Church and Community, City and Country

Question from Ghevi:
Hi, I’m 20 years old from a small town of Italy, so maybe the arguments that I will write here will be a little nonsense for someone that lives in a big city or in another country.
I don’t wanna argue by a “logical” position on God etc., as i think that is pretty obvious how religions were “made” by men reflecting values of a certain region. I don’t wanna say that religion wasn’t necessary either, for the development of art, geometry, architecture etc (I’m not educated on this, is just a “guess” based on what I learned in school).

So my question is about the future in an atheist reality, as I think new generations are rejecting religion. The fact is that celebrations like funerals, weddings etc. bring people together that normally are just on their own, my parents for example go to funerals of someone of my town even if they were not very connected, but as respect and for staying near the family that lost the person. Even on Sunday, going to church celebration is a way to see people you never see during the week. I have to admit the town feels very “alive” on Sunday, people then go to the bars, and it’s kinda nice.

So as you can see, I don’t argue about god, I think the celebration itself and what you say, repeat, read is just something very far away and disconnected from today’s problems (well, gospel celebration instead is funny I guess). I’m not saying that it could be a bad thing either, if we remove religion from society and create a “hole” we will replace it with something else to connect more as a “community”, but maybe for those who live in cities this is just nonsense and it’s not needed. Sorry for the messy question, I just wanna know your thoughts on this point of view.

Answer by SmartLX:
I’m a lifelong city boy but I do see what you’re getting at, mainly because I think having some kind of community is terribly important for most human beings. In a small town you’re more likely to be surrounded by more of the same people each day or each week, whatever you do with yourself. A community builds up around whatever it is you all do together, and if you’re churchgoers then religion becomes a big part of the weekly rituals. It’s a practice tailor-made for building a routine because it demands weekly action, and practically takes attendance as if it’s a classroom. If you miss church, someone notices.

If church went away, there would be nothing else with an arbitrarily fixed schedule that everyone could participate in, except perhaps for a regular sporting event. That’s the main thing that strikes me about this issue: religion’s efforts to be ubiquitous are not matched by anything in the secular world, so a community without religion (or pseudo-religious worship of the state, a sport, some charismatic figure, etc.) has to bond over more things and smaller things. It’s worth the effort in my opinion, because if you can get the community of a church congregation without the church that’s win-win.

In a big city, generally speaking, though your life intersects with more people the group you interact with regularly (by choice) tends to be smaller. Church can be a part of this more intimate, insular community, but it’s easier for some other pursuit to be the central excuse to get together. If you all drink beer and play video games once a week, that might mean you see each other more than you see anyone else socially. Maybe that’s all you’ll need, or all you can manage with the free time you have.

Afraid and lonely? It happens.

Question from Josh:
I am a somewhat new atheist. I recently finished leaving the fold and feel that I am now very much deconverted in this long drawn out process. However, no matter how many books I read about how hell was invented later I still have a small fear of it in the back of my mind. I was wondering if you had a similiar experience or had advice. Also I am feeling very lonely since deconverting it seems as if it gets harder and harder to find secular friends as an atheist. I feel I have to keep this hidden about myself.

Answer by SmartLX:
Welcome to faithdrawal, Josh. I didn’t invent it, but I did come up with the name. The fears and anxieties instilled in you by your indoctrination (including the fear of Hell) will outlast the core beliefs on which they’re based, possibly by a long time. Such is the nature of psychology and emotion. Be assured, however, that as long as you don’t relapse into the beliefs themselves, you will feel better and less afraid as time goes on. (The opposite happened to me; after not seriously thinking about religion for over a decade, all the associated emotions had faded and no longer supported the beliefs. I mostly base my concept of faithdrawal on what people have told me in their questions.)

You haven’t said where you’re from or where you’re living, but it can certainly be problematic or even downright dangerous to identify yourself as an atheist in some places. That said, there are few places in the world where you’re likely to be entirely alone in your atheism. Think about it: if you feel you have to keep it hidden, other atheists around you probably feel they have to hide it too, including from you. A community sometimes needs a few brave folks to “come out” before the rest will be open about it. I’m not necessarily encouraging you to do this, I’m just acknowledging that it would take courage, and for good reason.

While you’re waiting for the local atheist contingent to hit that “critical mass”, you can look for local groups with “Atheist”, “Humanist”, “Secular” and/or “Freethinker” in the title. If you’re in America, for example, American Atheists and the Secular Student Alliance are all over the place these days. If you’re in Great Britain, look for the British Humanist Association. If you comment and say where you are, even to within a state or equivalent, we might be able to help with this.

Cheer up, it seriously only seems like you’re alone.

A Church of Atheism?

Question from Andrew:
Is there a ‘church’ where atheists congregate; a community of some sort?

Answer by SmartLX:
Church, not really. Communities, yes.

Atheism doesn’t have an official church, otherwise Alain de Botton wouldn’t have argued that it needs one in his new book Religion for Atheists (an argument with which many prominent atheists have publicly disagreed). A quick Google only reveals an entity called the First Church of Atheism, which ordains people online and frankly looks like a simple con job.

It could perhaps be argued that Unitarian Universalism is a church for atheists, if not a true church of atheism. It welcomes people of all faiths or no faith, and provides the community and ritual of regular church services without any doctrinal or dogmatic requirements. If that’s what you’re after, knock yourself out.

As for plain old atheist communities, those are all over the place and come in many flavours. Some are even called that, like the Atheist Community of Austin (which runs the TV show The Atheist Experience). To find one near you, just google “local atheist groups” (without the quotes) or go straight to Not all communities are physical; a little more searching will turn up all sorts of online groups as well.