Former Pastor Jerry DeWitt Will Host an Atheist Church Service in Louisiana

If I lived in Louisiana, I’d be clearing this day on my schedule: Former Pastor Jerry DeWitt will be hosting the state’s first-ever “Secular Service” with a theme of “Joie De Vivre: To Delight In Being Alive”:

Our mission is to gather community while promoting a foundation of hope, trust, and love thus bridging tolerance through common secular values. We will bring the excitement into the hearts of freethinkers without exposing them to any supernatural aspects. We can provide all of the music, merriment, and ministry to our passionate growing secular crowd and still have it devoid of supernatural praise.

Think about those days when you went to church. How the preacher spoke passionately, so passionately that it resonated within your heart. At times it would often seem like he was speaking directly to you. No matter what his train of thought was, when he gave you the message you found a personal meaning. Think of how uplifting it was to not only hear, but feel the words.

We are not asking you to commit yourself to a church, or an idea, or even an ideology. We just wish that you come and join us and help us rejoice in simply being. You may find that this is something that helps you to analyze normal day to day activities that cause stress and deal with them in a secular way. This can be the answer to the lack of community within the secular movement.

The timing may have something to do with the fact that DeWitt is being filmed for a Kickstarter-funded documentary and his book will be released two days after the service — but don’t think that’ll diminish from the service.

Jerry is a guy you’d want to listen to even if it was just him and a microphone. Put him in front of an audience, get him back in full-on pastor-mode, and it’s bound to be a powerful service no matter what.

No word yet on whether this is first of many services or just a one-time thing, but I hope it continues. Keep in mind that the London-based Sunday Assembly is making its way over here, too, so we’re going to be seeing a lot more of these kinds of “atheist churches.” Even if you think it’s too “church-y” for you, it’s a nice point of transition, letting you enjoy the service and community without the supernatural unnecessary part.

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.

  • DavidalBarron

    I don’t care, I’m not going to “atheist church” unless you at least call it “humanist chapel”, or, better: “Sunday Morning Beer Hour”. I’ll just keep going to the comedy club every Sunday.

    • onamission5

      I am with you on atheist church, but I would so go to Sunday Morning Beer Hour.

    • http://parkandbark.wordpress.com/ Houndentenor

      “Sunday Morning Beer Hour” is a far better marketing plan.

    • Cocky Bastard

      He obviously missed the money he made preaching, and instead of gettnig a real job or working for a real career, has found a way to cash in!

      Pretty intelligent, actually.

      • Haley

        If you were to meet or personally know Jerry, you would realize he is the most humble person meiosis ever produced =0) People do things for many reasons, but I highly doubt fame and fortune would be the route he is trying to create.

      • Louis LeJeune

        Jerry has spent the last year writing a book and filming a documentary and doing interviews for major press outlets for money.

        The small honorarium that he receives (which all speakers generally receive this) is nothing compared to the amount of money you can make at McDonald’s.

        Jerry doesn’t do this for the money. He does it because he loves two things…truth and people. On his quest for truth he discovered that there wasn’t a God and he feels that message is a positive one to push humanity forward. He has sacrificed his life and marriage to bring these stories to all of us.

        Pretty compassionate, actually.

  • Guest

    Lose the religious jargon all together. Why on earth does an atheist want to use religious terminology in reference to any activity or philosophy? Personally I find it offensive and accomodationist. Stop it!!!

    • jcdenton40

      “Lose the religious jargon all together. Why on earth does an atheist want to use religious terminology in reference to any activity or philosophy? Personally I find it offensive and accomodationist. Stop it!!!”

      As I said above, click on the link to the actual event description. You will find that Jerry did exactly what you are suggesting.

  • http://www.youtube.com/user/GodVlogger?feature=mhee GodVlogger (on YouTube)

    I have gone to various atheist gatherings and have *loved* them all, so if one near me was called “atheist church” then I would be happy to go to that too.

    Meanwhile, re: calling it “atheist church”, the *BEST* part is that this phrase will *totally* upset the theists!

  • Jim Hudlow

    An “atheist church” screams “atheist leap of faith” or atheist worship of whatever. The conflicts and confusion of using relgious jargon really renders the atheist position as very cloudy. We do not participate in theism. We gather socially because healthy humans socialize. Rational humans consider a~leap of faith~ a flawed manner of ascertaining truth or knowledge as it eschews empirical proof by definition. Ditch the religious terminology. It has no place in atheism except as an example of what not to be and how not to think.

    • jcdenton40

      “An “atheist church” screams “atheist leap of faith” or atheist worship of whatever.”

      “Atheist church” is the terminology Hemant used in describing the event; when you click the link to the actual event page, the term is nowhere to be found. In fact Jerry doesn’t seem to use any “religious terminology” whatsoever (other than maybe the word “service”, which is pretty far removed from having an exclusively religious connotation).

      In other words it sounds to me like Jerry is doing exactly what you’re suggesting for him to do.

      • Jim Hudlow

        Good…thanks for the correction jc….

  • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/friendlyatheist/ Kevin_Of_Bangor

    I hated going to church as a child. Count me out.

    • LL

      The *BEST* part of leaving religion was knowing that I’d never have to go to church again. I didn’t appreciate a single thing about it. I’m definitely out.

      I’m annoyed by the desire to model after religious services, though I’m not sure I have a good reason. I suppose this is what happens when former priests/pastors/etc., bring what they know best (church) into their new secular life?

      • allein

        I wouldn’t say it annoys me but it certainly doesn’t draw me in, either.

  • A3Kr0n

    I’m glad I’m not alone here. I’m taking a “wait and see” attitude, although I have to admit bias toward the negative right now.

  • Bob Becker

    If it’s a “church service,” it’s not atheist. If it’s atheist, it’s not a “church service.”

    • Mario Strada

      I find it very curious that whenever something like that comes up, all the Fundaloons come out and with a contemptuous tone in their voice they declare: “See? Atheism is a religion after all” As if only Christians were worthy of having a community and explore the big questions (which they don’t anyway) or just meet to discuss topics of interest to the community.

      All the while using “religion” or “Church” as if they were insults.
      If you don’t like religion or church so much that you use them as an insult, what does that say about your own?

      Many Atheists, but not all, are also humanists. Humanism does mingle in religious territory from time to time, only the humanists “truth” is based on evidence and reality, rather than imaginary beings. You know, those things like medical research, the sciences, those spaceships that allow us to tell each other what we had for breakfast and so on. Useful things.

      A humanist congregation, as much as you call it so, it’s still not a religion, as it values the individual above dogma and humanity instead of an all powerful, but invisible, being. It also lacks many hallmarks of religion, no leader, no holy book and above all, no tax breaks. Maybe there would be some good in declaring ourselves a religion. We would be able to stop paying taxes the way churches do. I have heard it’s very profitable.

      Using “religion” as an insult toward humanists and atheists is another one of your contradictions I don’t understand. One would think that, of all people, you would understand the need for community every human has, religious or not. So why the tone of superiority as if Christians invented church. You didn’t. Older cultures came before you with the same concept. Did those people looked at you and said “Christians, another proof they are a religion”.

      Sounds like you need some “Honey-Tolerance Cheerios” in the morning. It’s good for the stomach and that ulcer you undoubtedly have after watching Fox news so “religiously”.

      • Bob Becker

        I’m not a Christian, MS. I’m an atheist. My objection to the term “atheist church service” is simply that it is inaccurate and misleading. The term “church service” is inherently religious, and will be taken as such by most. “Atheist church service” is as much an oxymoron as “Fox News.”

        • http://parkandbark.wordpress.com/ Houndentenor

          Agreed. I can see the need for a Freethinker community where we could hear speakers, attend classes, have social activities, etc. I don’t see any need to call it church or dress it up in the trappings of religion.

          • http://gamesgirlsgods.blogspot.com/ Feminerd

            I tend to agree with that. Community good, pseudo-religious trappings not so good. That said, there’s probably space for a church-like community to form that’s open to the people who want such things and the rest of us just don’t have to go.

            • http://parkandbark.wordpress.com/ Houndentenor

              It’s not as if I could stop them from calling it a church even if I wanted to. I think it’s a bad idea to call it that, but that’s just my opinion which I have a right to express. They aren’t under any obligation to care what I think. *shrug*

  • Keyra

    Even more proof that New atheism/antitheism has officially become a religion

    • http://absurdlypointless.blogspot.com/ Tanner B James

      Whoo Hoo! Tax Exempt Status here we come!!

    • http://parkandbark.wordpress.com/ Houndentenor

      He’s one guy. Reading from the comments, it doesn’t seem to be a popular idea. I’m not sure that it’s proof of anything. Just some facts about a single incident.

  • Rain

    In showbiz I think they call it a “shtick”. Jack Benny had a “shtick” that he was always 39. Joe Cocker does the thing with his hands. Jerry DeWitt is an atheist televangelical pastor. If it works then you “shtick” with it and then you have lots of “gigs”.

  • http://absurdlypointless.blogspot.com/ Tanner B James

    Ramen to that my brothers and sisters! Diversity is a great phenomena, for some this is not their cup of tea but for me I like feeling inspired, feeling moved by the moment. I haven’t been to a convention yet and maybe that would do the same thing. I really liked going to “church,” experiencing that sense of community, getting dressed in my Sunday best and engaging my fellow man in a celebration of inspiring human values. But perhaps I like all this because I am just an ignorant proletariat (high school drop out and all that). Out here on the fringes of the interwebs, living in my basement apartment, picking food off my fat, pasty white belly, I feel isolated and alone. (Could you hear the violin playing in the background) But going to church meant I was part of a group, that I was an accepted member of my community and if I can feel that way again, then I’m all for it.

  • Machintelligence

    Think about those days when you went to church. How the preacher spoke passionately, so passionately that it resonated within your heart. At times it would often seem like he was speaking directly to you.

    It never happened. Perhaps it was me, or the preaches weren’t very skillful, but that is at least part of the reason that I rejected religion in my early teens.

    • unclemike

      Me neither. Nothing anybody ever said or did up at the pulpit ever resonated with me. I was more interested in what channel 9 was going to be showing that Sunday during their Sherlock Holmes block.

    • http://parkandbark.wordpress.com/ Houndentenor

      You mean when slick salesmen emotionally manipulated me and occasionally emotionally blackmailed me? Yeah, I remember that. No thanks if that’s what DeWitt is selling.

    • allein

      Me too. I liked my pastor, he was a great guy, but I can’t honestly say I’ve ever experienced this.

    • LL

      The only thing I received was pure condescension, and the only things I experienced were guilt, shame, anger, bewilderment and, most commonly, boredom.

      I’m in no hurry to recreate a moment of that.

  • Art_Vandelay

    You may find that this is something that helps you to analyze normal
    day to day activities that cause stress and deal with them in a secular
    way.

    Eh…I’ll just stick to weed.

  • Mick

    So now what am I going to say when the Christians tell me that atheism is just another religion? All my standard responses have been blown apart by this clown’s efforts to big-note himself.

    Is Dewitt going to take up a collection. He’s had plenty of experience in that area.

  • JET

    I find the term “atheist church” oxymoronic. My dictionary defines “church” as having religious, particularly Christian, connotations. It’s not what I would choose to call any gathering of atheists, and I don’t understand why any gathering of atheists would want to call their group a “church” based on the generally accepted definition.
    I have the same problem with the term “preacher.” Again, my dictionary defines a preacher as someone who delivers a sermon, advocates or urges, and gives moral instruction. I can certainly understand why a group of atheists would want to discuss morality or common causes, and even listen to a variety of speakers on those subjects, but routinely giving the opinions of one member of the group more weight by calling her or him a “preacher” is ridiculous.
    I sympathize with Mr. DeWitt’s plight in trying to find a new occupation. But if his intent is to be a preacher in an atheist church and (I assume) be supported by his congregation, it’s not something I would participate in or advocate.

  • Matt D

    I’m not going to let my distaste of organized religion color the truth of it’s effectiveness, so I can’t really say I’m upset at the idea…..organization is really something Atheists could use, anyway.
    And many people are more comfortable sharing experiences, hopes and dreams with like minded individuals, than keeping it to themselves. Still, I cringe at the “church” reference, but the feelings of discomfort are hardly uncommon when change is flying around ones preconceptions.

    • Vic Wang

      As pointed out above, the “atheist church” reference came from the article writer, not from Jerry. The actual event description does not describe it as such.

  • The Inconsistent Atheist

    This just goes to show that atheism really is a religion, which everyone who has read a dictionary already knew.

    • http://gamesgirlsgods.blogspot.com/ Feminerd

      And not-collecting-stamps is totally a hobby. And not-playing-golf is totally a sport.

      Try again.

      • The Inconsistent Atheist

        What is described above is a religious service.

        Check your dictionary again.

        • http://gamesgirlsgods.blogspot.com/ Feminerd

          Actually, it’s an explicitly non-religious gathering. Kind of the opposite of a religious service, if you will.

  • Vic Wang

    As much as some of you clearly dislike the notion of secular communities which happen to bear superficial similarities to traditional churches, the reality is that they are emerging all over the country and thriving. Here in Houston, after just nine months since the inception of Houston Oasis we’re having a steady 40-70 attendees per week, with at least one week of 100+. We also have regular community service outings, social events throughout the month, a secular addiction recovery program, and next month we’ll be putting on a one-day reason-based secular day camp for kids.

    And yes, the similarities to “church” are purely superficial: we have no rituals, no group song, no dogmas, no authoritarianism, no scriptures, and no supernaturalism. We simply get together weekly, hear educational (and yes, sometimes inspirational) talks from members of our community, have group discussions, and listen to great performances from local musicians. And it sounds like what Jerry is looking to establish is very much along the same lines.

    Perhaps even that may be too “churchlike” for some of us in the atheist community, and if that’s the case obviously nobody is forcing you to take part. But it’s looking more and more like organizations like the one Jerry is trying to establish are going to play a big part in the secular movement going forward, with many of the “churchlike” characteristics that some of you dislike being some of the same reasons that they are already supplanting traditional churches in terms of the services they provide and the sense of community that they can offer. And that’s something all atheists should be able to appreciate, regardless of whether it’s something you find personally appealing.

    • Machintelligence

      You are probably on to something here. I’m sure Jerry would be fun to listen to upon occasion, but overall a regular diet of this sort of activity would not be to my taste. Dan Dennett alluded to something along these lines in his talk “What will replace religion?” He envisioned creedless social groups, with each specializing in some humanist concern. Perhaps it will happen, since we humans love to form “tribes”. We no longer have to do it to survive, so we do it for fun. What else could explain the loyalty to sports teams?

  • Cody La Vergne

    This event and others like are needed so badly in Louisiana. So glad to see a positive event like this taking place.

  • Louis LeJeune

    Hemant, thank you so much for the promotion. I feel the need to explain a little bit to those skeptical.

    One thing that a lot of people miss is that each community has what is called a “Ministerial Alliance”. This is something that atheists have no part in. A secular church gives a way into this.

    Plus, there is nothing wrong with attending a weekly motivational event with a community that you have something in common with. Saying atheists can’t attend a church like atmosphere is very close minded. There are plenty of support groups and activity groups for various interests.

  • Keith Welsh

    I always considered atheist to be open minded and not afraid to listen to others. I think everyone will find what Jerry Dewitt has to say very interesting, no matter what the event is called. Please support your community.

  • Heathen Mike

    Ooh boy! Watched a you tube clip of Mr. DeWitt. Not my cup of tea. Basically, he seems to be hitting on good humanist themes. That’s great. It’s just a style thing for me. “Preaching” as he is doing, I think is fundamentally different from simply presenting a talk, in that the latter would be right at home at, say, a philosophy conference or symposium, seminar, whatever. A “Sermon” is intentionally styled to appeal to people’s emotions, with somewhat less emphasis on facts. Again, it’s really the style, or approach, that kinda turns me off. But hey! I hope this event goes over well. Non-believers to not have to act monolithically. There’s plenty of room for different approaches to reason.

  • Guest
  • Aundria Jouett Dickens

    I think a lot of you are missing the mark. Its a secular service. Not a bible thumping church service. Jerry is just trying to create a safe atheist community where we can all feel welcomed. So many times ‘ We’ find ourselves alone is this Christian dominant world. Especially down here in the south. What’s so wrong with gathering atheist in one place for an uplifting empowering SECULAR service? I personally am looking forward to this event.
    …. And it’s in the afternoon so some of you can still enjoy your early morning beer service!!

    • Aundria Jouett Dickens

      I also would like to point out.. Of you READ this article you can see where Jerry says that he doesn’t want you to feel like you belong to a church. The actual author of this article titled it with ” atheist church”… Just sayin

  • Jake LeBrun

    This might illustrate the thinking behind the event.
    http://laht.blogspot.com/

  • Sue

    I think it is going to be great! I wish that I could go. Sad to see all the negativity and closemindedness in the comments here, but I guess that just shows how much damage religion has done the lives of so many individuals, that they have such a visceral reaction to the notion of a Sunday assembly, or the tongue-in-cheek use of the word ‘church’. Many of us would appreciate a little inspiration from time to time, and a reminder of how much joy there is in being alive and part of community. Our local organization, Triangle Freethought Society, is planning Sunday assemblies to start soon in N.C. It will be a challenge to have a regular program that is fun and inspiring, and that will have none of the trappings of church–except as satire. Satire is fun, And a good stress reliever.

    We enjoyed having Jerry DeWitt here last year as the speaker, and he was great! A very kind, genuine, humble person with a lifetime of experience as an inspirational speaker. It is wonderful that he is able to use those skills to help others who are recovering from religion, or just need some uplifting. You go, Jerry! Thank you!

    And Hemant, I look forward to your inspirational words on Monday!

  • Jerry DeWitt

    Here’s a copy of the message I just sent to our group leaders:
    “Thanks for all the wonderful support! I know that terminology can trip us up. That’s never the easiest problem to fix. Yet…I also know that all of our hearts (there’s another one of those tricky words, haha) are in the right place and I ‘believe’ that by continuing to work together, we can answer the question of secular community in a beautiful way!”

  • Annselm Morpurgo

    The legitimacy of an Atheist Church goes back at least fifty years to “ArtemisSmith’s ATHEIST MANIFESTO” presently available in eBook form from Amazon and BN.com, as well as in paperback in the Appendix to the 2013 edition of “ArtemisSmith’s THE THIRD SEX” which presents Information Science papers on the scientific explication of the phenomenon of ‘Self-Consciousness’ as an emergent property of epistemological activity in the brain. The argument rests on the following 21st Century Unified Science view of Human Exisence:
    |The Observer is the Center of the Universe|
    |The Observer does Logic and Mathematics, which are the languages of Thought|
    |All Thought is Linguistic and therefore Intersubjective|
    All Human Experience is |Linguistic| and scientific truth is therefore necessarily grounded in |The Intersubjective Observer|
    |Logic| has been shown to be merely one suburb of |Mathematics|
    |Mathematics| tolerates and ‘negotiates‘ |Paradox| by taking advantage of internal inconsistencies such as the existence of irrational numbers.
    |Mathematics| since Godel has been shown to be an imperfect and open system. This negates the possibility of Perfection and opens up the |Multiverse|
    |Mathematical Language| existentially notates the |’stuff’ of Chaos| and encompasses ‘all that can be spoken.’
    Beyond ’all that can be spoken’ is |Necessary Silence|
    ‘All that can be spoken’ is both social and quantifiable, including the reflection of |Individual Mind| upon |Itself| which is |Self-Consciousness|
    |System Architecture| may limit |Present Form| but it is not to be confused with |Spirit| which is |Self-Conscious Identity-through-Change|
    |Individual Identity| rests on growing social values and relations and persists in hyperspace and can shape-shift beyond |Initial System Architecture|
    The immediate socio-political implications of this view outlined in the ArtemisSmith anthology are that:
    1. |Gender| is accidental and irrelevant to |Spirit|
    2. |Human Identity| can shape-shift beyond |Biological Existence|
    To contact ArtemisSmith go to http://www.artemissmith.net


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