The pain of a returning heathen

Christmas is over, I’m back home and I’m also back to bunking off while the rest of the family go off on Sunday mornings. It was a very strange experience to be back in church after quite a few months – I want to say “bittersweet”, but I’m not sure which bit would be bitter and which sweet.

It was nice to be with my family on an important occasion, and it was nice to be able to join in with the celebration, but it was improved for me by the knowledge that it was a temporary choice to be there, not a wearing, frustrating obligation. Maybe it’s just a psychological trick, but that sense of control made a huge difference.

I particularly appreciated the sense of community within the church, which is possibly the thing I miss most of all. A startling number of people said how lovely it was to see me, and how much I’d been missed. That was quite nice to hear, but also rather sad. I’m not really part of that community anymore, and I don’t think I can be. However friendly the people are, I just don’t believe what they do. Unfortunately, it seems I’m going to carry on longing for that community, and they’re going to carry on missing me.


Call them what you want, they’re comfy

So despite the superficial attraction, I’m not going back. Not now, anyway – I don’t make predictions about the future, and I never will! However much I might miss some aspects of church, the biggest change for me has been the comfort from not trying to force myself into a certain shape of belief or thought. I’ve stopped trying to squeeze into the church’s 28″ waist skinny jeans, after which even an old pair of trackie bottoms are an improvement, because all I care about right now is the freedom to breathe.

Possibly the saddest thing about the whole experience is the realisation of just how many friendships I have that are built on a shared belief system. Religion brought us together, and it defines our relationship because it’s invariably the single biggest thing we have (or had) in common. Without that connection, and associated regular meetings, it’s hard to imagine the friendship being quite the same.

Maybe this should serve as a warning not to get too deeply invested in a particular group or identity, but it’s a bit late for that now. From where I’m standing, and with various caveats, I can really see the appeal of an “atheist church” as a replacement community. In fact, maybe that’s the single most important thing about a church.

Photo by Mike Licht,, used under Creative Commons Generic Attribution License 2.0


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About Recovering Agnostic

I'm Christian by upbringing, agnostic by belief, cynical by temperament, broadly scientific in approach, and looking for answers. My main interest at the moment is in turning my current disengaged shrug into at least a working hypothesis.

8 responses to “The pain of a returning heathen”

  1. alcaponejunior says :

    “denying the fundamental equality of all people”

    You’ve pretty much explained conservatism as it exists today in a few short words.

    • Recovering Agnostic says :


      I think this comment was probably intended for my previous post, where I used that phrase, as this one contains nothing that even resembles it. But thanks, it’s all good.

      • alcaponejunior says :

        My bad, I think I was replying to the previous post and got copy/paste happy! You can delete/move as you see fit if need be!

      • bigstick1 says :

        I beg you do not call it a church. How about a club?

      • Recovering Agnostic says :

        I think a club would do nicely, and the name isn’t a big deal for me either way. But the “atheist church” has been marketed as such and is commonly known by that name, which is why I called it that.

        Is there a particular reason why you’re so keen to avoid the word “church”?

      • bigstick1 says :

        The reason is due to the perception that atheism is a faith/belief system by many that supports a doctriine of sorts. Next the verbiage church simply comes with too much baggage that for many is associated with everything they are against. Many times verbiage and the perception of verbiage is everything.

        In saying we have a church it sends the perception that we have a doctrine in which we follow. Next you have that whole faction that goes on about atheist governments to which you are then sited with Hitler, Stalin, Mao, etc. So now you just have people going on that about atheists having a dogma supported by our church that could support these types of government.

        Now I know all of your objections to this but let me tell you that dealing rationally with a religous person on the subject matter isnt going to get you anywhere.

        I can’t tell you how many times I hear repeated that well atheist doctrines were responsible for WWII, etc.

        Next many and I do mean many atheist just have a problem with the word “church” as it signifies a place of worship. So no…no church…….a club, an association, a group, a company, a gathering, a center, ……..anything but a church.

        Hope that helps. 😀

      • Recovering Agnostic says :

        I thought that was probably it, but it’s as well to make sure. I do agree with what you say, but I also wonder how much atheism can be expected to govern itself (if indeed it can ever be considered as a single entity) based on what other people are going to say or think.

        I don’t know what the answer is, but maybe that’s a topic for another day.

  2. bigstick1 says :

    Well if you write it I will weigh in. ;D

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