I have always known that if I didn't belong to the cult, my social life would suffer. Of course, living in a big city for two decades mitigated that problem to some extent. Then and there the snootiness came from the direction of the monied, rather than the religious. Having little money wasn't too hard when I was by myself, as there were plenty of equally poor friends to socialize with. But once I differentiated myself from my friends by bringing a wee one into the world, the social life naturally changed.
Like so many non-religionists, I have struggled to find our "happy place" without having to join the local sanctioned cult. I'm sure the members of those sanctioned cults - e.g., Christianity and Judaism - are perfectly lovely people. But how can I seriously force myself to go sit and listen to fabulous fairytales, horror stories and platitudinous pabulum about non-existent characters of Middle-Eastern descent every Sunday? (Or Saturday.)
For the non-religious, this lack of an organized cult in our lives can be trying for these very social reasons. If something bad happens, no support - no church to turn to if the health slips, the house burns down or some other tragedy strikes. We are left hanging, and even in a progressive area we also must not expose our unbelief for fear that we too will be quarantined, as has happened to so many non-believers - and us in the past as well. This exact concern is expressed by a family in Texas, who wrote a letter to a columnist at "Freakonomics":
We are agnostics living deep in the heart of Texas and our family fakes Christianity for social reasons. It’s not so much for the sake of my husband or myself but for our young children. We found by experience that if we were truthful about not being regular church attenders, the play dates suddenly ended. Thus started the faking of the religious funk.
It seemed silly but it's all very serious business down here. We don't go to church or teach or children one belief is "right" over another. We expose them to every kind of belief and trust that they will one day settle in to their very own spirituality. However, for the sake of friends and neighbors, we pretend we are Christians. We try not to lie but rather not to disclose unnecessary information. As the children are getting older, this isn’t so easy for them and an outing is probably eminent....
I understand their concerns, although I am not in redneck country or the Bible belt, fortunately. I can only imagine what that would be like. Because of these issues, I have spent years online trying to build a community there. My vision has included such a community in the "real world" as well, with our own places for gathering to create friendships; to discuss religious, spiritual and mythological subjects; and to inspire each other. Being a non-believer in itself is not enough for most people - humans tend to be herders, and we need community for a variety of reasons. I continue with my vision... Wish me luck - and join me!