A new atheist hotline from Recovering From Religion debuts in the end of February 2015. Its goal is to help Christians who deal with doubt find a place to discuss or ask questions as many churches or organizations aren’t prepared or ready to deal with difficult topics. A launch of a series on Fridays where I journal and revisit my own faith crisis that consumed half my thirties, and the outline of what is to come.
“After coming to the realization that I was no longer a believer I felt so very alone in my family and friends abandoned me. That sense of community was important to me, not only in person but as a growing non-believer and lover of the real me. Though the atheist community was very welcoming I felt a bit intimidated and not 100% connected to the group because most of them were non-believers from a very young age and it was hard for them to understand what I was going through. Recovering From Religion is an important bridge for the doubting and new non-believer to explore the non-believing world. I believe it’s important to provide emotional support and a safe place to be vulnerable, creating new relationships and a sense of community so that more and more non-believers know they can come out of the god closet with a support system, ultimately growing numbers and creating a better future for my children and their children.”
Lisa L “Recovering from Religion” Facilitator Tuscan, AZ
“Many people feel isolated or rejected when they begin to ask questions…if churches suddenly started welcoming doubters to their potlucks, the hot line project wouldn’t be necessary“
Sarah Morehead Executive Director of Recovering From Religion
“I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief”
Mark 9:24 NIV
This will be difficult for some people but I would like to challenge you to watch this video from the Thinking Atheist. I believe its important that we listen to and get to know the atheist community. Listen to their stories, why some are so angry, what makes others tick. Those who are Christians should be known first and foremost for love and being able to empathize. Listening is key to empathizing.
On Friday February 27, 2015 a new hotline launched in the United States called “1 800 I DOUBT IT”. This hotline from the organization Recovering From Religion (RR) is an atheist hotline for those doubting or questioning their faith. The hotline was put together on a small budget and is manned by 100 volunteers. Its hours will be from 6 until midnight central standard time on weeknights, and 24/7 on weekends. Callers can call in anonymous and are routed through a virtual private network. Though the group is atheist the counselors are taught just to listen and lend an ear. In mock training before the hotline launched counselors were trained to do the following 10 steps when interacting with callers:
- Don’t argue or debate
- Don’t comment or persuade
- Don’t criticize or preach
- Don’t threaten, blame or criticize
- Don’t display negative emotions
- Don’t make assumptions about callers
- Don’t interrupt
- Don’t make promises
- Don’t multitask
- Don’t assert your own worldviews, beliefs or stories into the callers situation
The counseling is peer to peer which is designed to ask questions to get people to think, and help people find an answer themself. The greatest strength is the sense of shared experiences between the person helping out and the person seeking help. As Thomas Jefferson once said, “Who can more softly bind the wound of another as he who has felt the same wound himself?” Recovering From Religion was being inundated in emails about doubts, faith problems, questions about the afterlife or deep questions about God by Christians who are fearful of asking those questions to family, friends or churches. But in the counseling sessions the most stressful thing is that despite the intense conversation counselors are left hanging, as they never find out if the person stayed or left Christianity.
Recovering From Religion describes itself on its homepage in the following manner:
“If you are one of the many people reconsidering the role of religion in your life, or one of the many more negatively affected by religion, Recovering From Religion (RR) may be the right spot for you. We welcome everyone from doubting theist to ardent atheist, and our goal is to give you the support you need with the respect you deserve.”
To further understand Recovering From Religion here is the link to the Board of Directors of the organization which includes a former Southern Baptist, Sarah Morehead, who escaped an abusive marriage who eventually turned to atheism. Today she organizes awareness of atheism and was awarded the “Atheist of the Year” award in 2014 by American Atheists. As an organization Recovering From Religion has helped many Christians and members of other faiths to leave their religion. While originally established in the United States it has a presence in Canada, UK, and Australia and has support groups that help people transitioning out of faith. The organization asks people who are on the precipice of leaving faith to consider the following:
“Leaving religion is full of potential problems, both emotional and practical. How will I tell my parents and extended family? How will this affect my marriage? How do I break the news to my religious friends and what if it disrupts the friendship? How do I deal with child rearing issues now that my understanding of the supernatural has changed? Who can I talk to about my feelings without being told, “You just need more faith.”
In brochures to help people leave faith Recovering From Religion has the following “10.5” (really 11) rules to help people coming out of the atheist closet.
- Create an understanding support network first. This means create a network of people in your life who can support you as you transition. They advise children in fundamentalist families not to come out while they are still a minor.
- Choose a time and a place. What this means is finding the right place to communicate your decision to leave faith and figure out a way to tell people. Being prepared that some will react harder than others.
- Remember why you value you the relationship in the first place. For a person leaving faith this will help people try and preserve friendships or family relationships as the dynamics shift as a person transitions out of religious faith.
- Communicate gently and have healthy boundaries. The point is to give people space to work out their feelings. Instead of using atheist, RR recommends using words like skeptic, agnostic, or saying you are taking a break from religion.
- Their own language. Christians might refer to someone who is leaving the faith to be in apostasy, not a Christian to begin with, fallen away, broken, or evil. In this point the person leaving the faith is to emphasize that they are still the same person minus the religious beliefs.
- Discuss don’t debate. A time for the person leaving to share their beliefs and engage the person you are in conversation with.
- They might say you weren’t a true believer. Be prepared that some will dismiss your faith experience, stay clam and engage.
- Own your thoughts and feelings. When discussing use “I” and try and empathize with their fears.
- Take a break and try again. Leaving faith can be stressful, and people will react differently.
- Be prepared. People coming out are braced that they will be shunned and that some relationships will not survive.
- You don’t have to be an expert. Explain that you don’t have all the answers.
There are plenty of books the RR recommends to those leaving the faith to help them. Here are some examples, these are just a few of the many promoted at Recovering From Religion. .
- Dan Barker – Godless: How an Evangelical Preacher Became One of America’s Leading Atheists
- Seth Andrews – Deconverted: A Journey from Religion to Reason
- James Mulholland – Leaving Your Religion: A Practical Guide to Becoming Non Religious
- Denise Winn – The Manipulated Mind: Brainwashing, Conditioning, and Indoctrination
- Greta Christina – Why Are You Atheists So Angry? 99 Things That Piss Off The Godless
- David McAfee – Mom, Dad, I’m an Atheist: The Guide to Coming Out as a Non Believer
- Bertrand Russell – Why I Am Not a Christian
Series on a Faith Crisis
When I read that article about the new atheist hotline it really stirred me. Why? I know what its like to try and ask questions and receive stares, awkward responses, or people who get frightened. I’ve been there and I’ve done that during my faith crisis. I’ve been doing a lot of thinking as part of journaling and I decided where I would like to carve my niche. Michael Newham, the Phoenix Preacher carved his niche in writing about Calvary Chapel. Julie Anne Smith carved her niche I would suggest in writing about the home schooling movement and some of the extremes in Christianity. Dee Parsons has carved her niche in discussing Neo-Calvinism and child sexual abuse. For me I would like to carve out a niche in writing about a faith crisis and writing about doubt and atheism. God only knows as to how much I consumed in my faith crisis, I’d love to put that to use somewhere. Its not like I can go in to many environments and discuss this with many people. The problem of evil alone is overwhelming for many Christians. That said on the next few weeks on every Friday I would like to write about my faith crisis and explore it in the weeds. I would like to journal my thinking, emotions, experiences and re-visit it. I hope some people who have family, friends, or co-workers in a faith crisis or know those who have walked away from faith will find comfort and help in me sharing so much personal data. This is how I want to kick it off:
- 1-800 I DOUBT IT
- What does a faith crisis feel like?
- What triggered my faith crisis? What doubts drove me?
Then I would like to give the broader evangelical church some insights and feelings on how they could have engaged someone like me a couple of years back. Let me just ask this up front…How would you engage someone in a faith crisis? What would you say? What would you do? What is your response to your friend, co-worker, family member, or neighbor? I want to explore in detail and make some suggestions. This is not a formula, especially with the way evangelicals love formulas. That is not what this is about. I want this to be a long, pensive, heart filled search to ask..what happened to me? How did it happen? I’d like to write this to help those of you who know someone dealing with a difficult faith crisis, and maybe offer some advice as to how to respond. Think of this as my version of 1-800 I DOUBT IT in a peer to peer context from someone who walked through hell from 2009 until 2013. Please remember this person is still recovering and finding a way forward. These are going to be individual posts I would like to explore.
- The importance of growing thick skin.
- The importance of unconditional love.
- Preparing for the long haul.
- The importance of prayer.
- Being open about your doubts.
- Why its going to be uncomfortable.
- When you feel like your effort is in vain.
- Being careful not to feed the faith crisis in the person you care about.
- What its like for an atheist/skeptic to go to an evangelical church. Many evangelicals don’t have any idea as to what its like.
- Finding a common denominator to relate and walk with someone.
- How to establish and build trust.
- What Andrew White should have done in my faith crisis
- What James Crestwood, Scott Van Sweringen, Danny Risch, and My East Coast Mom did right in my faith crisis
I honestly never expected to be in the Christian faith system again. If you knew how dark it was for me, especially the doubts I had which just crushed me. There were times I felt like I was dying. It was intense, frightening, and nothing I learned in church could have prepared me for it. That said I want to end this post on a song from Kutless. The next post a week from today will explore what does a faith crisis feel like.