Why I’ve returned to church despite not believing in God – Nina Welsch

Like many people in Scotland in recent years, Nina Welsch lost her faith but, prompted by the rise of the cult of the self, has since returned to church where, for an hour on Sundays, she allows herself to try to believe once more

It may be a bit early in the morning to be quoting Nietzsche, I appreciate, but the news that 51 per cent of Scots now say they have no religion has brought to my mind his infamous – and much misinterpreted – quote beginning “God is dead and we have killed him…”. For clarity, Nietzsche was not referring to a literal murder of the creator he himself necessarily believed in, but rather a symbolic killing of the idea of God – in other words, society losing a cohesive morality and meaning, the logical end point of which is dangerous nihilism.

In fairness, the picture isn’t quite that bleak. According to the most recent census, 20.4 per cent of the Scottish public affiliate themselves with the Church of Scotland – around half of the number that did in 2011. Roman Catholics are now 13.3 per cent of the population, down by over 110,000. The Muslim population, on the other hand has increased by 43,100 to 119,872, now making them 2.2 per cent of the population.

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The big story then is less a decline in religion in Scotland and more the move away from Christian doctrine. This isn’t surprising, we are a far more liberal society, as backed up by a survey by King’s College London released in March 2023, with huge changes in attitudes towards same-sex relationships, divorce, women’s bodily autonomy.

Traditional faith offers a way to find fulfilment but there are others, such as science, art, nature or simply the idea of being decent for its own sake (Picture: Christopher Furlong/Getty Images)Traditional faith offers a way to find fulfilment but there are others, such as science, art, nature or simply the idea of being decent for its own sake (Picture: Christopher Furlong/Getty Images)
Traditional faith offers a way to find fulfilment but there are others, such as science, art, nature or simply the idea of being decent for its own sake (Picture: Christopher Furlong/Getty Images)

Christianity shaped Western values

Cultural Christianity, however, is a different matter, as forensically explored and explained by Tom Holland in his brilliant book Dominion. The liberal pursuit of freedom and human rights for all is a feature, not a bug, of Christian teaching. Christianity is as ingrained in Western civilisation as DNA is in living things, and a highly unique religion in its view of all life as equally valuable; its advocacy for forgiveness towards enemies and helping those less fortunate than you; and the notion that meekness, rather than strength (power) is aspirational. The terrible crimes committed historically by representatives of the church against children, women, and the otherwise vulnerable does not negate the egalitarianism and tolerance in Christian scripture that underpins modern social liberalism.

Nina WelschNina Welsch
Nina Welsch

My own relationship with organised religion is a complex one. My lapsed Catholic mum and atheist dad had intended me to be non-denominational but when circumstance meant I had to attend a Catholic school, I was essentially peer-pressured into converting. My being the only unbaptised seven-year-old in my class left me treated like the only child not inoculated against some deadly disease.

I believed passively until adolescence when I began to have aversions to the teachings around abortion, gay rights and euthanasia. As I started to study and read philosophy, I concluded the world was too complicated for black-and-white, judgmental morality systems. That and Lent was a slog. I stopped attending mass and skim-read The God Delusion in WHSmith.

By the time I went to university, I identified as atheist. It was hardly radical given almost the entirety of my new friend circle did as well. Gradually, I began to observe that Christians were regarded by non-believers similarly to how I once was for being unbaptised in primary three: deficient in some way, held in smug disdain.

Egotheistic dogma

A brilliant word I heard recently is egotheistic; religion without a deity, or a worship of the self as though you are the deity. While most atheists are perfectly tolerant, there are certain ‘progressive’ figures for whom anti-Christian sentiment, including Judeo-Christianity, has become something of a religion itself (curiously, these people are often reticent to mock or direct ire at other major religions…). This arrogance is a gateway drug to egotheism and underpins much of the new regressive progressivism that has infected politics.

Consider the Scottish Greens, who may well be the party of egotheism. Their nasty, frankly bigoted treatment of SNP Deputy First Minister Kate Forbes for having traditional Christian views on marriage, family and the sanctity of life is a projection, rather than a rejection, of dogma. Gender identity theory, the ideology the Greens are wedded to, is as unfalsifiable as the notion of a soul or existence of heaven. Unlike Forbes, who made it clear she would always respect the secular majority, the Scottish Greens believe their neo-scripture should be forced into law and spit ‘bigot’ at anyone who opposes their unholy belief system. Replace the accusation with the word ‘heretic’ and it’s clear who sounds more evangelical.

Nostalgia for church ambience

It was the spread of egotheism I saw in my own social media-weaned generation that prompted me, in October 2022, to start going back to mass. The self-obsession and narcissism by those in constant pursuit of their ‘true authentic self’ convinced me that doubt is integral to humility. Do I believe that 2,000 years ago, a man who was the son of God rose from the dead and that one day eternal life awaits? Let’s put it this way, for a single hour on Sunday, I let myself try. I’m much more comfortable as an agnostic than an atheist.

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I’m not at all advocating church is right for everyone. For me, it’s highly personal; the nostalgia in the cool, echoey ambience, the hymns, the confessional incantations and the general, messy sense of community. The squawking babies being walked up and down the aisle by loving parents and an elderly lady warbling Ave Maria completely off-key in the pew behind me is as part of the experience as much as anything.

If Scotland does become a majority atheist country, it needn’t be a concern. There are multiple ways beyond traditional faith to find mystery and fulfilment without falling prey to the cult of the self – science, art, the natural world or simply a belief in being decent for its own sake.

Nina Welsch is a freelance writer



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