“I don’t believe in God, but I miss him…”

“I don’t believe in God, but I miss him….” wrote Julian Barnes in his book ‘Nothing to be frightened of’.

I heard this quote on the radio this afternoon and it really struck a chord with me. People talk about the ‘God shaped hole’, but this sentence to me perfectly summed up the whole idea. I don’t believe in God, but I still feel the hole sometimes.

In ‘Aubade’ by Philip Larkin, he talks about his terror of death, and the fear of ‘nothingness’:

I work all day, and get half-drunk at night.
Waking at four to soundless dark, I stare.
In time the curtain-edges will grow light.
Till then I see what’s really always there:
Unresting death, a whole day nearer now,
Making all thought impossible but how
And where and when I shall myself die.

Pretty bleak isn’t it? But then he was apparently terrified of dying, of ceasing to exist. Later in the poem he says:

This is a special way of being afraid
No trick dispels. Religion used to try,
That vast, moth-eaten musical brocade
Created to pretend we never die,
And specious stuff that says No rational being
Can fear a thing it will not feel, not seeing
That this is what we fear – no sight, no sound,
No touch or taste or smell, nothing to think with,
Nothing to love or link with,
The anaesthetic from which none come round.

It’s that one line that gets me – ‘created to pretend we never die’ – because ultimately isn’t that what religion is? I would quite like to believe that I am never going to really die, however much of a pretence that might be.

I don’t believe in God, yet sometimes I feel the absence of what to me God represents – a faith in something bigger than me, a sense of purpose, a set of ‘rules’ and beliefs to guide me and to inform the decisions I make. Most of all I suppose God, and religion generally, offer reassurance, a comfort that this isn’t it.

I miss having that solid faith in something more. No one wants to believe do they that this is all there is?



  1. 21 June, 2012 / 4:38 pm

    What a poignant post. I some times wish I could be an atheist, because believing in something is just as difficult.

    I don’t care about an afterlife. Sure it’s a nice thought that we probably never die (I say probably, because even those who believe in something can never be sure), but it’s not the reason why I live. For me, God and religion are two very separate things.

    • 28 June, 2012 / 3:50 pm

      So what IS the difference between God and religion? I come from a very non-religious family, so am pretty ignorant about the whole subject.

  2. 21 June, 2012 / 5:00 pm

    I completely understand this post. You shouid check out my post titled a new take on religeon. I hav transitioned from Christian to Athiest to open minded, to Athiest, to just downright confused. But all along a fear of death has ruled my thoughts and beliefs (or lack of). Thankyou for sharing that poem, it echoes my mind completely. X

  3. Paula
    21 June, 2012 / 5:51 pm

    Great free online tracts at chick.com. Well worth reading. I am a Christian, when I have doubts I just look at the universe and nature. If we evolved why are there still apes? The greatest trick the Devil ever pulled was convincing the world he didn’t exist, so by default the devil has your soul. I’ve watched my partner die and he did NOT fade away to nothing, someone/something was in the room which predicted the outcome of the horse race before it ran(tv left playing in the corner of the room), something my partner would never, ever, have been able to do.

  4. 21 June, 2012 / 7:51 pm

    A very thought-provoking post and poem. The grim nothingness and finality of death often stalks my thoughts too. Like Freya, I’ve often said that I believe in God but I don’t believe in religion. I could never conform exclusively to one set of beliefs that told me what I ought to believe and how I ought to worship. I’d rather find my own (faltering) pathway to God (or whatever that “God-shaped hole” really is, and come to my own peace with death if I can.

    • 28 June, 2012 / 3:52 pm

      I’m really interested in this ides of God being separate to religion. Isn’t it the case that part of ‘believing’ in God is an acceptance of a particular set of beliefs and a way of living? What is it then that you are thinking of when you think of a ‘God’?

      • 28 June, 2012 / 6:33 pm

        At the end of the day, a religion boils down to a collective following of MAN’S interpretation of God, doesn’t it? Look at Protestants and Catholics back in the 16th/17th centuries – they both believed in the same God but their religious spokemen claimed slightly different versions of what was “the true faith” and what was “blasphemy”. Didn’t end well! I’d just rather have my own ideas and be free to dismiss those I didn’t want. It’s a very individual thing – I feel no need to read a Bible, take communion, confession, sing hymns etc. When I think of God, I think of a guiding spirit, part deity, part Mother Nature perhaps, something that inspires me try to be a better person, live my life wisely and well; something to give me hope and strength; a hope of a heaven to ward off my fear of death maybe? But I’m no theorist and maybe this is all twaddle!

        • 8 December, 2020 / 4:21 am

          I try to follow Jesus and I don’t think you’re too far off in regards to your idea of the Spirit. He’s a guide and comforter. I remember my shift from atheist to agnostic and then when someone told me that God wanted a personal relationship with me my biggest roadblock was that I couldn’t even live up to my own standards so why would I want to add a whole book to them. Their answer was compelling, they told me that the whole reason why Christ died was so that God could give us his good Spirit to live in us and be a helper to empower me to live. That was many years ago and I still receive his help daily in many ways as long as I open myself up to him and admit when I get it wrong.

  5. kirsty
    21 June, 2012 / 8:08 pm

    I have always found myself very alone in my view on this subject. I have a fear of death in as much that there are things I want to do, but when the time comes it doesn’t bother me at all that there will be nothing. Part of me wonders if I feel this way because I wasn’t raised with a belief in a God, part of me wonders if I’m just lacking something that the rest of mankind seem to have.

    • 28 June, 2012 / 3:53 pm

      Gosh, I think that’s probably unusual, but very liberating if you have no fear of death itself?

  6. 22 June, 2012 / 8:38 am

    A really interesting, beautifully written post and a lovely poem. I’m with Freya in that I’m not all that concerned about the afterlife (although I’m really hoping the process of getting there isn’t a painful one because I am scared of pain!).

    For me, becoming a Christian was something that happened like falling in love. I wasn’t looking for it; a sense of knowing and understanding just sort of grew until I couldn’t deny that there was a truth I could either choose to ignore or to embrace.

    Now my relationship with God is about the comfort of a Father, an understanding of who I’m meant to be, and all sorts of other wonderful (and challenging) things in this life. I’ve seen time and again how my relationship with God – in a Christian context – has produced one tiny miracle after another, and has helped me to (hopefully) become a more loving, kind, patient etc person (still a work in process, I know!).

    I still don’t really know what happens when we die, but I’m glad I’ll spend the afterlife with Him, whatever that looks like.

    • 28 June, 2012 / 3:54 pm

      See this is excatly what I miss – that comfort, guidance and understanding. Those are the things I imagine a believe in God to bring, and the things I often wish I had!

      You summed that up very nicely for me :-)

  7. 22 June, 2012 / 12:46 pm

    Belief in God and man-made religion are two separate things.

    Religion is, I guess, the practice of our beliefs. But it doesn’t make his existence true or otherwise.

    Feeling the hole is, in fact, quite natural. Because we are made to be in a relationship with him.

    He’s already made the first move. The ball is now in your court. Kim*


    • rinsimpson
      29 June, 2012 / 8:52 am

      What Kim said :)

  8. Chris
    29 June, 2012 / 4:58 pm

    I also used to believe in the god of the bible, but no longer. If there were such a being and as the bible says, intervened when sin was so great, where is he now?

    I finally realized that it was the questions like, where did I come from, how did I get inside this body, what will happen to me after I die; have caused humans to believe in something (anything) that explains it.

    Most storys that tell of a time past start with ‘once upon a time’. The bible starts with ‘In the Beginning’. See the similarity? Obviously, before humans could write, they could not record actual events. All religions have similar beliefs and every one says it is the truth. Ya right.

    I miss the belief in god and the community that was associated with that. I may have even lost my daughter as she believes in the god i used to. I just can’t believe in something simply to satisfy anyone else. I have to look at the facts of life and see them for what they are. It took me nearly 10 years of living in a spiritually devoid place to realize why things are the way they are. If there were the god of the bible, he certainly would not tollerate what humans are doing now. Also he would not remain absent for this long. Never in the bible has god been away as long as he has this time. That puzzled me for a long time until I realized that it was just a story, most of which is used to control people and to give those in control both power and wealth.

    I liked this article and the things said by many and decided to tell my story. It certainly doesn’t give anything to look forward to but it is real. Once I die, I expect things to be like they were before I was born. All this stuff about having a spirit is really just self awareness. I can’t explain how it works but fully expect it to die with the rest of my body. Many will say I will burn in hell forever. To you I say, get over it and get real.

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