Atheism is lonely

A few weeks ago, I went to a seminar at an Ethical Society near my home. The seminar was about raising children without beliefs in gods. I’ll write a different post on that topic later, because the seminar was outstanding and helpful. For this post, though, I want to share my feelings of simply being in a room, for the first time, with about forty other nonbelievers.

I haven’t met a lot of atheists in my real life. Sometimes I come across people who are questioning organized religion, and I really enjoy talking to them. But I don’t run into people willing to share that they are atheists. I have a feeling that atheists are all around me, but that we’re all too far in the religious closet to feel comfortable exposing ourselves. When I was at the Ethical Society, sitting next to nonbelievers, I was overwhelmed by the feeling of belonging, the sense of community, and the power of not being alone. I realized as I sat there and listened to other parents sharing stories and feelings very similar to me own, that I have been seeking community. Atheism is lonely.

I don’t think it has to be lonely. We can find community with one another if we have the courage to acknowledge our convictions. Easier said than done, though.

Organized religion is powerful because it provides community, culture, pre-established rules and laws, and a way of living that’s out-of-the-box. It’s stickiness over history is because it doesn’t take a lot of effort to figure out and there are scores of people who believe similarly. Atheism requires effort, including a rejection of established norms. And that means building traditions, cultures, philosophies from scratch and often alone.

Just as much as the Baptists living next door to me, and the Catholics across the street and the Jews down the road, I need community. Sitting among fellow nonbelievers for the first time a few weeks ago, I realized what I have been missing.


5 thoughts on “Atheism is lonely

  1. Hi,
    I’m not an unbeliever, but rather a “not-sure whether I believe anythinger”.
    I have felt the same thing that you did when I did more activist activities. I think that people benefit from spending time in groups. We are socially wired -which is why we’ve congregated to live, farm, hunt (whatever) throughout history.
    “Doing stuff” keeps me busy, but that is different from a weekly gathering of like-minded folks.
    Your slice of life finding some community makes me feel hopeful, so thank you for sharing it -maybe I’ll pry myself away from my life long enough to go to some atheist events.


  2. Oh I wish there was something like an Ethical Society around here. Even the closest UU is over an hour away, though daughter and I might meander over that way someday just to check it out.

    This is definately a closet-label (for lack of a better word) journey for me. People around here think we are heathens just for not going to church. If I ever dared to share my real inner thoughts and feelings, I would get looked at as if I sprouted devil horns!

    The internet is a wonderful tool and I am so glad I have that at least. It isnt completely lonely to know there ARE others like me out there.

    I would love to hear more about that seminar. Sounds fascinating!

  3. Hi, Just wanted to say hello from New Zealand and kia kaha (all strength to you). I came across your blog and really felt how hard it is for you to be an athiest and raise your son in such a religious society. We are lucky here in that unbelievers are a very large group and the country is very secular. We also have the added advantage that Christmas is the summer and has become a mostly secular holiday. Only a third of New Zealanders describe themselves as religious and a third say they are non-believers. If a politician talks about God too much they generally don’t get elected (and most keep their beliefs to themselves) Our current PM is an atheist and is the most popular PM ever. Its really easy to be an atheist here and I never even worry about it or even think much about it. Its just how life is. It may be hard for you and for other non-believers in the USA but just wanted you to know that in a multitude of other countries all over the world we are enjoying all the benefits of a diverse society where everyone’s views are tolerated and where being a non-believer is totally normal. Things get better, morality and religion is no longer tied together and everyone still gets on pretty well. Year by year it gets better and it gets easier and the USA is just playing catch up at the moment. You are not alone and in fact you are leading the way. Your children will look back and wonder what all the fuss was about.
    So, if you can afford it, I recommend avoiding Christmas all together by going on holiday somewhere warm. Come to New Zealand or Australia where large groups of unbelievers sit together on the beach all day eating and complaining that Christmas is far too commercial. Life is much better without God.

  4. I agree. I live in the South and everything in society has ties to religion. I (well, we) feel very much like an outsider even in our own extended family. We don’t want that influence on our kids, but its nearly impossible to remove ourselves from it. And, the kids have their own pressures from other kids who just spout off whatever their parents believe without really even understanding the meaning.

    A group of like minded people would be nice.

  5. I so wish I could find such a community. I am 14, live in Tennessee, and have recently become atheist. My mother and extended family are Catholic and most everyone at school is Christian. They are totally unaware of my atheism. I am also gifted, so sometimes I have trouble making “normal” friends. Fortunately, I have finally found a couple atheist friends from my gifted class at school who are wonderful and we have a lovely time together, but it is so hard when religion permeates everything. My two former best friends are serious Mormon/Catholic and I can no longer relate. They do not know of my atheism. I cannot bring myslef to tell them, and our friendship has slowly dissolved. I am basically raising an atheist child- myself. Your blog is a wonderful resource for the journey. Thank you!

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