Introducing The Hotline Project: For Those Who Need To Talk To Someone About Their Religious Doubts

Ever since I heard about this project more than a month ago, I’ve been excited it share it with all of you. We know becoming an atheist rarely happens overnight — for many of us, it’s the result of a lot of introspection or conversations with trusted friends. But what happens when you don’t have anyone to talk to? What if you’re a church-goer who doesn’t really have any non-religious friends? What if you’re a teenager whose parents are very religious? What if you’re a pastor?

That’s where The Hotline Project comes in.

It was started by the folks at Recovering from Religion and it’ll offer a single phone number where anyone having religious doubts can call in — 24 hours a day! — to talk to a trained, trusted individual.

The Hotline will provide trained volunteers to answer a toll-free hotline and provide real time, caller-specific support to each person who contacts us, 24/7! We will offer national, regional, and local resources — a secular support network they can utilize. By providing this Hotline service, Recovering from Religion will be able to help people in their most urgent time of need.

There are some obvious questions you might have — I know I did — so let’s get those out of the way.

Are the staffers really trained? Yes, just as they would be for any other “hotline.” Recovering from Religion Executive Director Sarah Morehead tells me:

Training will be via webinar over several weeks, with small groups and interactive role play/discussions. We also plan to offer one-day specialized volunteer training workshops alongside conferences around the country… We’ll focus on basic hotline management skills, active listening skills, RR policies and RR views on religious transitions, volunteer expectations, and learning to provide real-time resources to callers, as well as attending to crisis cues such as suicide and/or domestic violence concerns, both of which would be referred to more specialized calling centers for those particular issues.

How can this service possibly be available 24 hours a day? When the program begins, volunteers will be able to sign up to cover different shifts and the system will direct callers to an anonymous staffer who is available at that time.

Will callers be persuaded to become atheists? Absolutely not, says Sarah:

Responders will absolutely NOT urge any form of belief or disbelief. In fact, our volunteers will be specifically trained to never debate callers under any circumstances.

Recovering From Religion is passionate about meeting people where THEY are at on the spectrum of disbelief (see below). It’s not our place to do anything but encourage exploration and discovery, and to provide a solid support structure as people reconsider the role of religion in their lives. For many, this is a long process and we will be with them every step of the way. For some, they might be taking a smaller step by exploring a more liberal church, or by finding the confidence to assert their financial independence from tithing. For others, they might work their way through various forms of increasingly self-defined religious belief, and ultimately leave religion entirely. Some may even have it all suddenly fall away in one fell swoop and be left with no idea what to do or where to turn.

Every story is the same, yet every story is unique, and our volunteers will be trained to address them and point them towards resources and support networks that meet their individual needs. This might simply be helping them find a more liberal leaning church in their area, locate books or articles that offer additional insight into their experiences, an online discussion area (like RR’s confidential online support group page), or local secular groups near them.

Can we sign up to be volunteers?! Not yet. But soon.

How can we help? They need donations. For this project to work, it can’t be done half-assed:

The biggest costs for the Hotline Project are, first and foremost, the call management software system. We’ll be using the same system used by other major crisis lines, which will allow us to have call routing (instead of a brick and mortar call center, which would be prohibitive and unrealistic to staff), quality management, transfer options in the event a call is risked out for suicide crisis, as well as collect anonymous demographic information to better train our volunteers and capture accurate data that demonstrates the efficacy of the project as a whole. The other major expenses will be volunteer recruitment and training, which will involve vetting volunteers to ensure they are a good fit for the type of work this will involve. Also we’re having our training program reviewed by independent and currently practicing psychologists in order to ensure standards of care are met and adequate quality control is in place. The final cost for the hotline will be targeted advertising outside the secular community that it is up and we are ready to help.

If you’d like to pitch in to make this project a reality, please give what you can here. That money will be earmarked just for this project.

It’ll take a few months to get the system ready, find the volunteers, and train them before the project is open for business, but this will be incredibly worthwhile. I’ve known Sarah for a couple of years and this project is in good hands under her management.

About Hemant Mehta

Hemant Mehta is the editor of Friendly Atheist, appears on the Atheist Voice channel on YouTube, and co-hosts the uniquely-named Friendly Atheist Podcast. You can read much more about him here.

  • Brian Westley
  • Reginald Selkirk

    where anyone having religious doubts can call in — 24 hours a day!

    But surely not on the Sabbath?

  • Reginald Selkirk

    Somewhat off-topic: Did you know there are no atheists in foxholes? I read it in the Cornell Chronicle.

  • Coolred

    Just wondered if anyone saw this. A religious class was required for graduation…yet the school never mentioned it to graduating students.

  • Space Cadet
  • m6wg4bxw

    Maybe the Internet has made me cynical, but I expect lots of trolling. Do they have a plan for this?

  • Miri

    I hope they start accepting volunteers soon! I can’t really afford to donate right now, but I’d love to get trained and help.

  • JohnnieCanuck

    I’m thinking of a (censored) way of counteracting this service. We’ll see, but at the very least they can expect to get people trying to save the souls of the volunteers or just denouncing them.

  • TCC

    That’s exactly what my reaction was when I first heard about this. I’m hoping to volunteer once everything is in order.

  • Richard Wade

    This is good news. People need skilled, sympathetic, and respectfully neutral listeners to find their way through this process, simply being given permission to talk openly about their thoughts and feelings. Having readily available references to different resources for more support and information will be enormously helpful. Wherever the callers end up in their decisions, there is so much needless pain that can be avoided or reduced by simply talking to knowledgeable people.

    A few people have candidly shared with me as they start to question their faith, and I always very carefully maintain a strictly neutral position. I must respect their process and who they are. Whatever is their eventual decision must be entirely theirs.

  • Robster

    This is cool! Those afflicted with religion and realise they have an affliction can get help. Cool too that religious belief is being categorised as not so much an illness but as a sickness that is best avoided and needs help to be cleared up. Have the godbots cottoned on yet about this? I’m looking forward to a response.

  • deBe’ holland

    wonderful idea! being 10 yrs. old and knowing i was atheist it was lonely and a long road by myself . . . thank you!

  • Desmond Rutherford

    Some people may well find assistance in comparative religious studies such as the Theosophical Society. I have seen many people appreciate and understand the agnostic and atheist viewpoints through consulting the relevant sections of the Theosophical Society’s wide-ranging libraries.

  • chicago dyke

    i am so qualified to be a volunteer it’s not even funny. next paycheck, this IS my donation. and if they’ll have me, a few hours a month as a volunteer. thank you Hemant, for linking to this. this is the best news i’ve read in months.

  • Guest

    Thanks so much for your encouraging words and your support, that m