Take Me to Church Nicole Scott Free Inquiry

It is the world’s great religions that have perhaps given most thought to the role played by the environment in determining identity and so—while seldom constructing places where we might fall asleep—have shown the greatest sympathy for our need for a home.

—Alain de Botton, The Architecture of Happiness

The architecture firm I write for had hired a Dutch company to redo our brand and website. At the project kick-off meeting, the team leader asked each of us to name our favorite place. “Kate, why don’t you start us off?”

I was at my desk in my bedroom in Albany, facing my computer and the window beyond it—not so I could gaze upon the February-brown field but so my onscreen face would be lit, more or less, by the weak winter light. We were all in separate rooms: the Dutch quarantined by law during a Covid surge and the New Yorkers dispersed as a matter of convenience.

I panicked briefly. Should I try to impress these hip young Europeans or deflate their silly get-to-know-you game? Should I mention something famous or something obscure? But a place had popped into my head and would not be dislodged, so I decided to go ahead and name it: the Pazzi Chapel, Basilica di Santa Croce, Florence.

Why did I love it? They wanted to know. I looked away from the screen and saw myself sitting on a stone bench in the chapel. The vast and dazzling Santa Croce contains sixteen different chapels, countless works of art, and enough memorials to famous people to make you dizzy from hours of peering at floor, wall, guidebook, and back again. It’s filled with a silvery light and what seems like the entire art and architectural history of the Renaissance.

But Santa Croce also offers escape: out of the central nave to the south, into the main cloister, with its perfect Brunelleschi arches, shaded stone walkways, and a trim green lawn. And from there, into the Cappella dei Pazzi, the Pazzi Chapel, which is as ornamentally restrained as Santa Croce is riotous. Its scale is still grand compared to normal life, but its domes, arches, and vaults feel within reach and, perhaps more important, within comprehension. Just a square topped by half a sphere. That’s how it feels, anyway; that’s the calm it conveys. White plaster walls alternate with the smooth, blue-gray sandstone called pietra serena—peaceful stone—to soothe the eye. There is stained glass, yes, and glazed terracotta tondos by Luca della Robbia, but mostly there is room to think. To rest on the stone benches built into the walls. To breathe.


When I was a child sightseeing with my family in Europe, churches were the salvation of my tired little legs. Technically, churches were also the reason my legs were tired: my father was an architecture buff, and my parents were indefatigable sight-seekers, and, for a time, professional tour guides. A famous church, or even a significant church, or even a significant painting inside an insignificant church, was not to be missed. And so we trudged. But after dutifully examining the statue/triptych/stained glass window of art-historical import, and before moving on to the next entry in the Blue Guide, I was permitted a few moments to sit in a cool interior and stare admiringly at vaulted arches. I doubt I got architectural insight—I definitely didn’t get religion—but I got rest and peace, and that was plenty.

I have loved churches ever since. Once released from parental supervision, I continued to include church resting as a regular part of my sightseeing habit. I have fed coins into a box to light up Giotto’s frescoes, admired St. Francis’s vow of poverty, imagined the weight of Jesus’s body in my arms as I contemplated Michelangelo’s Pietà. I’ve been struck by the modest grandeur of the Synagogue in Florence and the petite perfection of Kahal Shalom on the Greek isle of Rhodes.

Even if you’re not a sightseer or have never attended religious services, you’ve probably been in a house of worship for weddings, funerals, or rites of passage. Or for something not even remotely religious.

Here’s an incomplete list of the things I have done in churches or synagogues: Attended nursery school. Shopped at a rummage sale. Gone contradancing. Heard choral concerts. Taken a child to a Mommy & Me class. Watched a child play Chopin at a Chopin competition and Prokofiev at a Russian music competition. Waited in the nursery area while a child had voice lessons. Voted. Gotten vaccinated. Accompanied a friend to an AA meeting. Cooked at a soup kitchen. Watched a child perform in Into the Woods. Taken a Pilates class. Toured a flower show.

In America, churches are unavoidable: they are ubiquitous quasi-civic buildings with social halls and meeting rooms that can be rented for events. I always enjoy my excursions into these places, and I like to read the bulletin boards and peek into the sanctuaries if I can. It makes me feel like I’m spying on America. It also gives me a small sense of loss. Here is something good that I can use but not possess.

What is that good thing exactly? What makes a church—or a synagogue or a mosque—an object of my desire?

Home away from Home

The only place of worship I ever officially belonged to was Beth El Congregation in Harrisonburg, Virginia. Everybody called it “Temple Beth El” or just “Temple,” a nickname that for me evoked both the legendary temples of Jerusalem and golden-pillared Greek ruins like the Parthenon. Our Temple was less majestic: a mid-1960s building with a drop-ceilinged social hall and a shush-carpeted beige sanctuary freighted with modern Judaica.

Beth El was not particularly beautiful or grand, but it was mine. We belonged to it as members, but more important to me as a teen, it belonged to me. It was mine to invite guests to, mine to deride affectionately, mine to help clean after an event. I knew how to open the vinyl accordion partition that separated the sanctuary from the social hall. I knew what the water in the water fountain tasted like. I could be sent to the kitchen for paper napkins. And when my non-Jewish friends arrived for my bat mitzvah ceremony, I felt like I was the host, greeting them at the door, showing them where the bathrooms were. Beth El means house of God, but to me it wasn’t so much the God part that mattered, it was the house part.

Many synagogues are called “Beth” something or other. The largest Reform synagogue in Albany is Beth Emeth (House of Truth), and my father-in-law’s Orthodox synagogue is Beth Abraham-Jacob (House of, um, Biblical Patriarchs). The philosopher Alain de Botton describes synagogue as “a temple to house a book,”[1] because behind every synagogue altar is an ark, and inside every ark is a velvet-draped, bejeweled Torah scroll—a book inside a house inside a house. In Real Good Church, Rev. Molly Phinney Baskette describes how she breathed life back into First Church Somerville in Massachusetts, and she’s very clear on the house part of the endeavor. She writes about pastoral care, community outreach, social justice, finances, and leadership, but Chapter One is called “The Building,” and job one was the women’s bathroom. (Job two: the nursery.)

An extra house: think about how that enlarges your world. An extra place where you feel safe. A place you can go if you need to pee. A place where you might find help if you need it, and where others might ask you for help if they need it.

I have been to a few get-togethers with a local atheist group. We meet at a coffeehouse or a brew pub or a diner near the section of highway we’re about to clear of litter. We usually don’t have a particular subject to discuss or event to plan; the point of our get-togethers is just to enjoy the company of like-minded people. Though I’m lucky enough not to need a safe group in which to be myself, I know I should help form that group for others. But I rarely do. I think that’s partly because every Capital Region Atheists and Agnostics outing is an outing: you have to double-check the time and the place before you leave the house, then find the restaurant, then find your seat at the restaurant, and order and pay and generally suffer the discomforts of public gatherings. What might lure me out of the comforts of my home on cold nights after long days is another home. A house of (non)worship. Where I knew what to do with my coat and where the bathroom was and where they kept the coffee. A house that welcomed everyone—because everyone’s a stranger there the first time—but conferred a special sense of belonging on those of us who chose to keep showing up. For this reason, I once seriously considered joining a synagogue in Albany. I didn’t want spiritual guidance; I just wanted somewhere to rest.

My father tells the story of an emissary from a church down the road visiting my parents right after they moved to Broadway, Virginia. The lady said she wanted to welcome them to town and invite them to join the church. My parents replied that, er, actually, they planned to attend the synagogue in Harrisonburg. “That’s just fine,” she responded. “Just making sure you had a place to go.”

“A place to go.” That’s why people continue to go to houses of worship even when they don’t worship anymore. It’s the house part they want. The sense of belonging and welcome and family—or, if family is too strong a word, familiarity.

A Temple of Belief

Places make us feel things. If your memories of 2020 and 2021 are faulty, your sense of chronology and events unreliable, the place-less-ness of the Covid-19 lockdowns could be why. Not being in physical places removed so much of what our brains use to remember things. We may have experienced plenty professionally and emotionally and intellectually, but if it all happened within the same space or on the same thirteen-inch laptop screen, does it feel like it really happened? It’s like reading a digital book instead of a physical book: I love my Kindle, but I’ve noticed I remember much more vividly the physical books I read. The sensual experience— the feel, the weight, the color, the paper—makes an impression, and in that impression the ideas of the book can pool.

But places do more than make events memorable. I know this partly from working at an architecture firm but mostly from being a person. A badly designed hotel can make you feel confused, dumb, and trapped; a well-designed one can make you feel confident, smart, and free. Bad museum: overwhelmed, confused, bored. Good museum: curious, inspired, alive. In The Architecture of Happiness, Alain de Botton writes, “An ugly room can coagulate any loose suspicions as to the incompleteness of life, while a sunlit one set with honey-coloured limestone tiles can lend support to whatever is most hopeful within us.”2 Our susceptibility to the built environment puts us at the mercy of architects and interior designers—“we are inconveniently vulnerable to the color of our wallpaper”3—but it also means we can make spaces that make us feel certain ways and think certain things.

That’s what, it seems to me, those gorgeous churches I visited as a child were trying to do.

The very principle of religious architecture has its origins in the notion that where we are critically determines what we are able to believe in. To defenders of religious architecture, however convinced we are at an intellectual level of our commitments to a creed, we will remain reliably devoted to it only when it is continually affirmed by our buildings.4

Churches, synagogues, temples, and mosques all give their congregants a second home—that’s crucial—but they also give them wonder and awe. Just by paying their dues or showing up every week, just by belonging, people get to own a small piece of a very big thing, a small piece of grace and beauty and history and community. A sense that they are part of something larger than themselves, something connected to the greater world or even to the eternal. Imagine how that would feel to a tradesman or a peasant in Renaissance Florence, living in cramped and demoralizing quarters. The Pazzi Chapel would be the opposite: it would be moralizing.

Leon Battista Alberti, fifteenth-century artist, author, mathematician, and architect (oh golly, I think we have to call him a Renaissance man), in one of the first books of architecture ever, On the Art of Building in Ten Books (1452), gives detailed and highly opinionated instructions on how to build everything, including sacred buildings. In his writing, he conflates Greek and Roman temples with contemporary churches, and he lumps in the Greek gods with the Catholic one (he refers to ancient times as “the primitive days of our religion”5). So when he talks about how to build a temple, he’s really talking about how to build, say, Santa Maria Novella in Florence (he designed its upper façade).

What should a “temple” be, according to Alberti? He thinks sacred architecture should embody dignity, as well as purity, simplicity, and grace. Most of all, it must be impressive: not for the gods, who are above such things, but for people “who value them so highly.” Sacred architecture should be impressive enough to remind people that the gods are of the highest importance and therefore remind us to be reverent. “There is no doubt that a temple that delights the mind wonderfully, captivates it with grace and admiration, will greatly encourage piety.”6

A beautiful house of worship reinforces the idea of worship itself. It can be deeply persuasive. “Under the influence of the marble, the mosaics, the darkness and the incense,” writes de Botton, “it seemed entirely probable that Jesus was the son of God and had walked across the Sea of Galilee.”7 In persuasive settings such as these, not just ideas but institutions and their representatives appear to merit trust. The Catholic Church is to blame for allowing priests to prey on children, but surely Catholic churches—the buildings themselves—buttressed the hierarchy and the institutional authority that made the faithful more susceptible. The higher the vaulted ceiling, perhaps, the lower our defenses.

I’ve fallen for this persuasive power myself, not as a defenseless child, but as a proud mom. When Jesse was thirteen, he was invited to audition for the Choir of Men and Boys at the Cathedral of All Saints, the seat of the Episcopal diocese of Albany. The fact that he would be singing religious music didn’t bother us; he had already sung more than his share of Christmas carols and gospel songs. I didn’t believe in the Messiah, but I believed in Handel’s Messiah. I believed in Bach. Auditioning for the celebrated Cathedral Choir was a big deal, an impression intensified by the cathedral itself, which looked like a big deal: a nineteenth-century Gothic-revival cathedral complete with flying buttresses and a giant stained-glass rosette. It’s the fifth-largest cathedral in America and can accommodate more than a thousand worshipers.

From an ivied side entrance, we pushed open a heavy wooden door with wrought-iron fixtures to enter the choir practice room. The audition was rigorous—scales, intervals, range check, sight-reading—and the music was as demanding, and the choirmaster was as exacting, as a young musical perfectionist could wish. Before we left, the director showed us the interior of the cathedral proper. It was vast and cool and dark but for the light streaming through the stained glass.

Driving home, besotted, I started to do the kind of calculations a parent does when her child wins a place on a travel soccer team and she is flattered into considering ridiculous logistics: sure, the weekend obligation and the weekly practice would be tough, but I could bring my work with me or find a local coffee shop … I could make that my reading time! I could—

Jesse interrupted my reverie. “Do they allow gay marriage?”


“I’m not doing it if they don’t allow gay marriage.”

When I got home, I looked it up; they didn’t. They really, really didn’t:

Members of the Clergy Resident in or Licensed to Serve in this Diocese shall neither officiate at, nor facilitate, nor participate in any service, whether public or private, for the Celebration or Blessing of a Marriage or any other union except between one man and one woman.8

It turned out Albany was the only one of the five Episcopal dioceses in the state that didn’t bless same-sex marriages, and the bishop of the diocese (Bishop Love, I kid you not) had a national reputation as a conservative who opposed the ordination of gay priests. I emailed the choirmaster and told him why Jesse declined to work for his organization, but when he called to assure me that the forces of progress were working on the problem from within, I wavered for a minute. Thank goodness my son was more principled—and more resistant to the persuasions of architecture—than I.


Uncovering the ugly doctrinal underbelly of the Cathedral of All Saints was a good reminder that places of worship, by definition, include the worship part. The part that excludes me. While there are churches whose values I don’t actively oppose, even churches whose values I positively admire, I can never truly give myself over to awe and wonder in a place whose reason for being is God. Before it’s the home of any one person, a church is God’s home. The foundations of even the most progressive, politically palatable church, synagogue, and mosque rest on God: God’s authority, God’s presence, God’s very existence. None of which I credit. So while I can feel awe at the acts of human creation and cooperation that church architecture requires, while I can feel inspired by the play of light on stone, I cannot feel fully transported by a place of worship.

But I still want that feeling. And I am not alone: “In the absence of gods,” writes de Botton in Religion for Atheists, “we still retain ethical beliefs which are in need of being solidified and celebrated.”9 We still need spaces that inspire us.

Religion for Atheists is a charming book that distills some things religion does well and proposes ways for the secular world to coopt them. At the former, de Botton is a master; at the latter, he is a bit … impractical. Instead of temples to gods, he proposes temples to perspective and reflection. “A Temple to Perspective would hope to push us towards an awareness (always under threat in daily life) of the scale, age and complexity of the universe” and “A Temple to Reflection would lend structure and legitimacy to moments of solitude.”10 Sounds lovely. But he doesn’t say who’s going to build these temples; he just thinks them up and includes photorealistic renderings of them in his book.

De Botton himself notes that one of the things that religion does best is accumulate wealth. He writes, “Only religions have been able to turn the needs of the soul into large quantities of money.”11 Right. And therefore, only religions can actually fund the construction of temples. De Botton devotes a whole chapter to how adeptly religions build institutions and extend brand identity. The problem is that without the institution, the authority it confers, and the money it can raise, it’s unlikely that his delicious secular fantasies—of Agape Restaurants (“ideal restaurant of the future” where we break bread together with strangers) or of a university with a Department of Relationships and an Institute of Dying—could ever become commonplace.

Perhaps it is more useful to note that many Temples to Perspective and Reflection already exist. I’m thinking of monumental architecture on the National Mall or some of our great memorials to our fallen dead and civic heroes. There are scenic overlooks all around the country where, if you take a moment to pull over, you cannot help being awed by the view. There are towers you can climb and bridges you can cross that make you feel small, relatively speaking, but also enlarged by the artistic and engineering feats achieved by your fellow humans.

In other words, we already have Temples to Perspective and Reflection (and Progress and Sacrifice and Hope). But those are not quite churches, since they offer awe and wonder without the creature comforts. You may be moved, but you probably don’t know where to find the bathroom.

Home + Temple – God = ?

So where can atheists access the binary power of church: the comfort of home and the inspiration of temple?

Some lucky few of us can gather as atheists in dedicated houses of nonworship, such as the Sunday Assembly (tagline: “Live Better. Help Often. Wonder More”) at Conway Hall in London. The New York Society for Ethical Culture, housed in a fine old building on the corner of West Sixty-Fourth and Central Park West, offers a regular Sunday Platform. But as scarce and scattered as these God-free churches are, attending one would render me (and I imagine most atheists) a pilgrim rather than a parishioner.

A few institutions—noncommercial and nonreligious—have the wealth and power to build gorgeous buildings for daily use. Fancy colleges, for instance, pour money into their architecture and send calendars filled with campus glamor shots to their alumni in aeternum. If you walk around Yale or Stanford or Middlebury on a reasonably nice day, you might wind up not just impressed but moved. All this—for education. If you are lucky enough to enroll, you get, for a few short years, the golden ticket: home + temple. A place you belong and a place that makes you feel like you’re a part of something important. In this case, what’s important isn’t God but learning. Susan Ackerman, a religion professor at Dartmouth College, says churches are “sacred centers” around which people organize their lives—and that Dartmouth’s sacred center is Baker Library, with its clock tower, its majestic spire, and its Green-facing gravitas.[12] The Lawn at the center of the University of Virginia campus argues that the acquisition of knowledge is an absolute good—as does, I gather, the Middle Path through Kenyon College in Ohio. The Beinecke Library at Yale positively glows with the glory of the written word: How can anyone who studies there fail to absorb the sense of historic purpose involved in the act of reading?

I should note that one can—one should—question this magnificence, just as one should interrogate the glories of Santa Croce. What fortunate few do these exquisite libraries serve? From what crimes do these stained-glass windows distract? To what better purpose could these funds be put? But for me, those questions complicate rather than erase my sense of awe and longing.

For my birthday a few years ago, my parents bought me a membership to the Whitney Museum of American Art. This was not a practical present. I do not live in New York City. Since college, I have lived on a farm, fields on all sides; before college, I lived in an old farmhouse (fields on two sides) in a tiny Virginia town. But (therefore?) when that heavy plastic, highly designed card arrived in the mail, I cried: I had my golden ticket. And the next time we were in New York making our kids tire out their legs at art museums, I insisted we use the members’ cloakroom. Here was what to do with my coat, and here was our bathroom—both of them housed in a beautiful paean to the value of art and abstraction. Home plus temple—mine!

Perhaps rare books and modern art aren’t your thing. It could be a minor league baseball stadium, where you know which vendor makes the best burgers, you chuckle at the announcer’s stale jokes, and you feel at peace when a hush falls over the crowd on fireworks night. It could be a one-hundred-degree yoga studio, smelling of eucalyptus oil and sweat, where your initial irritation at your space-hogging neighbor gives way, after an hour, to a kind of love. It could be a salsa club, where no one cares about your job, your politics, or your country of origin, as long as you can find the one (or the two) and move your hips. It could be a slightly tattered local movie theater where every interaction—with other patrons, with the young tattooed employees—is backlit with the shared understanding that you could be sitting in comfortable stadium seating at the metroplex, but you have chosen this place instead.

Harvard Divinity School students Casper ter Kuile and Angie Thurston published a study, “How We Gather,” that identified different varieties of “church” for religiously unaffiliated millennials. These included an arts community in Washington, DC, called the Sanctuaries and Artisans Asylum, and a forty-thousand-square-foot makerspace in Allston, Massachusetts. “But the one that really threw me,” ter Kuile later wrote, “was CrossFit. People didn’t just talk about it as their community. ‘CrossFit is my church’ became the refrain.”[13] Tara Isabella Burton writes in Strange Rites about how, at one point in her life, her church was the McKittrick Hotel, home of the immersive theatrical experience Sleep No More.”[14]

Perhaps there is no single answer to the problem of church. Perhaps the answer is we each must find our own.

Or make them. My father is a Shakespeare professor and the cofounder of a theater company, but he does love architecture, and not just as a means to torture small children. I learned from him how to tell Norman from Gothic arches, and why, more or less, the Pazzi Chapel makes me feel the way it does. He has actually built his church: Blackfriars Playhouse—a reproduction of Shakespeare’s indoor theater—in Staunton, Virginia. The ostensible point of the Blackfriars is to produce Shakespeare’s plays in a place that mimics the original performance conditions (plus electricity), thus unlocking much of the genius of the plays. But that’s not the only point. The Blackfriars is, simply, beautiful. A rich tableau of wooden beams and red cushions and golden light. People get married there. And because it’s beautiful and also completely superfluous to the maintenance of human life, it says, This is what we value. Shakespeare is what we value. Theater is what we value. Its beauty confers value on everything that happens there, so when you are in the audience, it confers value on you. And when you return again and again, subscribe, donate, or volunteer, when you get to know the staff and the seating chart and the best bathroom to visit at intermission, that magical place becomes yours.

The Music Studio

When my kids were growing up, there was a place I went at least two times a week, sometimes five. Its potholed parking lot made me shake my head, but it also made me smile because it told me I’d come home. Its hard wooden benches were comforting, though not comfortable; its scuffed halls were filled with familiar kids and grownups, some of whom had known my children since before my children could read. I could leave my kids for hours without informing anyone and without worrying a bit. (And I did once or twice, by accident, in the great game of after-school three-kid monte that Adam and I used to play.) We paid to belong; we grumbled about the policies; and we felt ourselves fortunate to have found the place, so fortunate that we even tried to get our friends to join. And all the members of that community were there because we shared a belief in the same higher power: not God, in this case, but music.

For more than fifteen years, my children’s music school was my church.

It was housed in an old city school on an ugly stretch of a five-lane commercial artery between the suburbs and the city proper, with the car washes, nail salons, and gas stations. Though the building felt solid and permanent, it was not in itself inspiring. The ceilings were high, but the lighting was resolutely fluorescent; the wall-to-wall carpeting in the classrooms was an institutional blue-gray-green; the holiday decorations in each classroom were the same every year. You had to know the place was worth the potholes because you couldn’t necessarily see that it was.

But, if you belonged to The Music Studio, you got awe and wonder too. Several times a year, we all dressed up and entered a pretty recital hall at the local university, with balconies, red velvet drapes, plush chairs, and a Steinway grand onstage instead of an altar. In front of the piano—just as at an altar—stood a big bouquet of flowers.

In the audience at that recital hall, my daughter first learned to suffer boredom quietly; a long Mass could not have done the job better. She doodled; she yawned; in her program, with my pencil, she assigned each performer a letter grade for fashion; she turned to me often to mouth the words, “This is so looonggg.” And yet, when she had her first recital there—in an A+ outfit, naturally— she could not have been prouder or more solemn or more relieved afterward than if she had celebrated First Communion.

In that hall, my sons learned to act respectful and attentive and fidget discreetly (and make paper airplanes from their programs). At the end of every recital, no matter how they had played, they emerged into the large foyer for trays of sweets and plastic cups of lemonade, just like after services at church. And just as we would in a church social hall, we lingered longer than necessary over store-bought cookies, basking in the fellowship, hoping for a blessing from one of the teacher-deacons or maybe even a word of particular praise from the pastor herself, the director of the school.

And as long as my kid wasn’t the one playing, I could relax in one of those plush chairs in “my” balcony, staring up at the chandelier, transported by the strange and undeniable power of music. How could something be so useless and yet so essential? How could a teenager, playing something written by another teenager two hundred years ago, fill me with hope? These were things I could feel and think about all the time—in my car, in my kitchen—but I didn’t. I thought about them there, in that beautiful room. Built by human beings—filled with human beings—reaching beyond their daily lives to touch something both universal and immortal.


Once you belong to The Music Studio, you always belong. That’s what the director says. But the pandemic broke the physical connection—they took the benches out so no one could congregate to wait for their children—and my daughter’s graduation will complete the schism. Though I will always feel connected to it, there will be a point when I will no longer feel it’s my church.

Then what?

I’ll just have to find another, despite the effort that might take. Even for many believers, church is not a given anymore, now that, as Rev. Baskette puts it, we’re past “the age of civil religion, when everybody went to church because everybody else went to church.”15 That makes the job of revitalizing her church harder, but it also makes it more meaningful, since every week the people who come to her church are actively choosing to do so.

People for whom a place of worship is neither home nor temple (let alone both) won’t choose to keep coming back. They’ll show up for weddings and funerals and maybe a choir concert or an election. But if they don’t believe in the existence of the deity in whose honor and service the place was built, they’ll need another place where, as de Botton puts it, “the values outside of us encourage and enforce the aspirations within us.”[16] I wish for each of us at least one place that performs this function, be it the local library or a neighborhood bar or the lecture hall at a nearby campus where visiting writers read. I wish for each of us a home + temple. If you don’t have one, go find one. If you do have one, take a moment to see it, to recognize it anew, the next time you are fortunate enough to find yourself inside it.

Excerpted from We of Little Faith: Why I Stopped Pretending to Believe (and Maybe You Should Too) Copyright © 2023 by Kate Cohen. Reprinted by permission of Godine.


1. Alain de Botton, Religion for Atheists. New York, NY: Pantheon Books, 2012, p. 257.

2. Alain de Botton, The Architecture of Happiness. New York, NY: Vintage Books, 2008, p. 107.

3. Alain de Botton, Architecture, loc., p. 227.

4. Alain de Botton, Architecture, loc., p. 832.

5. Leon Battista Alberti, On the Art of Building in Ten Books, trans. by Joseph Rykwert, Neil Leach, and Robert Tavernor. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1991, p. 229.

6. Leon Battista Alberti, Art of Building, p. 194.

7. Alain de Botton, Architecture, loc., p. 863.

8. Episcopal Diocese of Albany, “Canon XVI – Marriage” (accessed October 2, 2022).

9. Alain de Botton, Religion for Atheists, p. 257.

10. Alain de Botton, Religion for Atheists, p. 261 and p. 264.

11. Alain de Botton, Religion for Atheists, p. 284.

12. George M. Spencer, “True Believers.” Dartmouth Alumni Magazine, January 2019.

13. Casper ter Kuile, The Power of Ritual. New York, NY: HarperCollins, 2020, p. 5.

14. Tara Isabella Burton, Strange Rites. New York, NY: PublicAffairs, 2020, p. 7, p. 93.

15. Molly Phinney Baskette, Real Good Church. Cleveland, OH: Pilgrim Press, 2014, p. 51.

16. Alain de Botton, Architecture, loc., p. 835.

It is the world’s great religions that have perhaps given most thought to the role played by the environment in determining identity and so—while seldom constructing places where we might fall asleep—have shown the greatest sympathy for our need for a home. —Alain de Botton, The Architecture of Happiness The architecture firm I write for …