Journeys to Humanism: Leaving the Order and Searching for Support

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Journeys to Humanism,’s regular series, features real stories from humanists in our community. From heartwarming narratives of growth, to more difficult journeys, our readers open up about their experiences coming to humanism.

Terri Arrigon
Setauket, NY

I attended a Catholic girls’ academy for high school and became passionate about my religion, admiring the dedication of the nuns who taught us. Immediately upon graduating, I entered their order of sisters. I stayed for four years, progressing to temporary vows of poverty, chastity and obedience.

I met my husband-to-be at the order’s college. He was my instructor. I admit that was the final impetus to leave the convent.

After that, I kept thinking about God, etc., and realized that all the justifications I was taught and accepted regarding God’s will and evil in the world didn’t jive. I also began to see the Bible as mythology. Many questions arose: Why do we thank God when we have been spared but someone else hasn’t? Why does he always get a pass no matter what evil befalls his creation?

Of course, I had lost all faith in the corrupt religious institutions. I needed none of it to live a moral life, which I try to do every day without expecting any reward now or after I die. I happily work at a soup kitchen as my way of being of service. I am liberated from the guilt I had felt in my young years when I was in the thrall of the Catholic Church.


Donna Russell
Roscommon, MI

I was indoctrinated into religion from birth, like the majority, as was my husband. We had both left the church as teens and were not especially religious, but we decided to have our daughters attend church with their grandparents to “learn good morals.” We still considered ourselves “Christians.”

It wasn’t until I studied a double major in the fine arts at a prominent university that I truly began questioning the existence of an omniscient being in the sky. After realizing how ancient religions were really about power and politics—continuing to this day—I searched for something much closer to nature. I started with Wicca but that was much the same as any other religion, so I moved onto Spinoza’s pantheism. I was now moving away from any god and considered myself agnostic and finally atheist.

While going through treatment (two surgeries, chemo, and radiation) for breast cancer I searched for a secular cancer support group and could find none.

Finally I found an atheist breast cancer support group on Facebook. It was pretty good at first, until a member began touting very hateful rhetoric (like wishing others had cancer just because they were Christian and pushing prayers). I spoke up against that hate but came across more of it on Facebook when I dared to tell family and friends that I did not want prayer, that I am atheist, and posted “Happy Atheist Day” on a community site. Many did not respect my personal belief at all. Some told me they were praying for me anyway or worse (they could’ve kept that to themselves) and total strangers on the community page told me I should move and find another community. I left Facebook and lost some family and friends along the way. So much for support when I needed it most.

While searching once again for a supportive, atheist group, I came across the humanist page. This group of people did not seem hateful and were non-believers. Although I have found pleasant, knowledgeable company I still have not found that secular cancer support so badly needed by so many of us. My hope is that will change someday soon. I believe in good!

P.S. My husband and daughters (one an RN at a large metro hospital, the other a college fine arts adjunct at two colleges) are also agnostic/atheist.

We all have our own stories of how we came to be humanists, and we want to hear yours! Fill out the form here to be featured in this series.