Leaving church is hard. Several months ago, I turned fifty, having attended church regularly throughout my life. Though my church is extremely liberal, it wasn’t until I was watching a video of Michael Shermer discussing Freud during a Wednesday night group study that I realized atheists existed and I was one of them. Over the next year, I began to talk excitedly to church friends about my revelation. A few of them agreed with me and immediately stopped coming to church. I begged them to stay and form a humanist community within our congregation, but they weren’t interested. Since then, I have tried to stay connected to my church, even though people there know I am an atheist. It’s hard. In fact, it’s so hard that I am about to give up.
I think one of the most difficult aspects of being an atheist at church is constantly being reminded that people there still believe in God. (This sounds ridiculous, of course, but other churchgoing atheists will understand.) My church had already given up talking much about the Bible, so I didn’t think it would be difficult for me to stay. Still, once you realize God is imaginary, you lose interest in hearing what God thinks about things. As a humanist, I suddenly wanted to talk about history, nature, other cultures—anything real or scientific. It seemed unimaginable that people wanted to continue to waste time listening to each other define God. It was equivalent to listening to someone ramble on about the dream he or she had had the night before. I began to think about all the time that gets wasted in church in this way. I tried telling myself that such talk is a form of bonding and community-building. Still, couldn’t we be doing this while learning something useful?