I've been an OUT atheist for over 25 years, but grew up Lutheran and went into a slow slide of other denominations of Christianity during the last 5 years of my Christianity.
The longer I remain an atheist and look back into the idea of gods, the stronger I feel I was correct in my decision oh-so many years ago, but. . .
. . . But, I miss the strange, family-like feeling that churches hold for its members. I suppose that is one of the more enticing aspects of religion and cults-- a feeling of belonging. Having a place to meet like-minded people one (or 2 or 3) days a weeks. To this day whenever I smell hot coffee and cheap cookies, my mind flashes back to the Sundays of my childhood.
I MISS that feeling of family, but as many before me have pointed out, trying to organize atheists is like herding cats.
Even if atheists DID organize into some sort of non-church affair, by definition, we don't have a dogma to preach and discuss. We're not ANTI god... (most of us), we just don't give any of the gods a thought.
I'm a very spiritual person-- maybe a discussion point for another thread-- and I'm sure some of you area as well. How do you cope with our lack of any cohesive group? Without that sense of 'family'?
Some atheists will say you can try to join a local atheist group or start your own. From closely watching forum discussions of this nature, I speculate these atheist groups are lacking in some aspects compared to a lot of main line religious organizations.
I like to think it is only because we are so discriminated against and therefore, smaller in numbers, and also, as yout point out, we don't share an intense emotional focal point.
For example, Christians have this Christ/God having the answer to EVERYTHING concept, except, for the thousands of mysteries which are to be chalked up to God wanting things to remain mysterious until after one gets to heaven. This very view, gives them a bonding advantage over groups that don't have a super power hero to worship.
Atheists know good and well they don't have the answer to everything, but at least we try to find one. Maybe that should be our emotional focal point, but I'm afraid that won't quite work because it's not as seductive as the concept of a super being (check the grossings of top box office super hero movies if you don't believe me).
We all want a hero. Athiests do no have one and never will. Once people start to accept the fact that there is no magic being in the sky that is ultimately, going to give them what they want, one day, the more motivated they will be to try to make this world a better place for all.
I don't have an answer for you, mainly because I was never in your position. I am sure many here at this forum have been so I look forward to seeing what there advice is almost as much as you must.
I don't miss the church atmosphere at all, but then again I was never a fan when I was a member... But I will suggest you look on meetup.com for Atheist groups or clubs for anything else you may be very interested in. If you love bowling, maybe a bowling league. Love books, volunteer at a library. Love nature, maybe a hiking group. etc... I will say that you may be surprised how many Atheist meetup groups there are. But they can vary greatly in quality. The city I live in has one that meets monthly, has an annual picnic and has occasional co-events with another group in a neighboring state. However the group that's in the city where I work hasn't had any meetups for quite some time. They're so inactive that it took weeks before the group starter got on and approved my membership. So I suggest you look to see if there is a local group and give it a try. If it comes up short, you're only out an evening. Or if it's fun but not active enough you can always try organizing additional meetups as well.
I wish I could give you some words of wisdom on this, but unlike you, I never felt connected to a congregation. Your use of the word "cult" more aptly describes my impressions of church from when I was a kid. I felt totally alone at church and never understood the feeling of community that everyone else seemed so drawn to. I felt like people were going to church to be seen and as a social gathering rather than to "worship" and it bothered me.
I will say though that there are atheist groups that do meet. There is one locally in my area that I found through the Meetups website. It is a humanist group and they organize talks in coffee shops and notify of events like book signings, talks on local campuses, etc. Perhaps there is something like that in your area...
Good luck in finding what you are looking for!
I didn't really find a need for a church until I had kids - and living in the South the second question you're asked (after your name) is "What church do you go to?" I didn't want my kids to feel uncomfortable or ostracized, and I really liked the way the UUs teach about religions - from a historical and objective perspective - "why" do they believe what they believe, and do what they do. Very kewl.
Since then I still love our congregation, so I still go. My eldest daughter was married by our (retired) minister as well.
I guess for me, I just haven't been concerned about being part of belonging to a group where atheism is a major component.
I have been with a marathon training group for years. We have developed a great sense of camaraderie, and even (if it floats your boat) a spirituality about it. (Believe me, in the last few miles of a marathon, I so want to revert back to my old rosary-praying days, but typically go into focusing-on-breath mode a la yoga.)
I guess this group for me satisfies the former sense of a church congregation, in that long-distance running does (for most of us) become a physical, emotional, and intellectual challenge and experience. I sense the majority of my group sees it that way, although perhaps not exactly in those terms. I haven't talked to many of them about it.
And my engagement in this group has nothing to do with the percentage of them who are theist vs. atheist. It simply isn't relevant to what we're about, or what we get out of it.