I had a weird and wonderful discussion with an African professor some years ago, that started when I said I was an atheist. He could not wrap his head around the concept, as it was inconceivable in his culture, and he got really upset - and so did I when he kept going on about it … rather aggressively, to my mind.
In the beginning it looked like one of those unbreachable canyons that unexpectedly separate people from different cultural backgounds, but both of us were genuinely interested in understanding the other’s point of view, and we talked on for a long time, looking for common ground … and I’m so glad we did, as we finally crossed the canyon:
His was a culture of nature worship, and to him an “atheist” was someone who had cut himself off from all that grows and nurtures in the world - living in a mental Mordor, so to speak. A psychopath, maybe. And it had been a shock to hear me define myself as such a person.
So I was happy to finally reassure him: I could finally answer his “But you have to worship something! What do you worship?” by saying that I didn’t use that word, but I gathered energy from trees and rocks and hills and mountains, and that for me, sitting with my back to a tree and feeling the rough bark, seeing how the tree is connected to a cycle of life, and knowing that I am also a part of that cycle ... that is a religious experience.