Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Coming Out Atheist and the Clergy Project

Former Minister and Now Atheist,
Jerry DeWitt

There’s been a great deal for atheists, non-theists and secularists to talk about lately as the movement towards reason grows globally and as more people reject faith in favor of scientific rationality. While the movement has a long way to go, especially in the United States, one thing is for certain, we’re seeing individuals from all walks of life come out of the closet to declare their atheism. They’re doing it not in radical or violent ways, but by ushering in a celebration of our common humanity and showing that we can be good without god. As someone who is part of this new movement, I urge everyone to share the joy of life without god belief or the need for organized religion, prayer or faith.

Several national secular and reason-based organizations have been pushing the whole, “Out of the closet” movement for atheists.  According to population census data, at last count there were about thirty-five million Americans who claim to be atheists (10% of the population) and many more who claim agnosticism or no formal religious belief.

The national and international secular-rights movement is very much like the social movements of the past which have made a huge difference for groups considered at one time on the “fringe” of society. These movements have impacted the civil and equal rights of millions and have allowed for economic and social prosperity for minority and ethnic groups; the disabled; women; and certainly those in post-Stonewall LGBTQ community. In most cases, once the stereotypes are broken down, people no longer seem like “the other.” This leads to a stronger and more accepting society and certainly one that becomes more intellectually homogeneous as we accept others regardless of their external appearance, their language or affects, or their ideas.

While these human connections increase through social and legislative transformation of behavior and cultural expectations, those who reject change usually do so on biblical grounds.  This typically means the interpretation of morality based on their selected holy books and not another’s. Hence, we see individuals and communities pushing back against equal rights, integration and as recently as today in the United States, in North Carolina the legislation of who can marry. That state just approved a ban on same-sex marriage based on the biblical definition (New Testament) of such pair bonding.

Former Pastor and Now Atheist,
Mike Aus
This is why “coming out an atheist” expressions are vital. If nothing else they help build community. Thus, we see the Freedom from Religion Foundation, the Recovering from Religion organization and American Atheists, all with their “out” programs. And why the Richard Dawkins Institute “out” program for former clergy is so important.

The striking thing about the clergy-turned-atheist stories is that while they’re all individual, they appear to share a similar theme. Questioning from the pulpit or when they wrote sermons, tending to their flock while doubting the accuracy of their bible; performing rites and services while seeing the fallacy and folly of organized religion. Here are some interesting news and links from several organizations about their clergy projects:

But I have to say, reading the preacher, pastor, imam, minister, rabbi or priest’s stories about their individual break from a life directed towards faith can offer us an opportunity to appreciate how those so dedicated to faith and its related cognitive dissonance overcame such cultural and emotional obstacles.

Such breaks with faith and religion disrupt magical thinking and ignorance and replaces them with free-thought and a better understanding of the natural world. So while religious leaders may lose their job, income and community standing, they gain a level of personal honesty and healing which they all say is more important to their individual worldviews and psyche. 

Personal honesty was former Pentecostal minister Jerry DeWitt’s message given to a jam-packed audience at last March’s American Atheist annual convention in Bethesda, MD. Also, former pastor, Mike Aus, just penned a great article on Dawkins’ website about his personal realization that faith is a lie and how Darwin’s theory of Natural Selection is the ultimate religion killer and how most ministers know but will never admit it, here is a sample:

It took me a long time but when I finally came to appreciate the explanatory power of Darwin’s theory, I could no longer claim that it was irrelevant to religion. Evolution impacts everything. I have traded Mount Calvary for Mount Improbable, and life is now a far more interesting journey. And I also now understand why so many evangelical Christians are hostile to evolution. They too, know that evolution impacts everything, and as more and more people come to see the beauty and power of Darwin’s insights, they know that humanity will inevitably leave religion behind.

1 comment:

  1. I had the pleasure of interviewing Jerry at the 38th Annual American Atheists convention this past March. He will be giving a presentation/interview this coming Sunday, May 13, 2012 at the New York City Atheists Sunday brunch. Looking forward to it!