Sometimes Finding Salvation Means Losing Your Faith
This story could only take place in America. What happens when preachers lose their faith and become atheist activists?
WHAT IS THIS DOCUMENTARY ABOUT?
Our feature-length documentary, REFUSING MY RELIGION, examines through intimate first-person accounts the experiences of clergy members who have left their careers in ministry, renounced religion, and gone on to become prominent figures in the secular movement.
When ministers lose their faith and “come out” not only as non-believers but as atheist activists, this is a clear indication that our society is transforming right before our eyes. We are making the definitive film about the unprecedented and rapid changes to the religious and cultural landscape of America.
As the internet and access to information continue to shape our world, religion now finds itself in a place it has never been before.
The Clergy Project is an online safe haven for former or active ministers, priests, rabbis, imams, etc. who have “moved beyond faith”. The website went public in March of 2011 with 52 original members; since then it has increased to 425.
The Clergy Project grew indirectly out of the 2010 Tufts University study “Preachers Who Are Not Believers” conducted by Daniel Dennett and Linda LaScola. In 2011 The Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason & Science provided funding to help launch TCP. Some of TCP’s founders include Dan Barker, co-president of the Freedom From Religion Foundation, clinical research consultant Linda LaScola, Clergy Project Executive Director Catherine Dunphy, and Executive Director of the RDFRS Dr. R. Elisabeth Cornwell.
This is our footage of Nate Phelps’s speech at the Reason Rally. Although we managed to get an outstanding interview with him for the documentary and filmed his recent stirring ReasonFest 2013 presentation, this speech still stands for us as a truly remarkable piece of oratory, and its message should be heard again and again, by many. We always wanted to post it all at a blog, so here it is from the movement’s biggest stage to date.
REFUSING MY RELIGION attended ReasonFest 2013 in Lawrence, Kansas. Orchestrated by Amanda and Adam Brown, the entire event was wonderfully thought-provoking, informative, and socially engaging. The impressive roster of speakers and panels was not to be missed as part of our film’s reportage on America’s current religious climate. The cameras were rolling nearly non-stop and we had the truly awe-inspiring experience of interviewing Nate Phelps. We’d met Nate at the 2012 American Atheists Conference and Reason Rally in D.C. and we were thrilled to catch up with him in Kansas. Notably, it took place not too far from where he spent much time growing up the son of Pastor Fred Phelps, founder of the infamous Westboro Baptist Church. Nate is undeniably one of the greatest spokespersons the secular movement has. The quiet, dignified delivery from such an imposing figure conveys both composure and a powerful expression of truth one cannot help but absorb. He doesn’t have to do much to make one feel deeply moved by what he has endured. The crowd hung on his every word and many were tearful. As an acting student I had the great fortune of learning directly from David Mamet and Bill Macy through the Atlantic Theater Company. They taught us many lessons about art, human nature and life, including regular reminders that most powerful people don’t need to pound their chests or shout to get others to listen. Nate has this kind of unforgettable and placid presence about him. We would highly recommend seeing him speak if you have the chance. His calm demeanor juxtaposes a horrific childhood against where his life is now, and his journey getting here is nothing less than riveting. He will have you completely enthralled, causing you to reflect upon humanity and the world in which we live in a way that is rarely elucidated so profoundly. We are deeply honored to have him in our film as someone who understands better than most anyone that sometimes finding salvation means losing your faith. He is, to be sure, a great, humble man and we all need our heroes. Nate Phelps is simply there for everyone in just this way.
Nate Phelps is Executive Director of the Calgary Center for Inquiry; and a member of the board of directors for Recovering from Religion. To learn more about Nate, please visit his website: www.natephelps.com
Investigated By Cops With Brother Jerry DeWitt In Rosepine, La.
Life is hard for an atheist in DeRidder, Louisiana. Especially if you’re a former pastor who “came out” and is now the ONLY open atheist there, a town of ten thousand with nearly as many churches. Marc and I grasped the gravity of living here for a nonbeliever when we were filming our documentary REFUSING MY RELIGION with Clergy Project member (and its first “graduate”) Jerry DeWitt. Driving peacefully through the unassuming town in January 2013, Jerry guided us to his high school where we pulled over for a figurative stroll down adolescent lane, camera rolling as we sat in our rented car. While Jerry reminisced about the sexual follies to which we all fell prey in high school, we noticed an elderly man repeatedly riding past us on a four-wheeler about 20 yards away. City slicker that I am, I just thought this gentleman was mowing his lawn or going for a late-afternoon joy ride. But by the fourth time he cruised past us, the intrusive noise caught our attention. So after about 15 minutes parked there, we took off and went to visit Jerry’s elementary school a mile away to talk about how children are indoctrinated as a matter of course here and throughout the Bible belt. A few minutes later as we stood outside it, about to film Jerry again, a police SUV suddenly barreled off the roadway and up onto the school’s grassy sidewalk a few feet from where we were standing. A pancake-stack of a man lumbers out of the SUV and approaches us, uniformed and armed. “I got a call from an off-duty sheriff’s deputy about some folks filming something and he thought I oughta go investigate it, so that’s what I’m doing, investigating what y’all are up to.” In his soothing, quintessentially southern manner, Jerry ably takes the reigns and asks how “So-and-so” is doing today. Officer Flapjacks drawls, “Oh, he’s doin’ just fine.” Turns out, So-and-so is the chief-of-police in DeRidder, and Jerry obviously knows him. But that doesn’t seem to impress this implacable agent of law enforcement. So Jerry sallies forth, “We’re just shooting a film, they’re kinda following me around, ya know, and I was tellin’ ‘em a story. I live here, lived here my whole life. I’m Jerry DeWitt.” The stoic pillar of crime prevention, there to humbly serve and protect the citizens of DeRidder from all forms of menace and danger, without looking any of us in the eye, simply snarls at Jerry: “Oh, I know who you are…” After we finished our shoot at the second school, we got back in the car and Marc said, “I’ve never seen a cop before who wouldn’t look you in the eye. Usually they look dead at you to see if you’re high, or messed up in the head, whatever. But that guy, he wouldn’t even look at me.” Maybe Officer Flapjacks understood that he and DeRidder were not being very Christian in their treatment of Jerry.