My First Reason Rally – A Relief and a Thrill

My First Reason Rally – A Relief and a Thrill June 13, 2016

Editor’s Note: Two posts this week are written by Clergy Project members that I had the pleasure of meeting in person at the Reason Rally that was held recently in Washington. It was their first time being with so many openly secular people and their energy and enthusiasm are palpable. Although I’m very happy that they could have the experiences they describe, part of me is angry that our society, which is modern in so many ways, still suppresses the simple truth about religion to intelligent, curious adults.

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By “JamesS”

I was once a shepherd, believing that atheists, agnostics, freethinkers and humanists were all wolves after my sheep. However, after de-conversion, leaving the ministry and ultimately arriving at the 2016 Reason Rally, it was abundantly clear that there were no wolves amongst the crowd. There were only fellow human beings seeking unity and truth. This is quite the contrast from a life spent in a world that inadvertently divides people and puts forth extraordinary claims from an ancient book as the truth.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

In November of 2015, while planning my exit from the ministry, the Paris terrorist attacks unfolded. Over the next few weeks, with nothing else to see in the news, I became more motivated to leave this world of religion. So I set a date to leave the church. I told the church staff and leadership, and bought plane tickets to Washington D.C. with the intention of attending the Reason Rally. There were many reasons why I wanted to attend the Rally, but the biggest reason was not to feel alone. And it worked. It was amazing to feel like I was no longer in the minority. What I didn’t expect was how many “firsts” I would experience. It’s not surprising, though, considering that I’d spent the last two years of my 11-year ministry as a closeted atheist.

It was the first time that I was able to say out loud, to another human being, that I am an atheist. As a Clergy Project member, I was lucky enough to be invited and attend the pre-rally breakfast at Linda LaScola’s home. It was the first time that I was able to meet other people, face to face, who had left ministry because they no longer believed. To talk with them and exchange de-conversion stories was very motivating and very healing. There were several religious groups at the rally. Some were protesting, some were preaching and others who were doing one-on-one evangelism. This was the first time that I was on the other side of that “great commission.”

Reason rally 16 crowd

I walked past some of the crazier protesters and heard all the familiar Christian one-liners, for instance:

“I’m surrounded by fools! For the bible says the fool hath said in his heart, there is no God.” (That loving quote from Psalms 14)

“Atheists have no basis for morality.”

(My personal favorite) “Atheists know that God exists. You just repress that fact so that you can live your sinful lifestyle.”

Actually, that last one is quite insulting for those of us who had to give up so much just so that we can say we don’t believe.

I even stopped and listened to the one and only Ray Comfort do his evangelist thing for a while. However, a special highlight for me – for the first time as an atheist- was being able to have a one-on-one conversation with a believer. He told me his name was Bob and that he was there because he didn’t want us to go to hell. It was a surprisingly civil conversation. Although I’m certain that he was not swayed, it was inspiring to see him run out of reasons and be forced to play the “it’s-about-faith” card. All without me having to play the “I’m-a-former-minister” card.

Perhaps the most important and much needed takeaway I got from the Reason Rally, was the theme of unity. I don’t mean having the structure of a church service to form community, but rather to see and acknowledge the real things that are so important, and to see so many people doing something about them. I’m thinking of those who lobbied congress, who donated money, who gave incredible speeches. Many of them are actively working on the front lines for reason. There is no need for prayer here. It’s people who are getting the job done.

There were so many wonderful speakers: Penn Jillette, James Randi, John de Lancie, Bill Nye, and many others. But the physicist Lawrence Krauss really made an impact on me.

Laurence_Krauss

First, his speech was absolutely the most inspiring to me. He spoke of many issues by asking “how is it reasonable that (name issue here).” He really got people riled up and celebrating reason. Then, towards the end of the rally, he walked through the crowd, speaking with the people. By the time Bill Nye came up to speak, Krause was about 10 feet away from me, standing in the grass like all the rest of us. It meant a lot to me. We humanists not only fight for equality – we practice it. Lawrence Krauss being “one of us” in the crowd made me recognize that we are all in this together. There are no shepherds, no wolves and no sheep – only humans seeking inevitable truth.

**Editor’s Question**  What was it like for you the first time you were with like-minded secular people?

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Bio: “JamesS”  I was born into ministry. Because my father was a pastor, ministry and faith made up the only world I ever knew. I was ordained and entered into the ministry at age 18. After nine years in the ministry, a snowball of circumstances and bible realizations led to my doubt and eventually to my atheism. I joined The Clergy Project and two years later made an exit from the ministry and the life that I had known. These days I am just happy to be discovering this wonderful world of reason and reality.

>>Photo Credits:  https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/b/b0/Gutenberg_Bible.jpg

Reason rally 2016, by Matthew Facciano, Patheos blogger http://www.patheos.com/blogs/accordingtomatthew/2016/06/reason-rally-review/

By Jvangiel – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=29105838

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  • mason

    JamesS, Thanks for the Reason Rally report about your experience. I’m a huge fan of Krause; he doesn’t mince words or play PC game, plus a brilliant astrophysicist with a quick sense of humor.

    What was it like for you the first time you were with like-minded secular people?

    It was just a couple months ago, and I really enjoyed the experience at the University of Florida where Dan Barker spoke. I was able to meet him and Larry Condra , a TCP member, who I discovered also lives in Gainesville and we’re now Facebook friends

    I was highly impressed with the U of F students, who were members of U of F Humanists. I noticed they all were exceptionally bright eyed and alert, probably due to lack of the God delusion clouding and their brain function. 🙂

    I don’t care for large cities or large crowds so I don’t envision myself going to any kind of large rally.

    • JamesS

      He really is a brilliant and inspiring person.

      I feel the same way about
      large cities and crowds. However, after feeling so alone for so long in the
      “crowd” of the church, I wanted to feel welcome and
      included just for being me. It was a bit draining, but worth it in the end.

      • mason

        Very happy you stepped out of your comfort zone and had a supportive and memorable life experience.

  • davewarnock

    Thanks for sharing your story. I remember when I quit believing I felt quite alone. I didn’t know of the online secular community and I knew no one personally that had de-converted; much less left ministry. It was such a relief to meet others who shared my experience.

    We are not weird.
    We are not evil.
    We are not alone.

    We are just people, trying to figure life out and being honest with ourselves that the “answers” we had thought we got from Christianity were just more questions.

    The biggest thing I have learned is that there is no shame in honest inquiry.

    • Linda_LaScola

      Dave — how did you find out about the online secular community, specifically The Clergy Project ?

      As for the biggest thing you learned: that there is no shame in honest inquiry — This is one of my pet peeves about religion — that it’s considered OK to doubt, but NOT ok to reach any conclusion except that God is real and religion is a good thing. It bugs me to no end that people are shamed for thinking logically.

      Imagine if scientific inquiry were like that? What a crazy system where it’s OK to question but not ok to study and come to a different conclusion based on increased knowledge and understanding.

      • mason

        Yes, it’s a modified Inquisition style of thinking “system” this theistic stuff. We weren’t even supposed to seriously question, just “trust and obey.”

      • davewarnock

        I think I heard about it through an interview with Jerry DeWitt. I had seen something on him and called him once; I also called Dan Barker once as well. I was looking for someone- anyone, who knew what I was going through.

      • ctcss

        part of me is angry that our society, which is modern in so many ways, still suppresses the simple truth about religion to intelligent, curious adults.

        OK, I ‘m afraid I don’t get this statement. Our society is based on (among other things) freedom of speech. So, given that the society has this fundamental right at its core, how is society, in any way, suppressing any kind of truth? Did you, perhaps, mean culture instead? A society can contain many cultures, and I would be happy to admit that some cultures in our society are in favor of supressing information that they do not favor. But a society based on, and defending, free speech does not suppress information, otherwise all kinds of ideas would be prohibited by law.

        And what is this simple truth about religion that is being denied to intelligent, curious adults? Were the libraries all boarded up and the books within them burned? Were the universities surrounded by barbed wire and watch towers preventing entry? And is it really a truth (throughly researched and proven) that was being suppressed, or is it just (within a culture) an unpopular opinion?

        As for the biggest thing you learned: that there is no shame in honest inquiry — This is one of my pet peeves about religion — that it’s considered OK to doubt, but NOT ok to reach any conclusion except that God is real and religion is a good thing. It bugs me to no end that people are shamed for thinking logically.

        Personally, as a religious person, I think that honest inquiry is wonderful! As a Sunday School teacher, I wouldn’t want it any other way for my students. The religion I was raised in actually requires its adherents to decide for themselves if they think what is being taught has any merit. They are supposed to examine it in detail and to put it into practice. And if they find it to be lacking, they are quite free to decide that our religion is wrong, or that God is not real, and move on to that which they consider to be more valuable, if that is their honest conclusion about it.

        I get the feeling that you are commenting on approaches to religion that are more dogmatic and authoritarian in nature. And since not all religions are that way, what you really appear to be peeved about are approaches (dare I say cultures?) that are exercised in a dogmatic and authoritarian manner.

        Imagine if scientific inquiry were like that? What a crazy system where it’s OK to question but not ok to study and come to a different conclusion based on increased knowledge and understanding.

        I fully agree. But this cuts both ways. I once had an email exchange with a fairly prominent atheist who had written a piece on my religion. His piece was polite, but I felt that he was missing an important point, and that maybe a little investigation on his part (with me pointing him to specific, reasonably short things to examine that might shed some light on where he had gone wrong) might give him an opportunity to change his mind. His response? “I have neither the time nor the interest.”

        I would have been entirely happy if he had carefully examined what I was pointing him to and had come to an intelligently reasoned conclusion that was different than my own. I think it’s quite valuable to learn where honest, dissenting questions can arise from. But apparently he was far more content holding onto his current opinion rather than looking into the matter further to see if he might have been wrong.

        Let’s just say I was not very impressed.

  • carolyntclark

    We, husband and I, were quiet atheists, belonged to FFRF, looked forward to the monthly newspaper. We attended the FFRF Annual Convention in Hartford, Cn. in 2011. We only had one, now deceased, openly atheist friend with whom we enjoyed no-god talk.
    Having been victims of the Catholic propaganda about evil atheists, we were a bit apprehensive about being in the company of so many, not knowing if we would find ourselves uncomfortably in the midst of unpleasant activism. Not so. The feeling was one of being together with people that had a true appreciation and understanding of life. It was great being with Dan Barker and Annie Laurie.

    The socials were lighthearted fun as we exchanged some of the war stories of our past religious affiliations. There was lively music, delicious meals and a roster of wonderful speakers….authors, academics, scientists.
    It was here that I was introduced to and joined the newly forming TCP.

    We are now members of a new local chapter of FFRF and we look forward to getting together each month where we can talk candidly about the serious stuff with like-minded people.

    • Linda_LaScola

      What a nice story — glad to know that you got into TCP on the ground floor.

      • carolyntclark

        yep,screened in person by Dan Barker.

  • Linda_LaScola

    My “first time” story — I was talking with a couple of old friends, in late 2005 or early 2006, about the findings of my personal research on religious history, when it came out that neither of them were believers. He gave it up as a kid and she had recently discarded all of religious belief, after giving up on Catholicism long before. We decided see if we could find more people — thinking a town like Washington must have something. We found several “meet-ups” and decided to attend one at a nearby coffee shop. There were about 10 people there, all very normal looking (don’t know what I was expecting, but I was struck by their ordinariness.) and we had a good talk. Everyone was so relieved to be able to be open with the people around them.

  • Mark Rutledge

    Power to you!