Is there any word for calling people who pretend to be religious in the religious group they’re in? I mean, the people who lost their belief but can’t say they’re not religious anymore because people will turn against them?

I’ve met several people of that kind so I’d thought it’ll be good to know a word for it. Any suitable adjective then?

I am not implying anything here. No one’s wrong. This is how the world works, sadly. The word fake in the title is a bit off, I know.

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    – tchrist
    Commented Dec 24, 2016 at 2:49

14 Answers 14


Consider closet ___, where ___ stands for the person’s true religion, other weltanschauung, or some relevant aspect of it. This uses closet (adjective) in the sense of:

being so in private <a closet racist>

Some examples and suggestions for possible realisations of the above:

  • Arguably a good compromise between coverage, understandability, and common usage¹ is closet atheist, using atheist:

    A person who does not believe in deities.

    This works whenever the rejected religion is theistic (i.e., featuring at least on deity) and the person in question does not secretly adhere to another theistic religion.

    Here is an example of usage with a situation as the one you describe:

    I’m a closet atheist and I’m coming out. Preparing to lose half my friends in 3…2…1 :-(

  • Arguably, the most general solution would be closet apostate, using apostate:

    A person who has renounced a religion or faith.

    This works with any rejected religion and actual beliefs, even if only a specific flavour of a religion was rejected. However, it is not very common¹ and arguably less likely to be understood.

  • Very commonly¹ used is closet [religion], e.g., closet christian, closet muslim, closet pastafarian, … However this only works if the person in question follows the respective specific religion in secrecy.

  • Closet irreligious or closet non-religious have the advantage that they are likely to be understood and also work in the case that the rejected religion is not a theistic one.

Neither of these explicitly capture that the person in question ever believed in the religion, but this does not seem to be central to what you want to say.

¹ Going by Google hits.

  • 3
    Closet apostate sounds (a bit) like an oxymoron to me. Apostasy is a formal act of renouncing a faith. Sure, I can imagine a person being an apostate and keeping it a secret, but I think that is only a very small proportion of those who are only superficially devout (and also a small propotion of actual apostates, who are a relatively small group to begin with, considering all the hassle involved).
    – tomasz
    Commented Dec 22, 2016 at 18:25
  • 1
    @tomasz: None of the sources I consulted claimed that apostate applies only to those who formally renounced a religion. There is a tendency towards this direction, but closet should make clear that this is not intended.
    – Wrzlprmft
    Commented Dec 22, 2016 at 19:09
  • This entire answer only applies in a limited set of circumstances where you know what other thing a person actually believes. This is information not always available and not a common usage for the situation described in the question. The most common usage would be to call them nominal ___ or cultural ___ where you fill in the blank with the thing they make appearances of being but don't really believe.
    – Caleb
    Commented Dec 24, 2016 at 7:42
  • 1
    @Caleb If you don't know what they believe, how do you know they don't believe whatever they pretend to?
    – jpmc26
    Commented Dec 25, 2016 at 8:27
  • @jpmc26: Well, you may not be talking about a specific person, see, e.g., the tirade used as an example in this answer. I do not dispute that the limitation mentioned by Caleb exists (except for apostate which is general).
    – Wrzlprmft
    Commented Dec 25, 2016 at 8:35

They are called religious pretenders or Christian (church-going) pretenders if their religion is Christianity. Pretender is

a person who professes beliefs and opinions that he or she does not hold in order to conceal his or her real feelings or motives.



This message is to all church-going pretenders out there – the ones who look heavenly on Sunday, but live like hell Monday through Saturday. You look good on the outside, but when God looks at your insides – inside your heart – it’s a dirty mess!

I’ve got bad news for you. Jesus hates religious pretense. But I’ve also got good news. He loves the pretenders! He gave His life for hypocrites like you and me. The end of being a religious pretenders is to admit our sin separates us from God; then ask Christ’s forgiveness; then believe to be right with God is your only hope for change.


I can only speak from a Protestant Christian perspective, but someone who pretends to be a Christian but clearly makes no effort to to behave like a Christian (except go to church and say the right words) could be called a hypocrite.

hypocrite noun [ C ]

someone who says they have particular moral beliefs but behaves in way that shows these are not sincere

Cambridge Dictionary

Of course, the term hypocrite can also be used in a non-religious context.

Someone who has little or no faith, but goes to church and otherwise leads a blameless life is said to be a formal Christian.

Remember that most Christians have doubts (as do members of other faiths), and these doubts can be so severe that they may wonder if they are Christians at all. I would not blame such a person for keeping quiet about it whilst still making the effort to attend church services.

  • 12
    This doesn't sound right—you yourself say "but clearly makes no effort to behave like a Christian" but the OP's example suggests instead someone who is trying hard to look and behave like a believer (in whatever religion they're trying to blend into). If you must approach this as a Christian, think of what word or phrase you would use to describe early Christians trying to hide from Roman persecution.
    – 1006a
    Commented Dec 19, 2016 at 16:38
  • @1006a The OP clearly describes someone pretending to be something that they are not. I think that the term hypocrite covers that scenario. I'll try to rework it and make it more nuanced.
    – Mick
    Commented Dec 19, 2016 at 17:21
  • 2
    While I agree that a hypocrite is someone who pretends to be better than they are - and that religions do have problems with such behaviour, I don't see how "lost their belief but can’t say they’re not religious anymore because people will turn against them" is covered by "clearly makes no effort to to behave like a Christian" - though I do see how "people turning against them" may use the term hypocrite...
    – cbeleites
    Commented Dec 20, 2016 at 20:11
  • 2
    @KonradRudolph : closeted skeptic might be a better term, as not all skeptics are atheists. (some might even be dystheists or misotheists). And related : english.stackexchange.com/q/156501/7786
    – Joe
    Commented Dec 21, 2016 at 16:01
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    @Joe The question is specifically asking for a term for people who don't believe in a given religion any more. Those people are usually atheists (or converts) but not necessarily sceptics in the general sense. "Closet apostate" might be the best fit if it were actually in use. Commented Dec 21, 2016 at 16:49


This is an adjective used to describe people who do the rigmarole for certain reasons other than the intended motivation, such as:

  • Friends, family, everyone in town, etc does it
  • Mama did it, Grandma did it, Great Grandma did it

Cultural Christians, for example, sit on pews every Sunday (or at least Christmas and Easter), might or might not pay attention, probably believe the very fundamental stuff (for example, there is a God and Jesus is his son) but put none of what they claim to believe into practice, potentially because they don't actually know enough about it to put it into practice.

  • 1
    you can find Cultural Christians called "Chreasters"
    – Jeutnarg
    Commented Dec 19, 2016 at 18:47
  • So called because they only come to church on Christmas and Easter ;) Commented Dec 25, 2016 at 12:30

Nominal or Hypocrite

Nominal is used to mean "in name only," as in "nominal Christian." This word is used in other contexts, but in Christian circles, this is a common term.

Wikipedia has an article for this term (specifically the Christian variety) which also lists other terms along these lines.

Hypocrite means someone who says one thing, but does another. They do not practice what they preach.

The short wikipedia definition: the contrivance of a false appearance of virtue or goodness, while concealing real character or inclinations, especially with respect to religious and moral beliefs


You could use the adjective 'nominal' in front of whatever religion or belief. I think this sounds at least slightly less pejorative than 'fake', but still gets the point across.

As an aside, the term Jack Mormon sounds like what you mean, but is applied specifically to members of the LDS (Latter Day Saints) church.

  • 4
    I suspect that there's no generic but widely used term, however each faith probably has their term for faithless adherents.
    – Adam Davis
    Commented Dec 19, 2016 at 20:35
  • 2
    "Nominal" is okay, but not excellent, in that it does not strongly imply that the person(s) described are hiding an actual departure from the faith they still pretend to have. To me, "nominal __" doesn't necessarily imply that they're hiding a lack of faith; I typically take it to mean that their practice (if any) of their faith/religion is insufficient to meet the speaker's standards.
    – Mathieu K.
    Commented Dec 20, 2016 at 9:04
  • I was about to answer this. Heard of 'nominal [denomination]' once after church then looked it up
    – BCLC
    Commented Dec 20, 2016 at 13:50

In Name Only , sometimes abbreviated CINO, CHINO or XINO when applied to Christians.

Pope Francis used this phrase 9 February 2014.

Apparently there is even a song titled CINO (Christian In Name Only)


Deconvert has the "losing religion" part of what you are looking for. I couldn't find it in the usual dictionaries, but the meaning should be apparent to English speakers.

Wiktionary defines "deconversion" as:

The loss of faith in a given religion and return to a previously held religion or non-religion (typically atheism, agnosticism, or rationalism).

(Note: I have heard this used to describe a loss of faith even when the person was raised in the church and didn't really have a "previously held" religion.)

You could combine this with "secret" or "closet" as per Wrzlprmft's answer, to describe someone as closet deconvert or someone who has undergone a secret deconversion.

  • 1
    Interesting. I like this but I have never heard it before. That said, I think if someone used it around me I would know exactly what they meant.
    – S. Buda
    Commented Dec 19, 2016 at 18:53
  • I understand the "return to previously held" as a requirement of an actual conversion happening before. For someone who has been raised in religion X and then lost his faith in it "deconvert" is not appropriate as he was never converted in the first place.
    – Agent_L
    Commented Dec 21, 2016 at 13:16
  • 1
    @Agent_L That's a valid argument. I'm not as familiar with other religions, but my branch of Christianity believed that you weren't born into it by default and you had to actively accept belief (via prayer, confirmation, baptism, etc.). So even if you were raised in the church, there was still a public "conversion" or profession of faith - whether or not it was personally meaningful, or just going through the expected motions. I would consider "deconvert" appropriate for that.
    – user812786
    Commented Dec 21, 2016 at 13:37
  • @whrrgarbl You're right, I was preoccupied with the idea of being part of a church as the "default" state one is born into.
    – Agent_L
    Commented Dec 22, 2016 at 9:31

The term "lapsed" is sometimes used to indicate that someone used to be religious (or was raised to be religious), but isn't any more. Wikipedia has an article titled Lapsed Catholic, but it's applicable to ex-non-Catholics as well

A lapsed Catholic is a baptized Catholic who is non-practicing.1 Such a person may still identify as a Catholic2 and remains a Catholic according to canon law.[3]

The Merriam-Webster Dictionary definition of "lapsed" in relation to "lapsed Catholic" is "no longer believing or following the teachings of a religion".[4] Lapsing is thus not necessarily connected with a lack of belief.[5] However, Daniel Ford links being a lapsed Catholic with rejection of Catholic teaching, either totally or by being an "à la carte Catholic".[6] Other sources associate the term with abandonment of practice of the Catholic religion rather than with rejection of its doctrine. Thus the Cambridge Advanced Learner's Dictionary defines "lapsed", again in relation to "lapsed Catholic", as "no longer involved in an activity or organization",[7] and the Oxford Dictionary speaks only of "no longer following the rules and practices of a religion or doctrine".[8] Richard John Neuhaus, quoting G.K. Chesterton's remark that a Protestant typically says he is a good Protestant, while a Catholic typically says he is a bad Catholic. For many, being a lapsed Catholic is just another way of being a Catholic.[9]

and from Wiktionary:

(of a person) Changed to a less valued condition or state; especially having lost one's religious faith.
(humorous) By extension, having changed a (secular) belief or adherence.

However, the term "lapsed" doesn't directly indicate that they've failed to indicate that they're no longer an adherent.

  • The two definitions are not consistent: Wikipedia clearly states that one may be "lapsed" while still believing. It also implies that someone who keeps up the appearance of religion (e.g. by going to church) is not lapsed.
    – David K
    Commented Jan 12, 2017 at 19:08

You could use "tartuffe". "Tartuffe" is the name of a character in one of the most famous theatrical comedies by Molière.

According to wikipedia :

As a result of Molière's play, contemporary French and English both use the word "tartuffe" to designate a hypocrite who ostensibly and exaggeratedly feigns virtue, especially religious virtue.

  • 14
    No, this is an unfair portrayal of the OP's question. A person who is either too scared or ashamed to admit publicly they no longer believe, ... can’t say they’re not religious anymore because people will turn against them? is not a tartuffe. They may simply go through the motions, without being ostentatious.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Commented Dec 19, 2016 at 11:23

Word for fake religious people

"dissembler": one who hides under a false appearance (but it requires a religious context to apply.)

A common term that describe actively religious actions is "piety". Thus "False Piety" is a phrase that works for this.

"Hypocrite" is more common, but the meaning is more about actions being in alignment with words than beliefs with words/actions.


The term Sunday Christian is a term for a Christian who pretends to be religious for the perks, or based on social pressure. It is a rather negative term when used by 'real' religious people, basically calling out people who don't practice what they preach.

Usage: "I don't want to see any Sunday Christians in my congregation," said the pastor. "Get out there and spread the word of God!!"


Consider the adjective So-called defined by The Free Dictionary.

Used to show that you think a word that is used to describe someone or something is not suitable or not correct. (Cambridge)

It was one of his so-called friends who supplied him with the drugs that killed him.

Another example:

He was a member of so-called religious people.


How about masquerader?

Oxford Dictionaries:

masquearade: pretend to be, pose as, pass oneself off as, impersonate, disguise oneself as, simulate, profess to be

A masquerader is one who masquerades.

Fake religious people are no different from other people who masquerade as something they're not, whatever the reason. If one's friends are republicans, pro choice or pro LGBT, creationists, etc. one might masquerade as one of them to avoid conflict and preserve the "relationship".