Can An Atheist Do Church?


For a good while now, I’ve immensely enjoyed having 2 day weekends. I work Monday through Friday and, generally, don’t work weekends unless my shop is busy during outage season, but even then, it’s not a common occurrence.

When I was a regular church attendee and worked this same schedule, I had a 2 day weekend, but largely felt cheated out of the 2nd day. Why? Well, you’ve got stuff to do! You’ve got to wake up and make yourself look presentable and get your ass to church!

From wake up to walk back in the door of your house, you’re looking at a minimum of a solid couple of hours removed from your “free” day. Since I did this 5 times a week already, a 6th time is a drag, especially when there’s so much other stuff I could be doing, but leaving the church has allowed me to fully enjoy the 2 day weekend!

giphy (2)

Oddly enough, the full commitment to the 2 day weekend has had some drawbacks. Mainly in the form of losing a social circle and structure I’d unknowingly relied upon for 29 years.

With that in mind, I’m going to spill the beans, here goes, no more beating around the bush, I’m going to say it *deep breath* atheists really suck at get togethers. Not that we don’t have fun once assembled, atheists are a blast at parties, but we suck at getting together frequently.

I’ve found myself, over the past 6 months or so, craving that consistent fellowship (OHNOHEDIDNTUSETHATWORD) with friends. The catching up, the unrequested and much appreciated offers for help if you mention an upcoming project, the laughter and, yes, shockingly, even the songs.

If you’re a believer and you’re reading this, you understand fully what I’m saying.

If you’re a former believer and at one time were a part of a great church, you’ll have inklings of remembrance of what I’m talking about.

If you’ve never really done church or are a staunch, lifelong atheist, you’ll think I’m bananas and that I need to hop back on YouTube and watch some Hitch Slaps by Christopher Hitchens or reread The God Delusion (I only ever made it halfway through….sorry).

This is not me backsliding into belief. I still label myself as an Agnostic Atheist whose conclusion is agnosticism, but has an opinion of atheism.

So, should I, as an atheist, throw the baby out with the bath water?

I still believe that while religion is capable of doing great deeds of good in the world, it is also a very negative force when used immorally or to subjugate and hurt others.

Being honest with myself, I could never, ever deny the power of community and that’s something that atheism fails at, in my experience, almost completely and that theism is dominant on.

This is the truth because of 2 reasons: First, atheists have no central book of belief to centralize itself around. Christians have the bible to go to and, very literally, build their lives around. Atheists lack that. All that unites us is a lack of belief in a higher power. The second reason is that atheists lack the numbers that believers have. If it weren’t for the internet, I’d probably think I was the only atheist east of Chicago.

The bottom line is that I miss the community of church and I’d like my kids to have the social time with other kids that’s important for their development.

So, I ask myself, can I “do” church? Can I sit in service for an hour and listen to a man I almost fully disagree with? Can I allow my kids to hear stories that I feel are almost fully fabricated? Can I betray all my hard, honest, painful and lengthy, torturous hours of self reflection and study to regain that sense of community? Most importantly, can I give up my 2 day weekends?

For the right church, maybe?

I’m currently, very loosely, on the lookout for a church that’s very large on love, community service and acceptance and super low on hell and damnation. While I can tolerate much of what’s spoken from the pulpit, I have a bit of a gag reflex when someone says I’m born with an unvalidated disease and only they sell the cure. That’s coercion any which way you slice it.

I’m not saying that there are no bad people or less savory character traits, but that natural sin and my punishment of hell is almost a full on deal breaker. I can tolerate hearing it. Roll my eyes and sit silent as I’m, again, told about a loving god that throws you into hell if you don’t love him back (conditional love), but I can’t, CANNOT, allow my children to hear that. Game over. Done.

If there’s a church out there that wants to talk about Jesus and miracles and disciples and how groovy of a guy he was because he stuck up for the poor, weak and less polished of society, I think that’s pretty damn awesome.

I don’t say this to sound harsh, but if my kids asked me about it, I’d compare it to other great characters helping the less fortunate like Harry Potter or Charles Xavier. Good people helping others except Jesus has some songs!

Much good can come from these stories: bravery, selflessness, love, compassion, loyalty.

But I have to draw the line at my kids thinking a place like hell exists and that there’s a remote chance that anyone, not just them, anyone could go there.

Deal breaker.

So, now the question isn’t if I can “do” church because I think I can.

The question is now, does such a church even exist?



19 thoughts on “Can An Atheist Do Church?

    • There’s one a couple towns over that I’ve long considered checking out.

      Sadly, with facilities like that, it seems they lack a good youth focused arm of the church.

      I went to a huge church as a teen and the youth programs were amazing.

      It may not actually exist, but I’d love to find a church like that without the baggage of hell.

  1. I’m also going to say the Unitarian Universalists are just what you are looking for! Be sure to check out for information, and to make sure you have found all the groups near you. Each UU congregation is fairly individual, so if you are able it would be good to check out more than one. They have no dogma, just seven principals. Love, community service and acceptance are really central, but they don’t have any requirement of any particular god belief. But they have Sunday services and RE and potlucks and everything that any other church would have.

    Other good options are Ethical Societies, or Sunday Assembly, if those are available where you live. But I think UU is a better fit for what you described.

  2. I know Chicago’s a hike for you, but, if you’re ever in the mood for a drive, a couple of places that I’ve found don’t trigger my gag reflex:

    4th Presbyterian Church: Universalist in practice, if not official creed. Heavy focus on interfaith academic courses in place of “Sunday School” – I took great multi-week seminars on Buddhism and Hinduism here, where the perspective was that all religions are equally valid. Also, emphasis on religion agnostic “services” (weekly meditation, Taize services, Jungian-based image prayer, and monthly shamanic gong ceremonies).

    Root and Branch Church: Sunday morning church in a theater twice a month/Dinner”/potluck church in an event space twice a month. Emphasis on philosophy, embracing doubt, and community over monolithic belief. When I’m ready to go back to church – which, I have to think will happen at some point – it’ll probably be here.

    Good luck!

  3. First, I am not a theologian, but I think
    the inconsistency of a loving God who “sends people to hell” lies in how we define God. If He is truly love, righteousness, justice, goodness itself, then sin has no place with Him- any little unkind thought, any self centered act, murder, theft, etc, however big or small it seems. Even people who are doing great good in the world still have arguments in anger, desires to do things unbeneficial to others, and selfishness, and doing good does not “cure” us of this. The joy in Christian fellowship often comes in the sometimes unspoken understanding that we are all going to f* up, and we know and accept that about one another. I think Christians would argue that Christ offers a free gift of relationship and forgiveness to any who wishes to have it, who wishes more than the guilt and shame that comes with sin and selfishness. We CANNOT love Him back, and He loves us anyway. All He says is, “believe”, in other words, “choose.” I guess my point is that I don’t think you can separate Jesus from the topic of sin or the topic of love. They go hand in hand. C.S. Lewis said something to the effect of, Jesus is either God, a lunatic, or liar. He cannot simply be a good teacher, because if he’s not God, He’s a liar or insane. I don’t think you will find a Christian church that does not proclaim Jesus as love, light, God, and salvation, but I hope you find the fellowship you are seeking. Community is a beautiful thing.

  4. Try a secular Jewish synagogue, or Buddhist temple. Malinda above mentioned Chicago, and there’s a huge secular synagogue there. Not sure if you actually have to be Jewish to attend, but I’ve spoken a lot with the chief rabbi there and he’s a blast. He even calls himself on FB, the Atheist Rabbi.

  5. Another vote for Unitarian Universalists. They don’t follow a central book and instead draw from various faith and non-faith sources. open, inclusive, socially minded. I think they may fit the bill

  6. Actually, what “church” provides to people is the emotional foundation to religion. Most of it has nothing to do with religion and everything to do with community, shared food, shared work, help with problems, etc. The reluctance to shed “church going” is largely based in these societal benefits and not in “beliefs.” I have to believe that because most Christians don’t know what they believe.

  7. I’m touched by your honesty here. I happened upon your blog doing research for my own blog on the topic of the offensive “I’ll pray for you” statement. You shed some light on that for me, and I appreciate that. So I read a little more, like your writing style. I hope you find what you are seeking, your points were spot-on. Peace, love, and good vibes!

    Oh, and I thought of a response when that unwelcome statement comes at you… “well, if it will make you feel better, then by all means pray. As for myself, I don’t believe in it.” That’s honest, while at the same time modeling to someone how to be civil. Just a thought.

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