Atheists Enjoying Church

Sarah Bowman
Sarah Bowman, Writer & Researcher, volunteer at Atheist Secular Humanism

Sure. By that I mean people who are self-aware and consciously atheist. Some do it for the community. Some do it for the sake of family and peace in the home. Some do it for income because preaching or music is the only “profession” they have training for.

These atheists tend to be “in the closet” because they know if they came out with their atheism their lives would be disaster. I’ve read stories of young men with wives and little children who would find themselves unemployed and homeless—along with their wives and babies—if they came out as atheists. Other atheists would find themselves estranged from spouse and without custody of children if they came out. While still others would be kicked out of the home by parents.

Do they enjoy participating in their religion this way? I think many enjoy the secular humanist part of it. As social animals, humans enjoy singing, socials, messages of peace and goodwill to each other, caring for the young, old, ill, and needy. These have always been part and parcel of religious life, as well as human communities in general.

There are also a great many people in religion who are “faking it till they make it,” which in my opinion basically means they can’t feel their belief (and therefore are atheists). Obviously, in their own minds atheism is unacceptable so their conscious position is that they believe. They take very active positions in their religions to prove to themselves that they are real, i.e. they are “faking it till they make it.”

I contrast these “fake-it-till-you-make-it” people with those who “have always known” that there is “something out there,” or that God exists. Such people do exist. In my experience they (the ones who have always known there is a God) are the quiet ones in the land and don’t make much fuss of their religion, though they will be there when there is a need, i.e. they are “active.” They will also preach and lead Sunday School. They are not atheists in any sense of the word and this post does not apply to them.

It’s the fakers that I believe are atheists on some level, but they are active in their religions and I believe they enjoy being active. They want very badly to believe in God and acting out their belief makes them feel good. That is my theory.

So yes, I think there are a lot of atheists active in religion and I think they enjoy it.

Do they do it because they enjoy it? I can’t speak for others but I did for a while, until it felt empty and hypocritical. I had been absent from church for a while and then came back. People praised me for being there, saying how good it was to see me. I knew they meant it was good to see me being active in God’s worship. That made me feel so hypocritical—a very unpleasant feeling—that I quit going. What I had gone for was the music and good people’s company but I would rather be lonely than feel hypocritical. Besides, the music was empty when I knew there was no God to receive the worship.

PS. Since then I attended and enjoyed a few worship services at a different church because I was curious what it would be like. But then people started being too friendly again in the I’m-glad-to-see-you-in-church vein and I quit. I just can’t handle:

  • openly lying about my intentions or pretending to be interested in God when I’m not; that’s hypocritical about so-called holy matters, OR
  • telling people in their own place of worship, “I’m an atheist here to observe.” That would inevitably change the dynamics.
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