Thought For The Day: Lonely Atheists?

Oh, this again.

The Beeb is once more mulling over the possibility of opening up “Thought For The Day” to non-theists; it has traditionally been a three-minute atheist-free zone in a little corner of the three-hour “Today” show. I first wrote about this three years ago, noting that

Excluding the atheists—sure, that’s ok—
So long as it’s only three minutes a day
Or judging your worth based on how much you weigh
So long as it’s only three minutes a day
Get out, if you’re black! Or you’re white! Or you’re gray!
So long as it’s only three minutes a day
And keep your mouth shut if you chance to be gay
So long as it’s only three minutes a day

(More at the link)

One of the utterly predictable, yet still annoying, reactions to the current mulling is Guy Stagg’s claim that the move “will expose the loneliness of atheism” (oh, the comments at that one!). Coming, as it does, so soon on the heels of the Reason Rally, I wondered what he might mean by that.

Mr. Stagg might well be lonely if he lost belief in god,
So he’ll keep believing, staunchly, till the end.
Cos let’s face it, he may only (though the concept does seem odd)
Have imaginary entities as friends.

Actually, Mr. Stagg claims no faith, himself, but doesn’t see atheism as offering a compelling alternative to religion. At Reason Rally, one of the t-shirts might have given him an idea: “Atheism isn’t a religion, it’s a personal relationship with reality.” That alternative certainly sounds compelling to me.

So… my atheist readers: are you lonely? My believing readers: are you?


  1. says

    I have never felt lonely since leaving Catholicism. In fact, I never even struggled with the question, “if there is no god, now what?” I came to the conclusion that I did not believe god existed and moved on.

  2. Bill says

    I had a xtian friend fling the “Wow, you must be really lonely” thing in my face once. I found it really strange to be coming from someone who had a husband and kids, lots of friends and a large, local extended family. Did she seriously believe that without god she would be lonely? At the time I was so shocked that I couldn’t properly respond.

    But know, I have an answer to that: Yes, I get lonely sometimes. But that’s only because I live alone and don’t have a girlfriend.

  3. Becca Stareyes says

    Honestly? Sometimes. But I suspect it’s more due to seasonal depression and a high stress job than atheism — after all, both ‘am I lonely?’ and ‘am I depressed?’ fluctuate more than ‘what are my thoughts on God?’. And, I haven’t systematically looked at things, but ancedotally, the first two tend to track each other.

    (And as for a community, I suspect I’d feel more lonely in a church pew than at a lunchtime astronomy seminar or stitch ‘n bitch — in the latter two, I know I share something with the crowd, rather than feeling like an uncomfortable outsider.)

  4. Dana Hunter says

    Not lonely enough, most o’ the time. Then again, I have to disqualify myself from these discussions. I’m a writer. My head is full o’ story people who keep me entertained. But even when they’re not around, nope, no more lonely than any other human I’ve ever met, and considerably less lonely than some.

    And it’s like Becca said – being on a church pew is the loneliest place. The only time I ever really feel alone is when I’m surrounded by religious folks babbling about gawds. But it’s not so much being lonely as being seriously annoyed…

  5. carpenterman says

    I’m lonely. But it has nothing to do with my atheism. I went to church as a child and I was lonely then too.

  6. James says

    I think in the theist’s eye the atheist is lonely because they don’t comprehend not needing the idea of god in one’s life.

    It used to annoy me that that this thought, to do with moral righteousness is delivered by a representative of the church but now I understand it. A large part of the country has a faith and why shouldn’t the church spread some moral thoughts? I don’t think the object here is to say that atheists can’t have such thoughts, I just think it is the church doing it’s work.

    So I wouldn’t like to see atheists represented in this three minute slot. It would reduce it to some sort of childish turf war. How about instead just having more humanist or atheist focussed discussion instead?

    I would imagine most atheists are very secure with their beliefs and reason so why the need to confront something so small as this? God forbid I go around telling everyone what to believe in.

  7. Cuttlefish says

    Honestly, carpenterman, that’s why I am asking the question of believers as well. Unless one knows whether they are lonely, finding out that atheists are… tells us nothing.

    For me… I do not think I am lonely. I have Cuttlespouse and the Cuttlekids; I have my friends at work, my neighbors, my family. My best friend is half a world away, it is true (or a full world, depending on whether you measure worlds by circumference or diameter–either way, yes, Kylie, it’s you), but I see her more often than some other friends who live much closer.

    The world is an odd place. Smaller and larger all at once. You can hop on a plane and be far enough away in an hour or two that you’ll never see someone again, and yet be able to watch Doctor Who together with someone on another continent. I’ve done both. You can be lonely in the middle of a crowd, and crowded with one other person sharing a planet with you. It’s been a while since I’ve been a christian, but I remember feeling roughly that way back then, too. If I missed a friend (I’m thinking, particularly, of two who died), thinking that god is all around me did nothing to make me miss these particular boys any less.

    We don’t miss people in the abstract; we miss them. Having another person there to take up oxygen doesn’t help. Having an abstraction there to not take up oxygen also doesn’t help. Loneliness isn’t a factor of how many people are around, it’s a factor of whether the right person is around; missing a person means that that person is… well, missing. And if you don’t think there’s a god, god is not missing. It’s not merely “how can I miss you when you won’t go away?”, it’s how can I miss something that was never there to begin with? ( , for those who know the song).

  8. Cuttlefish says

    James–why is it that a “turf war” is seen as the fault of the people who are currently being kept off the turf, actively, forcefully, and despite some ten years of asking? Why “reduce it to a turf war” rather than “elevate it to a common platform”?

  9. sceptinurse says

    The loneliest I’ve ever been was in church that felt the need to turn it’s back on me because my husband left me (Not everyone just about 90% of them). I did have a couple of good friends there who didn’t just on the abandon sceptinurse bandwagon and they were told that “if they knew what was good for them they would have nothing to do with me” I have never felt that kind of loneliness as an atheist.

  10. cheryl says

    I’ve been an atheist all my life, well from the age of about 8 or 9 (I stopped believing in any gods about the same time I stopped believing in Santa). I’ve had lonely periods and non-lonely periods. But for me has always been an absence of the people I love, rather than an absence of a deity.

  11. Tony says

    Actually, Mr. Stagg claims no faith, himself, but doesn’t see atheism as offering a compelling alternative to religion.

    –heck, I have a difficult time seeing atheism as a compelling alternative to religion. I don’t think it’s supposed to be an alternative. I’d say a viewpoint that offers an approach to morality (like humanism) would be an alternative to religion. Atheism is our default state. It’s not a belief system meant to replace theistic beliefs.

    As for me, I think I do tend to feel lonely more often than not (though I felt that way prior to rejecting religion). Oddly enough it does have something to do with my non-belief. I wasn’t so lonely before my best friend died a few years ago. After he did, I got depressed and retreated into myself for some time. It was during this time that I started exploring skepticism, woo, religions outside the Big 3, science, et al. As I did, I found that humanism is a philosophy of life I can get behind. However, I also found myself becoming more politically aware. And I became more aware of male privilege, sexism (of the ‘permeating society’ type; the overt sexism was always easy to see), and the various ways religious belief affects the way people act. I began seeing an increasingly large gap (regarding interests, commonalities, and beliefs) between myself and several of my friends. I have a very small group of friends (2 of them I live with), so I know I’m not really lonely.
    Combining all that with the frustration of being single for almost 10 years results in my feeling lonely more often than I like.
    All that said, I’m not lonely *all* the time.

  12. Crudely Wrott says

    Yes, I’ve been lonesome lately. All around me are believers and they have been so nice to me. At the same time they have set boundaries that are so broad that I have had to mind my self for a longer time than is comfortable. How I would like to have a far ranging and spirited conversation with a flesh and blood person right now!!

    I don’t suppose anyone remembers an obscure band from the seventies called Fever Tree? Hope I’m wrong there. I am recalling some lines from a song titled Imitation Situation. [found a YouTube linky but the audio track had been removed; followed a link to a band I had never heard of before doing that title. Gee, it’s a little less lonely for that.] You might like to listen here


    Here are the lines that spring to mind:

    Lonely, why are we all so lonely
    Lonely, searching for gold that’s only
    Imitation situation.

    While I may feel lonely now I am buoyed by knowing that life is not static, that things will change and there will be new opportunity at each turn. I will meet new people, connect with old friends, mend fences, build new ones, travel new paths and visit places I don’t even know about now. I’ll also walk familiar paths, noting the things that have changed since I last passed those ways.

    I know from experience that at each turn, in each new vista there will be people who will complete the scene. Folks who will be the benchmarks of memory and gladly recalled when the days are done.

    Yes, I can be lonesome in a crowd. I can also be totally occupied and very busy indeed with no one within five miles and nothing more than a square yard of ground to behold and try to understand or with the whole of the heavens looking back down at me as my eyes drink the fullness of it into myself.

    Loneliness is a state of mind. Actually, there’s an old Chris Christopherson song that contains that line. Song’s called To Beat the Devil. I suppose that if the biggest devil in my life is occasional loneliness then I really shouldn’t worry. Tomorrow will come in its time with what it has to offer. That old devil just ain’t smart enough to stop that.

  13. says

    Lifelong atheist here, never get lonely. It’s just something that doesn’t seem to happen to me. I live alone, except for my dogs, and have for years. Not that I don’t like social contact; I do. I love it when my friends go out for dinner on the “town” (I live in a rural area). But I’m just fine without it.

    I played alone a lot as a child and never minded it. I think my grandfather was the same way. I almost think lonely/not lonely may be an innate character trait.

  14. Crudely Wrott says

    I think I fudged that linky. Best to cut and paste, I see.

  15. says

    I’m not lonely.

    I probably would feel lonely if I were suddenly to realise that I only had imaginary friends and no real ones, though. Could the christians be projecting, perhaps?

  16. baal says

    I’m atheist and not lonely. Far from it actually, I have more time with people than I want and have to make time to be by myself.

  17. brucecoppola says

    Sorry, but my bitter personal experience bears out Mr. Stagg’s assertion. I live a grim, lonely life, unrelieved by sympathetic human contact…

    …except for last Sunday when I took a 45 mile bike ride with a friend, stopping at a funky bakery in the city for lunch and running into some other people I know

    …and the Meetup hiking, outdoors and atheist groups I hang with

    …and the bike club I belong to

    …and my co-workers here who I shoot the breeze with – and go out with after work occasionally

    …and the weekly family dinner at my sister’s place (great cook!)

    …and my next door neighbors/friends and their incredibly smart and cheerful kids

    Other than that, my life is a solitary hell.

  18. Deepsix says

    I’m not lonely as I have a close family. But, I don’t understand the implication of the question. Is creating an imaginary friend a cure for loneliness?

  19. I'm_not says

    Most “Thought For the Day”s hardly mention God at all and the message they contain is never controversial. I like many of the contributors and am eternally grateful to it for introducing me to this quite wonderful man, Rabbi Lionel Blue.

    I don’t think the tone should change and don’t see that it necessarily would if non-believing contributors had a knowledge of the history of the slot and how it works at its best. There are no blood-and-thunder contributors on it now and I wouldn’t welcome the atheist equivalent.

    No, I rarely feel lonely and don’t really understand how my atheism would lead me to be more prone to loneliness.

  20. carpenterman says

    One of these days I’m going to screw my courage to the sticking place enough to comment in verse.

  21. Mimmoth says

    Sometimes I’m lonely, but usually not. I don’t think being an atheist has anything to do with it; it seems to be more a function of wanting human contact and not having anyone handy.

    Most of the time I have my family and my friends and neighbors, so loneliness is not particularly a problem.

  22. Ray, rude-ass yankee says

    Kevin@20, I’m not jesting, and don’t call me Shirley! /airplane

    I have my rudespouse & rudekids at home, rudespouses parents and sister nearby, my brother (rudebrother?) nearby, friends at both my jobs, how could I feel very lonely?
    I went to the Reason Rally with a few of the aforementioned friends from work, now there’s an event at which I could never have felt *less* lonely! Even without friends and family there is a feeling of community I get from atheist/humanist/freethinker blogs (like this one, thanks!) and events that would help sustain me against loneliness better than any gods or church.

  23. anthonyallen says

    For me, there is no greater loneliness than when I’m in a room full of people. It’s not that I don’t like crowds, but that I’m just a natural outsider: I don’t seem to fit in anywhere. The harder I try, the worse it is.

    But to answer the question of whether I’m lonely because of atheism, when I think about it, I would have to say yes. I don’t think I’ve ever believed in a god, or whatever, and that has alienated me from those around me from an early age. And up until recently (the past 4 or 5 years) I never really knew why I didn’t believe, so I couldn’t articulate my non-belief to the believers.

  24. Die Anyway says

    >“will expose the loneliness of atheism”

    Oh no! Our secret is out. ;-)

    I don’t have a ton of friends and don’t keep in close touch with family, but that’s my choice. If I’m alone it’s because I prefer to be by myself (shades of George Thorogood). I don’t call that loneliness.
    But what is the thougt behind Mr. Stagg’s contention? Is it, as mentioned by DC, that we need an imaginary friend in order to avoid loneliness? Or is it that we need the members of a church to associate with? Not all believers attend church and, again as pointed out above, attendance at church doesn’t guarantee friendship or companionship. Basically Mr. Stagg has made an inane statement. It is only remarkable in that it seems to be a common misunderstanding about atheists. Right up there with being devil worshippers.

  25. Christy says

    Yep, I get lonely sometimes. It could be because I’m an athiest. Here’s a quick story to explain the kind of things athiests endure which can lead to loneliness:

    When I was 18 I moved out of state. A friend flew out to visit. We had a nice talk about religion and god and I told her I thought it was silly to believe there was a god up on the clouds judging me and pulling my puppet strings. She said well you don’t think you need god in your life? I said, no I don’t, I’m quite all right on my own. She promptly called her mommy, left in a cab to the airport and I never heard from her again. It’s been 20 years.

    Athiesm can = loneliness. But if it’s the stupid nut jobs who are avoiding me I am happier being lonely. Let me please explain that a lack of belief in god itself does not make me lonely. I get warm fuzzies watching a beautiful sunset or a baby bunny just like anyone else. I am not an unfeeling freak, I just don’t see the need to praise some imaginary illogical entity for everything that I find beautiful. Beauty is awesome all by itself.

  26. Cuttlefish says

    “…just like anyone else.” Let me be clear. Baby bunnies creep me out. Nearly as much as adult bunnies. And don’t get me started on those giant Belgian mutant bunnies the size of small deliver vans.

    Other than that, agreed and well said, Christy!

  27. Tony says

    “…just like anyone else.” Let me be clear. Baby bunnies creep me out. Nearly as much as adult bunnies. And don’t get me started on those giant Belgian mutant bunnies the size of small deliver vans.

    Hey, what’s with all the bunny hatin’??
    Baby bunnies are just as cute as baby dolphins, baby humans, baby labradors, ducklings (these little ones are at the tip top of my list of most adorable younglings) and almost any kitten (except for hairless).
    If you can’t agree to that, can you at least agree baby bunnies are cuter than baby Jesus?

    “Bunnies aren’t cute like everybody supposes.
    They got them hoppy legs and twitchy little noses.
    And what’s with all the carrots?
    What do they need such good eyesight for anyways?
    It must be bunnies!”
    “Or maybe midgets”

    Golly, I miss Buffy.

  28. Cuttlefish says

    I do not hate bunnies.

    I fear them.

    And Cuttledaughter, knowing full well how I feel about bunnies, inflicted that particular bit of Buffy on me. Buffy was well done, but did they have to bring bunnies into it? Vampires I can handle, cos they’re fictional. Bunnies are real.


  29. Jay says

    I find the loneliness numbing and extremely unbearable at times. Yes, i have friends i see everyday, and still see my family that is extremely religious almost everyday. I live in west virginia with no hope of finding a female companion who wants a family. I have a good job that pays well, but i work many long hard hours days at a time. I really like my job and the guys I work with.
    But to me it feels like i will never have a wife and family. Tell a girl you are an atheist here and they present a crucifix. I don’t blame them for not want to date an atheist because i don’t want to date a christian (or any other religion). I actually put much thought into lying and pretending to be christian because I have known many nice christian girls that I would have liked to date. And many of these girls became very good wives to good christian men. I am glad they are happy. But in the end I could not live a lie. I also know that it is hard on christians to have a loved one that won’t accept the lord. I try to never discuss religion with my family.
    But for me atheism has brought me loneliness and agony. At times it feels almost physical. It feels empty like your heart is ripped out. I never show this to my friends and family. Basically it’s rough on some of us.

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