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.
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.
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.”
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.”
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.
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?
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