edit).
    – NotThatGuy
    Feb 23 at 19:31
  • @Chris It's not appropriate to reframe a question so drastically. If this question made you think of a different question in the form of why "if a deity exists, they must be good", then you're more than welcome to ask a new question about that. ("Why one should reject belief in a bad god" would probably have been an appropriate reframing, given that this seems to match the author's intent more closely, and the answers are at least somewhat aligned with that, but maybe that's not entirely true either.)
    – NotThatGuy
    Feb 23 at 19:36
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    @NotThatGuy - That's fair. I can't disagree with your reasoning. Thanks for the new question h_undatas, I'll check it out. Feb 23 at 20:25

10 Answers 10

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Cognitive bias

Recognising our cognitive biases can help us deal with fears of things that don't seem to exist.

A bias towards unjustified fear helped us in ancient times, so evolution selected for that.

When we were still living in the wild, if we heard rustling in the bushes, we could either think it's probably just a squirrel or something and not pay much attention to it, or we can think it could be a tiger and we go onto high alert, our heart starts racing, our perception sharpens, etc. If it's actually a squirrel, thinking it's a tiger isn't helpful, but we survive either way. If it's a tiger, and we thought it was a tiger, we're most likely to survive. But if we thought it was a squirrel, that probably wouldn't go well. So if there's some uncertainty, we're usually better off thinking it's a tiger and being afraid.

Even if it was unwarranted most of the time, a fear response still helped us on average.

But that isn't the world we're living in any more.

If you're walking down a dark alley (except don't do that), then a heightened fear response is still helpful. But it's not really helpful for day-to-day life in modern society.

Our conception of supernatural beings came about more recently, we haven't had as much time to evolve to deal with that, and there isn't that much survival advantage for one response above another to the supernatural. So we just take the same response we learnt with tigers and we use it for the supernatural. Except that you can't go and check whether the supernatural is actually hiding behind a bush in order to validate or alleviate your fear, and you can't just wait a bit to see if anything happens. So we're using the same fear response, but we can't use any of the ways we learnt to get rid of that fear.

Except that we still have 1 rather hefty tool in our toolbox: reason. Now, it's often not immediately that effective at dealing with emotion, but it can help over the long term to analyse emotions and why we feel them.

Arguments against the supernatural

There is one main argument against supernatural claims: lack of evidence / the burden of proof / the default position / parsimony / Occam's razor.

We shouldn't believe things that don't explain any evidence. Of course one can assert that a particular piece of evidence is explained by something, but simply asserting that doesn't explain why or how it explains it (i.e. where does this fate gremlin exist, how are the interacting with reality, why are they messing with you, what justification do you have for believing any of this, etc.). One could say a claim doesn't explain the evidence if it can trivially be swapped out for similar competing claims that explain the evidence equally well. We also shouldn't accept claims that explain evidence can be explained more simply, or that can be explained by things that also explains other evidence (e.g. "fate gremlin explains A and natural causation explains B" is less preferable than "natural causation explains A and B").

The reasoning behind all of this, roughly speaking, is that, if we are consistent in accepting unnecessarily complex or non-explanatory claims, we may accept infinitely many other things, which may include contradictory things, or we may accept infinitely complex things (consider the idea of living in a simulation - if we have no bias against that based on simplicity, we also don't have a reason to reject the claim that we live in a simulation which is itself in a simulation, or the claim that we live in a simulation which is in a simulation, which is in a simulation, etc. - that's not a good epistemology).

Let's say your fate gremlin would punish you for A, B and C through punishments X, Y and Z. We could imagine another being might punish you for D, E and F through punishments U, V and W. And another one for G, H and I through R, S and T. Etc. Some of these might be really bad, while others might be a bit more petty and punish you when you wear the colour blue by occasionally making a tomato you're eating sour or making you stub your toe.

And then you might imagine the inverse of all of that where there's a fate anti-gremlin that instead rewards you for doing A, B and C. And similarly for all the others.

Do you have any better reason to accept the existence of the one you believe versus all the others? You probably don't.

Lack of evidence is the main argument mostly because such beliefs are typically unfalsifiable (you can't prove that such a being doesn't exist), although there may also be other arguments against certain beliefs. If there were some powerful supernatural being after you, they'd probably be able to do a lot worse than whatever may have befallen you in your life (which is not to take anything away from how bad your life experiences may have been, but every moment of joy you experience serves as evidence against the existence of such a being).

Also, if there is such a powerful being, they'd be really petty and immature to be mean to one particular human among billions on this big rock, orbiting one of hundreds of billions of stars in our gigantic galaxy, which is one of hundreds of billions of galaxies in our colossal universe. It would be more petty than a child torturing ants for fun.

Another way to deal with fear is by making the thing you fear seem really silly, as shown above. Every time some minor annoyance happens to you, you could be like "Curse you fate gremlin!". That's just an idea, anyway.

Therapy?

You mention that you've spoken to therapists ("doctors"?), and I'd definitely recommend that you continue to do so, since they can help you make sense of and deal with what you're feeling and thinking.

Not all therapists are equally good, and it wouldn't be particularly unusual to need to try a few different ones to find one that works for you. I recently saw a video by Louis Rossmann making an interesting (if somewhat blunt) comparison of how easily we're willing to spend time and money on other things, and we may try various solutions to deal with a problem, but when it comes to our mental health, we're very quick to altogether give up on therapy if it doesn't immediately help (if we even try it at all). This may or may not apply to you, and it may not apply so much to someone who's struggling with money, but it seems worth mentioning and keeping in mind.

You mention that you're not religious, but you may still find some helpful resources from recovering from religion, since fearing the supernatural is a common problem for former (and current) theists. There is also the secular therapy project (mostly US-specific) that may help if you have a hard time finding therapists that don't try to solve your problem with one supernatural being by giving you a different supernatural being.

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    How does one differentiate between a justified and unjustified fear? Feb 20 at 4:38
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    @Baby_philosopher One could say a fear is justified if the thing you're afraid of exists and it is a significant threat (or at least the evidence available suggests that this is likely the case). Although even a justified fear may not necessarily be useful (i.e. it doesn't help you achieve anything), which is an important distinction. I also wrote an answer where I talk about how warranted or useful fear is more generally.
    – NotThatGuy
    Feb 20 at 9:01
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    If you're walking down a dark alley (except don't do that) but if you have to, walk in the shadows instead of bright light.
    – WoJ
    Feb 20 at 16:52
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    @NotThatGuy Interesting. Part of me believes that one cannot fear something if he thought it was justified. For if a threat was actually justified, you would be too busy acknowledging the actual threat in fight or flight mode. Fear to me comes from a suspicion that something might be true but there’s not enough justification for the suspicion in reality. Feb 20 at 21:11
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    @Baby_philosopher As you're running away from the hooded figure with a knife, you'll probably be feeling a fair amount of fear. Not sure why you're running away when you have a knife, though. (That was a joke.) Fear based on a suspicion is more of a dread, angst or anxiety, whereas the fight-or-flight fear is more terror. But both of those are definitions of "fear".
    – NotThatGuy
    Feb 20 at 21:39
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  • Considering you are aware you need professional help, please take this speculation with a skeptical and critical mind.
  • In order for this question to belong to this Philosophy group, I would formulate it as "Why not to fear internal demons". My answer goes in that sense.

You know there is no malign entity who is trying to destroy you (and if-it-would-exist-1, it is clearly losing the battle, since you would be aware of it, you are seeking how to beat it and you are alive; if-it-would-exist-2, there would necessary exist an opposite entity who is protecting you). However, due to the disorder, your mind is exaggerating the risk perception in order for you to be safe and avoid the circumstances that lead you to the traumatic event. Don't worry, it is normal. However, there are some elements that help getting better in a faster way.

One. You are experiencing a common reaction. Finding people who is experiencing the same will make you notice your fears are common, and have no real base. Listen to your story from the lips of others will shrink your monsters. Communicate with others. And even more: helping others heal will help you heal faster.

Two. Every trauma is lived just once. If you had it just now, it is because you never had it before, and you needed to have it now. In many cases, if this kind of traumatic event never had come, we need to experience them, we prepare for it, unconsciously, and when it comes, we suffer it in extreme ways. In simple words, you might have prepared and created the traumatic event because you needed it. Now, it is done, your life will never be the same, and if you confront it good, you will thank life forever for having had it. That is my personal case. In popular terms, what doesn't kill you makes you stronger.

Three. A lot of publicity in the media try to make you feel fear in order to sell you something. Your mind is doing the same. So, listen to your mind, but filter the scary message and try to reach the core of the message. We are not perfect, and your mind is trying to profit of this situation to amend something, to make you better in some way.

Four. Write. Your mind is like a battlefield, and you can't understand what is happening among all the bombing and shouting. So, get a good notebook and write, write for hours. Write all you feel, write whatever you want to shout to the world, expel your demons and burn them. Write your fears in extreme detail, and then trace them to the roots. Writing forces you to organize your ideas and understand them. Writing helps you, the subject who is in pain, to become the healer of the object who is speaking on the paper. I save some of my writings, do it if you like. Or you can just throw your writings to the garbage. Important: let your monsters express clearly. Once you read that a couple of days later, you will probably laugh about it. That's how you kill them.

Five. The pattern you describe is called Victim Mentality. Victim mentality arises when you lose control of yourself, so, you perceive that others (either people or monsters) control your mind and your environment. The trick is not to avoid being a victim (anyone can be one), but to change the use of time you use in thinking: don't focus on what they are making you, focus on what you can do. Don't focus in your suffering, focus on your potential. As soon as you think in how they are acting upon you, you are losing. The only way to win is thinking on what you can do. If you invest time thinking in how politicians steal you, you will get blocked (they start to win), then you will feel depressed, and then you will get fear and get more blocked. What you should do is avoid investing even a microsecond thinking on that, but on what you can do about it. The time you spent on something decides what happens with your mind. Remember that either you are a pessimist or either you are an optimist, you are right in both cases. So, stop thinking about what they do to you. That's how you kill them. Victim mentality is about what you spend your thinking time on: you can pity you as a victim, or you can concentrate on finding intelligent ways to improve.

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I deal with something very, very similar, where I fear the existence of hell given the religion that I grew up in. I grew up Muslim and came across seeming coincidences that seem extremely hard to explain without a God.

But God, like any other supernatural force that your mind can conjure up, has no explanatory power. Whatever you think can be explained by God can be replaced with a naturalistic alternative.

Of course, this is not proof that everything is naturalistic. But when picking between two theories, and without any independent reason to pick the god theory over the natural one, the natural one is more simpler and hence should be preferred.

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  • I'm not religious, but it surely goes against the grain of a philosophy forum to assert that all possible roles of a God are explained with (perspectives from) natural science, as if this were a very simple resolution rather than one piece of a very complicated puzzle.
    – FShrike
    Feb 19 at 15:34
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    If naturalism is supposed to have more explanatory power than metaphysical systems which allow for the supernatural, I imagine naturalists wouldn't struggle so much to explain basic realities such as qualia, consciousness, free-will or even causality - normally they give up and adopt some eliminativist position. Whether one believes there are satisfactory naturalist solutions, it's undeniable that naturalism has created more problems than it solves. So it's hard to take the belief that there's always a naturalistic alternative as more than a dogmatic assertion.
    – Mutoh
    Feb 19 at 21:23
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    @Mutoh I believe you are missing the point. Actually, "explanatory power" must have the explanatory part. This means that a supernatural force carries zero explanatory power, because it misses the point of explaining how it works. If you say that God created the universe, this affirmation carries no explanatory power, because you did not say how he did it. Naturalism has explanatory power because it has the "how" part.
    – Guilherme
    Feb 20 at 1:38
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    @FShrike actually I believe that saying that "the universe exists because God" is what goes against a philosophy forum. God is not a simple resolution. Even if God created the universe, we must discuss by what mechanisms he did it, what comes before God, is there more than one God, etc.
    – Guilherme
    Feb 20 at 1:58
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    @Mutoh Let’s suppose that naturalism has no explanation for consciousness, qualia, etc. Then, these things either have a) a hidden explanation or b) no explanation. In the case of a), saying God did it doesn’t give us the how, thus one can simply prefer a naturalistic explanation without knowing its “how” as well. b) means there is no further explanation left: we must simply accept that they exist without further cause Feb 20 at 3:34
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Here is how I see it. When life delivers a punch, for whatever reason, or probably just by accident, we might develop this idea of the world being a dangerous place, populated by people who don't care, or see others as a competition or a threat. Unfortunately, once this idea sets in, it could easily become a self-fulfilling prophecy. People are like mirrors -- they reflect on us our energy, the vibes that we give out. We see the other person as a threat, we become defensive, we put our guards up. The other person, who harbored no ill will, feels they are being treated unfairly, and assumes a defensive posture themselves. This becomes a vicious circle, pulling everyone down -- so why don't you try to break it?

Maybe do this experiment -- try being good to others. Try to be friendly with strangers. Smile and say hi to the cashier at a grocery store. Try to help, maybe volunteer. You might have to force this change, it might feel unnatural and even insincere. But sometimes we've got to fake it till we make it.

Again, do it as an experiment, and see if maybe you start feeling better about this world, the other people, and even your fate.

As for finding an authority -- our fears, or ideas, how we see the world and others, those simply reflect our experience to date. No authority, not the people who try to help you, not even God can invalidate this experience, no one can deny what has happened and what is still happening to us. But maybe it is up to us to change our experience going forward -- by changing how we present ourselves to the world.

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Having not experienced PTSD myself, nor worked with people afflicted by it, nor suffered religion of any kind, I can still offer this attempt:

In my personal experience, based on being somewhat past half-time of my expected life-span, with two significant crises in my past (one in private, one at work), I have come to enjoy mindfulness meditation (Vipassana) to work on my mind.

This has nothing to do with religion, whatsoever. While these practices are very old and mostly expounded in texts belonging to Buddhism, nothing of the belief-based aspects of that religion is required in any way, form or fashion whatsoever.

The meditation itself is as simple as can be: sit down, start a timer, close your eyes and stay that way for 10 minutes, up to whatever length you can and want to manage. It is not necessary to sit in any fancy posture; use whatever is relatively comfortable, but don't lie down if possible (or you may fall asleep). If pain does occur, you are allowed to move; be nice to yourself. Cushions are allowed, especially under the knees if you decide to sit cross-legged.

On the most basic level, there is no more to prescribe. In practice, you will add the direction of paying close attention to your breathing (i.e., the feeling of the air cooling your nostrils and your lungs inflating, and so on). Depending on which variety you prefer, you can also kindly guide your mind to pay attention to other aspects of objective reality (basically, anything that is available to your senses, including proprioception and thoughts). Itching on your skin, tension in your muscles, sounds, smells are all great objects.

One caveat: this practice, while being so easy and simple, can be extremely impactful. Maybe not if you do it for 10 minutes, but I have been on 10-day retreats (where you meditate for 10 hours each day with a strict time regime) and there were very tough times in there (and not only regarding bodily pain); and on one occasion something literally life-changing happened. This stuff has the capability to do something with the mind, for sure. I do not recommend you do such a retreat right away (or ever, really, unless you want to), and for example the non-profit Dhamma orginazion which offers such retreats globally, for free, strictly recommends to not take part if you have psychiatric problems or are in a state of "upheaval".

Back to the normal 10-minute daily session: what I found was that eventually your mind registers several aspects about its own workings. For example you quickly find out that your mind (or consciousness - whatever it is that is paying attention) is not the same as your thoughts. You find out that you cannot really control your thoughts (and if, during practice, you notice that you have been lost in thought for a few minutes, you are not supposed to stress out about that, but gently return your attention to breath or other senses - be nice to yourself). If you do decide to play audio (i.e. guided meditations) you might become acquainted with classic Buddhist metaphors like your thoughts being like a swarm of apes running to and fro chaotically; this is obviously not a great insight, but makes it easier to accept your brain's behaviour with humour.

Also, for me personally, I now (after meditating on and off for decades) have a kind of "proprioception of the mind"; I very quickly recognize, for example during work, when my stress level spikes, or when my thoughts are running rampant; and even just recognizing that helps to marshal the less savoury aspects to some degree. There are more fundamental experiences but I leave them to you to detect - this is all a kind of experimental, experiential process; you do not really need to expect anything, or believe in anything, to start. You will figure out if it works for you, or hurts you, soon enough. Even if you do not get great insights, just sitting still and breathing has been shown scientifically to reduce stress, so you can take that benefit pretty much for granted.

I would assume (with all the caveats given above) that you would eventually come to be able to at least witness when your worrisome thoughts start again, or to be more relaxed about it.

So that's it. If you have the time, you could do worse than inform yourself more deeply about this (especially if there are recommendations for people with PTSD), and try it out for a few minutes a day.

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The Bhagavad Gita, a sacred Hindu text, offers insights that might help in addressing this situation. While it doesn't directly address post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) or scrupulosity, it provides philosophical teachings that could potentially offer solace and guidance.

Here are some key points from the Bhagavad Gita that may be relevant to your situation:

  • Detachment from Results: The Bhagavad Gita teaches the importance of performing one's duty without being attached to the outcome. This can be applied to your situation by focusing on the present moment and doing what needs to be done, rather than dwelling on fears of punishment or what might happen in the future.

  • Self-Realization: The Gita emphasizes the importance of self-realization and understanding one's true nature beyond the physical body and mind. By delving into self-inquiry and understanding the nature of consciousness, one may gain insight into the illusory nature of fear and the conditioned patterns of the mind.

  • Universal Order (Dharma): The concept of Dharma, or cosmic order, is central to the Bhagavad Gita. Understanding that there is a larger universal order at play, beyond individual actions and circumstances, can provide a sense of perspective and peace. Surrender to the Divine: The Gita encourages surrendering the ego to the divine will. This doesn't necessarily mean subscribing to a particular deity or religious interpretation, but rather letting go of the need to control everything and trusting in a higher power or universal intelligence.

  • Discipline of the Mind: The Gita teaches the importance of disciplining the mind through practices such as meditation and self-awareness. By observing and understanding the workings of the mind, one can begin to break free from conditioned patterns and fears.

While these teachings may not directly address the fear of punishment by a malevolent force, they offer a philosophical framework that could help in finding peace and overcoming the paralyzing effects of superstition and anxiety. It might also be beneficial to seek support from a therapist or counselor who is open to exploring these philosophical perspectives alongside evidence-based therapeutic techniques.

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  • +1 Dharma is more like individual order. For universal order ritam is better. Buddhism is closer to what you say but then one would need to reference a different scriptural text
    – Rushi
    Feb 21 at 2:56
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    I very much doubt that the OP's fear of superstitious interference will be improved by your suggestion that he or she trusts in a higher power. By definition, that would be superstitious interference. Feb 22 at 1:52
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OMG (pun fully intended) aren't the ancient religions good at doing this to you? I have no more wisdom than the next guy but do consider these few things that have helped me, I also suffer PTSD and CTST:

  1. Understand that some people will corrupt anything good that resonates with the people in order to control their behaviour, including religion. Pope Urban II for example was supposed to be an exemplary Christian; he ordered the crusades, which to this day cause strife between East and West. Also consider, he maybe thought he was doing a good thing by stopping Europe from infighting, but ultimately he made a mistake.
  2. Consider that if there is a God that took the trouble to make you, then why would he/she/they/it want to hurt you?
  3. Nightmares are common, especially amongst us sufferers, they are necessary though for your brain to get though this stuff, it's how we process it.
  4. It's OK to be angry about it, as long as you don't hurt anyone or their possessions. I got a punch bag a few years back, it's helped me a lot.
  5. Everyone fears this, no matter how staunchly athist, agnostic etc. You are not alone.
  6. Did you do anything wrong to justify these thoughts? If so, find a way to make peace or forgiveness. If not, let it go.
  7. Are you able to look in the mirror and say you're a good person? If so, be calm. If not, go do something about it.
  8. Mortality is scary, we all have to deal with it. I am right now. There's no guide book, you just have to be strong. I can't emphasise that enough; be strong.

Above all though, don't forget that regardless of religion the notion of "hell" is a form of control. Look around; how often do you see people threatening each other with violence to get what they want?

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  • I am a christian myself and wouldn't describe Pope Urban II, or most of the Popes, as being an exemplary Christian. He, as many other Popes, religious leaders or people claiming to be Christian, greatly misused his power to do horrible things, kill people, and to gain wealth and power. That's contrary what Jesus (in whom these people allegedly believe in) Himself said: "who exalts himself will be humbled and vice versa", or "love your enemies" etc. Feb 21 at 12:50
  • Regarding point two, what if pain and sorrow are necessary for us to actually begin searching for God? Would you believe that God creates people only that they feel good but don't acknowledge God or the need that they have for Him? Feb 21 at 12:57
  • @returntrue Apologies if my statements seemed insensitive. I meant on paper a pope is supposed to exemplary, is all. Regarding your other point, I completely agree, but the pain I think would not come from your maker. Would you harm your kids? Thanks for your input.
    – Absinthe
    Feb 21 at 13:02
  • Thanks for the clarification. And you're right, I also don't think the pain comes from God. But maybe there is an evil power contrary to God that tries to exert all its evil on us humans, and while it often seems to succeed, in fact it doesn't because the afflicted evil probably draws the human closer to God. What do you think? Feb 21 at 13:19
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    @returntrue I replied in chat, but you won't get notifications, just check in from time to time.
    – Absinthe
    Feb 22 at 2:37
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This is philosophical only at the very beginning, and not new to you: You know it and I know it — there is no such deity. It is only in your head.

The remainder of this post is advice following from this. The advice is not to be in your head too much. Rational thought gets you only that far: You need to heal and protect yourself during this healing phase. Avoid being alone and spiraling. This is not only about distraction but also about seeing other people. Even mundane, every-day interactions are good for us.

There is some standard advice about how to find company, and I think it's good: Get a dog, start a hobby, start a sport. Bowling, backgammon, mah-jongg — all these activities tend to have hobby groups which may be open for new members to try out. These days there are meet-ups, of which I have heard good things. People there meet to do activities together, like cooking or hiking or going to the theater. All these activities are vehicles which allow you to meet people casually and without needing any deep commitment, centering around some interaction.

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    +1. I'll add: See the sun! If possible Surya namaskar to the rising sun is a wonderful detox
    – Rushi
    Feb 21 at 2:26
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    „You know it and I know it — there is no such deity. It is only in your head.“ - even as a Christian, I approve: the deity that exists AFAIK is good, not sadistic as described by the OP. Feb 21 at 17:54
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    @returntrue Might want to check the O.T. sometime... Feb 22 at 2:02
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    @SodAlmighty Oh, we have. Even (or maybe even especially) there, judgement is always executed with purpose rather than malice, and it is always accompanied by some measure of mercy.
    – jpmc26
    Feb 22 at 7:50
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    @jpmc26 Veering OT here, I'm tempted to ask a question over at Christianity -- but: "Purpose" is in the eye of the beholder ("I spank you only because I love you"); and the amount of mercy shown in wiping out all of mankind save one family for things they did because the way you, my God made them -- in your image, of all things! -- is so modest that an outside observer like me has serious trouble discerning it at all. It's more like rebooting your simulation which had a runaway excursion, where mercy is not even a category. Feb 22 at 9:00
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I am a bit psychotic (and a bit autistic), and I have at periods suffered from severe panic attacks: not a rational fear, whence rationalization can't help, it was/is a purely visceral thing. Namely, I could laugh at it, while nevertheless being devastated.

Two observations from my own experience (as well as my various studies):

  • Fear of the "supernatural" is rather archetypal and quite natural (i.e. this has nothing to do with one's religiosity: one's cultural setup only determines the specificity of the ideas, not their general sense): not per chance most psychotic crisis involve supernatural experiences and thoughts.

  • Fear is a symptom: individual development tribally goes through rites of passage, where the function of rite is to help (make the experience less traumatic) by giving a (mystic, in the tribal case, but I'd say necessarily) sense to the experience and a position to the individual and to the experience in the cosmic order of things. Almost none of that experience of growing up has survived in our society and culture, whence now we are essentially faced with two options: either eliminate the symptom; or, on the contrary, do endure your fears and face your monsters, and do get through to the other side, which is very painful and even dangerous (needs a lot of strength and maybe self-confidence), as (typically) you'll be on your own at best, socially and culturally...

DISCLAIMER: I am NOT a doctor.

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The standard treatment is to have them speak to a religious authority, who consoles them and assures them that it’s only a misinterpretation of normal anxiety symptoms as being caused by a deity, that they’re not “bad people” deserving of punishment, etc.

I don't know what you're reading, but as a Christian, that is outright contradictory to the religion's most basic tenants. Nowhere is this more explicitly stated than Romans 3 (ESV), especially verse 23:

for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,

Using behavior therapy, they are then instructed to deliberately risk divine punishment (through thinking blasphemous thoughts, for instance) and when nothing happens the fear is extinguished.

The very thought is shocking in a Christian worldview.

For if we go on sinning deliberately after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a fearful expectation of judgment, and a fury of fire that will consume the adversaries. Anyone who has set aside the law of Moses dies without mercy on the evidence of two or three witnesses. How much worse punishment, do you think, will be deserved by the one who has trampled underfoot the Son of God, and has profaned the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified, and has outraged the Spirit of grace?

Hebrews 10:26-29 (ESV)

Christians don't regard the lack of immediate punishment as evidence against God's judgement. Instead, it is considered evidence of God's mercy:

The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance. But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, and then the heavens will pass away with a roar, and the heavenly bodies will be burned up and dissolved, and the earth and the works that are done on it will be exposed.

2 Peter 3:9-10 (ESV)

Divine judgement is a legitimate fear in Christianity. It is not unreasonable. It is not imagined. It is a given. So what do we about it?

The solution is Christianity's other most basic tenant:

For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God. And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil. For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed. But whoever does what is true comes to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that his works have been carried out in God.

John 3:16-21 (ESV)

We are called to believe in the provision of God for forgiveness of our sins, and we must live out that forgiveness in how we choose to live our lives. We don't do so through our own mere willpower; God Himself provides what is necessary for us to do His will. But we must submit to the changes He works upon us.


So what does this have to do with you, a person who doesn't even believe in a conscious, much less active, deity? I would contend it still has a lot to do with you.

You've taken the notion that your fear is irrational as axiomatic, but there is at least one philosophy that rejects this axiom wholesale. So I think it's worth revisiting. The very fact you're experiencing so much difficulty living under that framework suggests that you yourself don't really believe it. You might assent to it intellectually, but that is not the same as believing in something.

Even without a personal deity, there are unquestionably invisible forces at work around us. Whether you believe in a "natural" law inherent to our existence or merely an emergent set of properties from the chaotic interactions between billions of people in societies, there are consequences to your choice of values and the actions you take in pursuit of them. Those results are very real and beyond your control, and there is no benefit to denying or trying to avoid that reality.

And in that light, your experience starts to make a lot more sense:

The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and the knowledge of the Holy One is insight.

Proverbs 9:10 ESV

Whether it's a deity, "fate" as you call it, or merely objective truth, there is an order to the world around you, and if you make unwise choices, you will suffer unpleasant consequences. Everyone suffers through no fault of their own sometimes (such is the nature of our world), but you will unquestionably suffer more by making poor decisions yourself. In the worldview I believe, your fear isn't irrational. Some level of "fear" of such powerful forces beyond your control is not only rational, but healthy. You're just misunderstanding what your sensations are telling you.

But that's not so terrifying because there is a solution:

Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.

Matthew 11:28-30 (ESV)

Whether you believe it's the voice of God or merely an intuition, what you are describing sounds to me to be consistent with the kind of experience a Christian goes through. We are called to change. For us, the way to find peace is not to ignore and resist the call, but to answer it. Rather than let the fear of judgement paralyze us, we must let the promise of peace motivate us. That isn't easy, but it is better.

There may be behaviors in your life that are holding you back. Maybe they are fairly innocent on their own, but if they get in the way of doing better things, then they start to become a vice and will prevent you from being at peace. And while letting them go may be painful and difficult, you may well find that once you've moved on, you don't really miss them as much as you thought you might. And you cannot simply cut those things out of your life; you must replace them with something more noble to fill the void they will leave.

Align yourself with the truth, the betterment of yourself, and the well being of others, no matter how difficult, and make choices to live according to it. Then you can live with the peace that comes with the knowledge that you've done what you've been called to. That's what my philosophical framework teaches.

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    "Stuff happens when people do stuff, therefore God exists" is quite a reach. You don't seem to be making any case whatsoever to link those things together, or to argue for the truth of Christianity, other than offering a few "this is what a book says". That would be fine if you're trying to argue that the Bible is a neat story (although in that case I would point you to some other quotes...), but it doesn't say anything about truth. Also, a fear that has "totally paralyzed and made miserable" someone's life is most definitely not "healthy".
    – NotThatGuy
    Feb 22 at 14:04
  • @NotThatGuy "You don't seem to be making any case whatsoever..." That's correct. I'm not making a case for the truth of Christianity. I'm explaining that a number of premises in the question are explicitly denied in widely held worldviews. I'm not trying to make a convert here; I'm suggesting that the OP's perspective needs reconsideration, irrespective of theism or atheism. I can only assume you didn't bother to read the latter portion of the answer, where that is made abundantly clear.
    – jpmc26
    Mar 7 at 0:32

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