The first step is fear. Most religions rely on fear as some sort of a control tactic. If you aren't afraid, you won't obey. So they create rules (commandments), and they create sins to make us constantly feel guilty, needing retribution or forgiveness of a higher power. If you believe in that higher power, there's always salvation. Along with it comes a life of servitude, tithing, and coercion, but hey it's there. When we stop believing, it's harder to stop the fear. The doubt. "What if" we will tell ourselves. What if we are wrong, and that Ultimate Being is really watching us and tsk-tsk-tsking us for what we are doing/thinking/saying. It permeates our relationships and poisons our brains.
The next step is anger. Once you can get past the fear stage, or IF you get past the fear stage. Yeah, let's back up for a sec. During your fear stage, if you talk to anyone in your religion/cult, what are they going to say to you? "Talk to your pastor" or "pray with me for advice" or "just turn to Jesus, he will guide you". That is insanely frustrating. When you feel that fear, it's LOGIC trying to escape. It's your logical brain saying, "Hey you, silly human. I've got some cognitive dissonance going on here. Help me resolve it!" The way to help resolve cognitive dissonance is not by ignoring it and further masking your doubts by pushing them further down. It's by researching for yourself. EVIDENCE. Humans crave it. From birth, we are little scientists; testing gravity, testing elasticity, testing viscosity, performing tests to see what happens, and then repeating to ensure we get the same result. So......... IF you get past that fear stage and you enter atheism, you often will start to get angry. You can't believe the things you used to say and do. You can't believe that you used to believe in a literal talking snake, a literal virgin birth, a literal man in the sky watching you to make sure you don't masturbate, and that the crackers are literally trans-substantiated into Jesus's body, and the wine into His blood. You think of all the relationships you messed up because of religion. You think of all the times you self-sabotaged because you thought your god wouldn't approve. It could be as simple as that food dish that smelled amazing, but it had shellfish/pork in it. Or that guy/girl who made your heart flutter, but he was a different denomination and your parents wouldn't approve. Even the comments you made on others' videos about how they are going to Hell, or they are a bad person or bad parent. All the HARM you caused simply because you were born in America/Canada/Saudi Arabia, and bred to believe in certain things. This stage can last a very long time. It can be quite annoying to your friends and family as you eviscerate religion on your Facebook feed or make Thanksgivings and Christmases awkward because you can't keep your mouth shut.
The next stage is serenity. You experience an intense calmness and oneness with the world. Death doesn't really scare you anymore because you realize it's just non-existence and you were non-existent for billions of years before you existed, and you'll be non-existent for billions more. You really value your life and understand that if all you have is 100 years, you best not waste them. You start to accept yourself for who you are, and start to wonder about what more you could become.
The next stage is doubt/regret. You will have doubts and regrets. These creep in from time to time as you see other atheists do or say things that you think are shitty. You wonder "did I pick the wrong team?" You wonder if you would just be happier living in your happy little delusion with your parents and original friends. But mostly you miss that comforting feeling that you could say a few words and "know" that all was right. You were forgiven. Anything bad you did, was wiped clean and you had a fresh slate. As an atheist, you don't have that comfort. You have to own everything that you do. When you do shitty things and hurt people, that's on you. For the world/humanity, that's a great thing. It means humans would be more accountable for their action. For yourself, that sucks. Especially if you still can't shake the "sinful" feeling when you express your sexuality, drink, do drugs, etc.
The next stage is connectivism. Google spell check said I made that word up. Fuck you Google. That means that you realize that once you have totally given up your old "tribe", you need to find a new one. If you are reading this, feeling lost and feeling like you could never give up religion completely because it is also your social circle... please know that you aren't alone. I bet that if you google ""Atheist" + "your_city_name"" you will find something there. A meetup group, a book club, an online forum, anything. If not, start one. What's the worst that can happen? Wait, do you live in Saudi Arabia? scratch that. It's not worth death. Please escape that country as quickly as you can and pretend you believe in whatever archaic nonsense will keep you alive. Don't be a hero. You don't deserve beheading for blogging. It is a wonderful feeling when you find your tribe.
The last stage is activism. Once you're in your happy little atheist clique, you really start to wonder... Is THIS all there is? Is this all we do? Do we just sit around and talk about how we all don't believe in God? WTF? No, that's not it my dear reader. Those who reach this stage do wondrous things. Sometimes it's all online. They are social justice warriors fighting in comment sections to protect the disenfranchised and marginalized. They use their white privilege (yes, most atheists are white men it seems) to help better the situations of others less privileged. They march in Pride Parades. The listen to every TED Talk that there is on atheism/religion and they firmly solidify their beliefs. They study counter-Christian apologetics so that when someone uses faulty logic (Pascal's Wager, morality comes from god, et. al.) you can tear it apart so quickly that it will make their head spin. And you know what? You probably won't change their mind. And due to the backfire effect, you may actually solidify THEIR position. However... for people listening, reading, observing.... you are planting a seed of doubt. They think "hmmm that other argument actually made a bit more logical sense". And once that happens, that person is firmly on a track for step 1... fear.
What happens from fear is up to that person, their support circle, and how vibrant, accepting, loving, and compassionate the atheist community is in that person's area. As atheists, we have to "give people parachutes" to jump away from religion. In some religions (LDS, Islam, esp), you would be completely ostracized from family and friends. As hard as that is, you have to get to the anger stage. Once you get there, you will realize your life is much better without those people. You will feel like you are being more true to yourself and the friends you gain by being true to yourself are also more likely to solidify your decision.
There is one complication. Family.
When I "came out" to my mother, it was no big deal. She was a weak Catholic at best. My father was an alcoholic, so his response was incoherent at best. In short, by the time I came out (age 19), I had already been "agnostic" for 2 years and had a few relationships ruined by religion. But I realized that being true to myself was more important than faking a religion to get some pussy. It's important not to reward religious people with the chance at procreation if you are a "6+" on Dawkins' atheism scale lol.
My grandma and her sister who is an actual Sister (like a Catholic nun!!) both constantly remind me "you were baptized! come back to the church Danny". And anytime something good happens they say "oh that is providence Danny, God provides for you". So as I sit here by myself blogging for the first time in 4 years.... I can calmly say fuuuuuuuuuuuck thaaaaaaat. Haha. I'm not angry, but I will not let the beliefs of my grandparents and parents dictate my future.
I'm torn because my children will never have to go through this... that has good and bad implications. Might they not end up apathetic to anything/everything? They will be raised in a secular household that favours politics over religion, current events over prayers, and reading science texts over memorizing scripture. I can't see it being bad, but as a young parent, I'm always worried I'm doing it wrong. Perhaps my next stage in my activism would be to start a secular parenting group to help atheists with children improve their moral education skills. But my guess is that secular parents will already have the step up. Thanks for reading.