This morning I conducted an experiment: I went to a Christian religious service. At my seminary, once a week (during the summer) a chapel service is held, and I had a friend leading the service, so I decided—for the first time since I left the church—to go.
In short, it felt weird, and I felt repeatedly that I neither could nor wanted to participate in the many parts of the service: the singing, the prayers, the "passing of the peace." At every juncture, I kept thinking: "Yeah, but this god doesn't exist. We're not talking to, praising, confessing to, etc., anyone who actually exists. We're kidding ourselves." My emotions ranged from puzzlement to anger, toleration to irritation, sadness (for others) to relief (for myself). What I did enjoy was the music (apart from the lyrics) and the funnier parts of the sermon; otherwise, I was filling a seat in support of my friend.
The experience taught me something I didn't really get until now. My wife, seven years my predecessor in leaving the faith, hated going to church when I asked her to. She despised meeting in Christian small groups, or listening to lectures on the Christian faith, and so on. At last I see why this was the case. It's not that she didn't "like" church (i.e., a particular church didn't suit her tastes) but that church didn't really have a place for her. This morning, having attending my first service since leaving the faith, made this abundantly clear to me. What's more, it's definitely made sure that the next service I attend either will be compulsory or will take place in the distant future.
Christianity, for all its attempts to be inclusive and welcoming, is inherently exclusive and closed to outsiders. Nothing that goes on inside a church is really designed with non-Christians in mind (not that I would suggest it needs to). At best, Christian services work for people who are seeking, but atheists and agnostics (to whatever extent they're committed to agnosticism) really can't take part in Christian worship service without feeling extremely outsider-y and othered (a feeling few people enjoy).
For now, at least, I'll have to continue to rely upon non-traditional sources (e.g,. individual relationships, books, the web) to foster my sense of 'spiritual' community, and to generate inspiration and hope. It still feels strange admitting that I don't want to participate in church life, but that strangeness doesn't make it any less true.