Pastors & Priests Who Don’t Believe In God

The New York Times Magazine devotes a major story to the increasing trend of preachers like Jerry DeWitt who lose their religion and start batting for the other team:

…DeWitt began e-mailing with dozens of fellow apostates every day and eventually joined another new network called Recovering From Religion, intended to help people extricate themselves from evangelical Christianity. Atheists, he discovered, were starting to reach out to one another not just in the urban North but also in states across the South and West, in the kinds of places­ DeWitt had spent much of his career as a traveling preacher. After a few months he took to the road again, this time as the newest of a new breed of celebrity, the atheist convert. They have their own apostles (Bertrand Russell, Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens) and their own language, a glossary borrowed from Alcoholics Anonymous, the Bible and gay liberation (you always “come out” of the atheist closet).

DeWitt quickly repurposed his preacherly techniques, sharing his reverse-conversion story and his thoughts on “the five stages of disbelief” to packed crowds at “Freethinker” gatherings across the Bible Belt, in places like Little Rock and Houston. As his profile rose in the movement this spring, his Facebook and Twitter accounts began to fill with earnest requests for guidance from religious doubters in small towns across America. “It’s sort of a brand-new industry,” DeWitt told me. “There isn’t a lot of money in it, but there’s a lot of momentum.”

Not long ago, the atheist movement was the preserve of a few eccentric gadflies like Madalyn Murray O’Hair, whose endless lawsuits helped earn her the title “the most hated woman in America.” But over the past decade it has matured into something much larger and less cranky. In March of this year, some 20,000 people marched through a cold drizzle at the “Reason Rally” in Washington, billed as a political debut for the movement. A string of best-selling atheist polemics by the “four horsemen” — Hitchens and Dawkins, as well as Sam Harris and Daniel Dennett — has provided new intellectual fuel. Secular-themed organizations and clubs have begun to permeate small-town America and college campuses, helping to foot the bill for bus and billboard ad campaigns with messages like “Are You Good Without God? Millions Are.”…

[continues in the New York Times Magazine]


Majestic is gadfly emeritus.

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18 Comments on "Pastors & Priests Who Don’t Believe In God"

  1. There’s nothing wrong with deprogramming religious folk, especially evangelicals *yuck*; but reprogramming them into atheists isn’t something I can applaud. It’s just another unfounded hit or miss belief system that lets people down left and right.

    Why can’t people just accept that they don’t know?
    My personal experience aside, why is it so hard to admit that we don’t know if there is or is not a God?

    In the end all we have to do is include one another and life would be sweet. If all the religious got together and made one super-religion that removed all the stupid rules from one another we’d have something far closer to the truth than just saying “No way!!” and playing down thousands of years of tradition.

    To each his own I guess though.

    • Stunshine | Aug 31, 2012 at 1:01 pm |

       In fact, people who answer “I don’t know” to the question “Is there a god?” are, by definition, atheists.  Strictly speaking, an atheist is someone who answers anything other than “yes” to the question of whether gods exists.

      Personally, I don’t know if there is or isn’t anything like a god out there.  There are lots of things I don’t know.  I’m not going to believe anything until I think there is sufficient reason to believe.  Flip a coin, and don’t look at it.  Do I believe it’s heads?  Tails?  I don’t know, of course, before I look at it.  I’m not going to pick heads or tails, and claim to believe either way, until I see some evidence.

      • However, you have direct evidence that the coin is there. An invisible “creator,” that can make the universe in an instant, but take 6 days to make a rather unremarkable, small planet is a bit much for a rational mind to accept. I stopped believing in the xtian “god” about the same time as all the others, as Dawkins said, “I just went one god further.”  Life & the Universe is wonderful enough in all its splendor without having to throw magic into it.

      • FormerFundie | Aug 31, 2012 at 4:30 pm |

        “In fact, people who answer “I don’t know” to the question “Is there a god?” are, by definition, atheists.” That is some rather faulty logic you have there…

        Priest/Rabbi/Imam: “I know that there is a God.”
        Atheist: “I know that ‘god’ does not exist.”

        Agnostic: “I do not know and cannot know so why lose sleep over it?”

        Agnosticism is the most humble worldview in existence and our planet would be a much calmer/saner place if more of the frothing fundies on both sides of the fence would tone down their raging rhetoric.  

        • Malkiyahu | Aug 31, 2012 at 5:01 pm |

          Agnosticism is the most humble worldview in existence….”  If you do say so yourself…. And our planet would be a much calmer/saner place if everyone believed like you. Wow, your humility is truly inspiring.

          • Our planet would be a much calmer/saner place if everyone believed like him.

          • That Dude | Aug 31, 2012 at 7:43 pm |

            I concur Andrew… its all about the middle path. With yes you have 1 and with no you have 0.. everything else is infinite shades of grey

        • bobbiethejean | Aug 31, 2012 at 8:10 pm |

          Your definitions are incorrect.

          Agnosticism: I don’t know.
          Gnosticism: I do know.
          Theism: I believe.
          Atheism: I do not believe.

          To say you are an agnostic is to say that you do not know but it does not speak to what you believe. You still have to identify whether you believe in gods or not. So you may be an agnostic-atheist or an agnostic-theist or a bunch of other things but to say “I am an agnostic” is a cop-out. Congratulations, you admitting to not knowing something. Here’s a cookie. Now, what do you believe?

          • There are multiple definitions of each word.  Check any dictionary.

          • bobbiethejean | Sep 2, 2012 at 12:25 pm |

            You can nitpick semantics all you like but at the end of the day, they have very clear ultimate meanings.

          • Stunshine | Aug 31, 2012 at 10:41 pm |

             Agnostic: It is impossible to know.
            Gnostic: I do know.
            Theist: I believe in some god.
            Atheist: I don’t believe in this or that god.
            Agnostic Theist:  It is impossible to know for sure, but I have faith.
            Gnostic Theist: I know there is a god.
            Agnostic Atheist: It is impossible to know, but I don’t believe in any gods.
            Gnostic Atheist:  I know there are no gods.

          •  While I can’t say I’ve ever encountered this breakdown, nor does it seem people tend to go to this method in defining themselves, this is perhaps the sanest approach to categorizing people long these belief/knowledge areas.  Bravo for the elegant simplicity.

    • Malkiyahu | Aug 31, 2012 at 1:54 pm |

      Deprogramming religious folk (including atheists) is good, but reprogramming them into agnostics isn’t something I can applaud. There is no belief system worse than intellectual laziness.

    • bobbiethejean | Aug 31, 2012 at 8:07 pm |

      You can admit that you don’t know and still be an atheist. I don’t BELIEVE but I don’t know either. Hence I am an agnostic-atheist. Incidentally, atheism is not a belief system anymore than not believing in ghosts is a belief system.

    •  While it’s not always apparent among the “louder” atheists of the world (perhaps one of the things I hate most about “mainstream” atheism), Atheism is NOT the disbelief in a deity, but rather, the lack of belief in a deity (Atheists don’t believe in god; they don’t necessarily believe there is no god).  The distinction between atheism and agnosticism is thus much harder to pinpoint than many seem to think.  If anything, it seems only a distinction worth making by those in the agnostic camp simply due to how obnoxious the atheist camp tends to get (anyone who’s ever read a usenet forum frequented by atheists knows EXACTLY what I’m talking about).  But, petty pompousness and aesthetics aside, the point is, there isn’t really a clear cut difference, other than that agnosticism specifically excludes those who believe there is no god, while atheism is inclusive of them, but not defined by them.

  2. I have yet to hear God’s opinion this.

  3. Olivier_Gravel | Sep 1, 2012 at 4:49 am |

    the way i see it..if you need god to be a better person go for it. if you dont need god and prefer to rely on your own will to be a better person its all cool to. but in both cases you should not try to impose your way onto other. (i am a non practicing atheist)

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