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I’m Openly Secular Documentary

On May 2-3, 2014, the Freedom from Religion Foundation held a conference in downtown Raleigh “Freedom From Religion in the Bible Belt.” I gave one of the main addresses at the conference, and there were lot of other interesting speakers.  In addition to the public talks, the organizers taped a number of interviews, that were then put together into a kind of documentary format, found here.   My comments are interspersed throughout, along with those of the other participants.

Other participants included:

  • Randy Bender, a former Evangelical Lutheran Church of America pastor.
  • Max Nielson, winner of FFRF’s 2012 Thomas Jefferson Student Activist Award, is one of 3 plaintiffs in FFRF’s lawsuit over unconstitutional graduation prayer at Irmo High School, S.C., and school board prayer. He founded a chapter of the Secular Student Alliance at the College of Charleson.   He has also interned as social media manger of the Secular Coalition and he remains a volunteer social media manager.
  • Michael Nugent, founder and chair of Atheist Ireland. Michael flew in from Dublin to give an international flavor to the conference and talk about Irish issues, as well as the growing number of blasphemy prosecutions around the world.
  • Todd Stiefel, a Raleigh local, FFRF Lifetime Member and head of the Stiefel Freethought Foundation, which has sparked much freethought activism and was an integral sponsor of the Reason Rally. Todd graduated cum laude from Duke University, worked 12 years for Stiefel Laboratories and is now a full-time freethought activist.
  • Mandisa Thomas, founder and president of Black Nonbelievers, Inc., based in Atlanta. She was featured in a recent issue of JET magazine and is a frequent guest speaker. Her special emphasis is on encouraging more African Americans to come out and stand strong as nonbelievers.
  • Stuart Wilson, an investigative reporter at WCNC-TV (NBC) Charlotte, particularly interested in megachurch abuse exposés.
  • Sophia Winkler, a student activist awardee of the Foundation.

Others active at the conference were former clergy in the Raleigh area who are now part of the Clergy Project, which is designed to provide support and career guidance to clergy who have come to be agnostic/atheist and are trying to figure out how to move on with their lives (some of these people remain in ministry).  FFRF’s Dan Barker is a successful author and one of the founders of the group; he emceed the panel, which included Candace R.M. Gorham, a local chapter member who left the ministry and is the author of “The Ebony Exodus Project: Why Some Black Women Are Walking Out on Religion — and Others Should Too” and Matt Killingsworth, a former Pentecostal minister and Texas Bible College grad.

Please Note! The below 45 minute documentary video is not made public, it is a hidden link. It is shared here only with paying and trusted members. Please do not share this link on any public forum, friend, or any social venue like Twitter or Facebook. This video must remain unseen until the RDF and FFRF have launched the campaign in September 2014. 

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The Jewish Messiah
Jesus as the Son of God in Mark

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Comments

  1. Avatar
    godspell  November 1, 2015

    The goal is absolute tolerance and understanding for all beliefs. I don’t believe there will ever come a day when everybody believes the same thing. And if atheism gets large enough, it wil become factional, just as Christianity and Islam and Judaism did. That’s just human nature. All the same bigoted intolerant personalities who attached themselves to religion will attach themselves to atheism. It’s already happening.

    • Avatar
      Joshua150  November 3, 2015

      You are dead on about that. Been my experience already. The ‘religious’ state of mind had nothing to do with god and is in my experience just a human thing of being ‘right’ and knowing more than the other guy. Many atheists I know are just as dogmatic as a fundamentalist believer, as well as a proclaiming many odd and weird conspiracies. Not all, but a helluva lot more than I would have ever expected because i thought reason would have prevailed once the imaginary friend was gone. Sadly I guess the USSR, China, etc. the first atheist regimes proved atheism is not automatically a state of mind that insures decency and humanism.

    • Avatar
      historyguy2004  November 5, 2015

      Your comment, “And if atheism gets large enough, it will become factional,” is perplexing to say the least. Perhaps a definition of “atheist” would be an appropriate place to start. From Dictionary.com: “a person who denies or disbelieves the existence of a supreme being or beings.” Your statement begins with the common misconception that atheism is a belief or set of beliefs or an ideology. In fact, atheism is the lack of all those things. How can there be “factions” where there is no belief or ideology?

    • Avatar
      Kent  November 23, 2015

      You’d have to define “absolute tolerance”. I’d agree with the tolerance of speech that may be uncomfortable to hear. It is how we grow. The opposite of growth is hollering and shutting down free speech and claiming that one shouldn’t be offended.

    • Avatar
      gavm  March 23, 2016

      Absolute tolerance of all beliefs? Wat we know about evolution says thats impossible.

  2. Avatar
    whroll  November 1, 2015

    Thank you for this. There is a lot of fear our there about coming out as an agnostic or athiest.

    • Avatar
      godspell  November 2, 2015

      How much real persecution have atheists experienced in this country in its history–compared, say, to Jews, Catholics, Muslims, Sikhs, Hindus, Mormons–anybody who wasn’t mainline Protestant. Not to mention what black churches had to go through, even though they’re all Protestants.

      I understand in very Christian communities, it must be hard to openly dissent. Name one community anywhere where dissent is easy.

      I once saw a man in Scandinavia talking online about how he was a Christian and none of his neighbors were, and they basically treated him like crap, mocked him, had no respect for his beliefs.

      When we’ve reached the point where we can say “Your beliefs are your own business, all I care about is what kind of person you are”–that will be progress. But bigotry could easily survive the end of theism–and perhaps thrive as it never has before. Because there’ll be nothing left to restrain it. Unless atheism starts building up moral codes and behavioral standards of its own, and in so doing, of course, it would become a full-fledged religion in its own right.

      Freedom From Religion is not an attainable goal. Because human beings cannot live without believing in things they cannot prove. It’s the nature of religion that changes over time. For example, you still have some atheists acting as if Bart is some kind of heathen idolater by saying Jesus existed as a historical person.

      That’s when atheists are still a tiny percentage of the population, and the really aggressive personalities that glom onto belief systems to gain power from them are still not that motivated to join up.

      I don’t care what you believe or disbelieve. That isn’t telling me who you are. What tells me who you are is if you’d stand up for somebody who believes differently.

  3. Avatar
    Jim  November 1, 2015

    Ok, maybe I’m agnostic but just “don’t know for sure” …. (not going to put in a happy face here since they usually show up giant sized)

  4. Avatar
    doug  November 1, 2015

    I’m openly secular, too. I’m a secular humanist. I understand that it is hard for some people to be openly secular, for fear of rejection by their family. But hopefully we are changing the culture, so that more people can be free.

  5. Avatar
    Lawyerskeptic  November 2, 2015

    I let my membership to the FFRF lapse several years ago. Do you think it is important to be a member of FFRF and/or other such organizations?

    • Bart
      Bart  November 2, 2015

      Not necessarily. To each his/her own!

      1
    • Avatar
      ianc123  December 30, 2015

      Assuming that you did not let your membership lapse because of a change of heart regarding your worldview, then it is not necessary to belong to any of the “skeptical” organizations as atheists/agnostics/freethinkers etc. do not generally need any external support for their worldview. However, if you want to ensure that, for example, encroachments on on the First Amendment and Article 6 of the Constitution are challenged in the public arena, then membership of one or more of these organizations should be seriously considered. (For full disclosure, I am a Life member of the FFRF, member of the ACLU, member of the AHA and member of the CFI.)

  6. Avatar
    Jana  November 2, 2015

    Thank you. (still no documents … to be unfortunately expected at times)

  7. Avatar
    Tom  November 2, 2015

    very good!

  8. gmatthews
    gmatthews  November 2, 2015

    Reminds me of my own experiences, but I still haven’t told my mother I’m agnostic/atheist!

  9. Avatar
    Robert  November 2, 2015

    Dr. Ehrman,

    I once was in an argument with a militant anti-theist who basically called you out: Yeah, he SAYS he respects believers but really he thinks their fools. Logically speaking according to him if you think a person’s beliefs are foolish well naturally you think they are fools. Naturally (and rather sarcastically I have to admit) I agreed with him!

    But seriously when I consider his assertions against the evidence (oh the irony) in the light of this documentary, I’m forced to give some credence to them. I’m specifically talking about the dogma that Reason will produce atheism or its “wimpy” cousin agnosticism. When you say you want people to think I guess you get lumped in with that dogmatic thinking. And that made me uncomfortable frankly. It didn’t feel honest to dismiss the suspicions people have out of hand.

    Full disclosure: As a believer, I’m told I’m unthinking and unreasonable and when I refute both then I’m unwilling to admit I should be atheist.

    Best,
    Rob

    • Bart
      Bart  November 2, 2015

      I absolutely do not think believers are fools. My closest friends are all Christian believers, and some of them are way more intelligent than me. I don’t think that reason leads to agnosticism or atheism. It simply doesn’t.

      1
      • Avatar
        Robert  November 2, 2015

        I know you don’t, Dr. Ehrman. I’ve been a long time fan, own an edition of your NT textbook and even called in on a show because I found a typo in a footnote of Misquoting Jesus! I just had to admit to myself that the optics were disturbing. When you say “think” I hear self-examination among other good things. But When I see the FFRF, for better or for worse, I associate them more with anti-theism than principled atheism or agnosticism.

        I’m a black man and no stranger to prejudice but in my struggles for equality and eradicating racism I don’t want Freedom from White People. Even as I write that it sounds sinister.

        I’m in 100% support of people being openly secular and it’s a crying shame and indictment on us believers who even make such a statement necessary. I’m just not in favor of of people being free of each other. It’s a false picture of diversity. I’m not even a fan of tolerance. I prefer the image of brotherhood. I love my brothers and sisters. I don’t just tolerate them. I tolerate when they work my last nerve! ?

        • Bart
          Bart  November 4, 2015

          Yes, many of them (not all) are too anti-theistic for my tastes as well. I tend to think that is counterproductive to the very causes they are in favor of….

      • Avatar
        godspell  November 2, 2015

        What leads to reason is knowledge. Which we could all use more of, and which is why I appreciate this forum you’ve provided.

        1
      • Avatar
        Macavity  November 3, 2015

        I don’t quite know what to make of your statement “I don’t think that reason leads to agnosticism or atheism.“ By that do you mean “I don’t think that reason inexorably leads to agnosticism or atheism”? I ask because I thought that new information plus use of reason led to your becoming an epistemological agnostic and a psychological (belief) atheist. If that is the case then an interesting question is: If new data and reason led you to become an agnostic atheist then why doesn’t that approach work for some other people? Or, for that matter, why did it work for you?

        • Bart
          Bart  November 4, 2015

          Yes, I mean that it does not “necessarily” lead that way. It certainly *can* lead that way — as it did with me! Why not for others? Well, the short story: we are highly complex creatures!

  10. Pattycake1974
    Pattycake1974  November 2, 2015

    I’m all for the Clergy Project helping ministers starting a new life. They need the support. As far as FFRF goes, I find them to be an irritating, attention-seeking group that causes unnecessary drama all over the U.S.

  11. Avatar
    willow  November 2, 2015

    Thanks, Bart, for sharing this with us. Some of the kindest, most generous and compassionate people I know don’t believe in God. You’re but one of them.

  12. Avatar
    RonaldTaska  November 2, 2015

    Thanks. I look forward to viewing it.

  13. Avatar
    mary  November 2, 2015

    Hello Professor,
    I viewed the video and found it very informative.
    OK. now I have a question(s). What is the RDF and FFRF’s campaign and what form is it taking?
    What were your reasons for participating and are you supporting their campaign?

    I have no previous knowledge of either group.

    • Bart
      Bart  November 4, 2015

      I don’t actually provide any real support to their causes, although there are aspects of what they do that I very much favor. I do not think that personal religious beliefs should dictate governmental policy or have any role to play in governmental procedures or activities.

  14. Avatar
    Kirktrumb59  November 2, 2015

    I watched an accumulated roughly 20-25 minutes of this video via sampling of all speakers. One can fairly claim that this sampling is insufficient. There is to me nonetheless a disturbing (note:I will lose zero sleep over this) overall flavor of an AA meeting.

  15. Avatar
    RonaldTaska  November 2, 2015

    These personal anecdotes are quite interesting and I love the ending with the gentleman saying “That just about covers everything doesn’t it?” Readers of this website can find many similar anecdotes on the “ex-Christian.net” website.

  16. Avatar
    prairieian  November 3, 2015

    As a non-American I have always been gobsmacked at the role of religion in US public life. In Canada, where I live and am a citizen, religion comes up either not at all or as a passing reference to a given politician’s background and then dropped. It isn’t an issue. Someone could run for public office as an atheist, for any of the parties that contend for power, and it would not be a factor in the election – or would be pretty minor.

    While the American constitution is adamant as to the separation of church and state – an early adopter of disestablishmentarianism as it were (alas for the Episcopalians) – it seems impossible to actually have no religion and successfully run for office. Or, as one of the current crop of Republican candidates has put it, one cannot be a Muslim and run for office. One needs the right religion. I imagine that Congress actually has a cohort of some size that is agnostic or atheist, but they don’t seem to congregate for gin and tonic breakfasts to talk about weighty matters as their peers down the hall do at prayer breakfasts.

    I view the American claim to exceptionalism with the suitably jaundiced eye of a foreigner, but I concede it in this field.

    Interesting video. The speakers struck me as very similar in tone and experience to those homosexuals who come out of the closet and the often very tough time they experience as a result, yet the feeling of liberation from a lie has made it worth the cost. (Particularly the reluctance to tell one’s Mum!)

  17. Avatar
    Joshua150  November 3, 2015

    excellent video-I laughed along often. thanks

  18. Avatar
    mjordan20149  November 4, 2015

    Sometimes I think that believing is such hard work that its sometimes easier to not believe (and not tell anyone you don’t believe in order to resist the inevitable social pressure and ostracism) Evangelical Fundamentalists are just so obnoxious (I used to be one so I know firsthand!) that its harder and harder to have anything to do with them at all. Went to church in Southlake TX with my family last weekend, and this guy just sat down next to me out of the blue. He started spouting this political nonsense assuming that we would just agree with him because we are white, middle class and are attending church. It was just so freaking terrible. I could have let it ruin my otherwise very pleasant weekend, but I decided not to!

  19. Avatar
    Wilusa  November 4, 2015

    I’m a private person, so I never find myself having to defend my views. But I consider myself an agnostic and non-theist. A couple points I’d like to make here…

    1. I can’t relate to Bart’s saying he’s an agnostic because he doesn’t *know* the ultimate truth, and an atheist because he doesn’t *believe in* the Judaeo-Christian “God.”

    All of us use the terms “know” and “believe” in different ways, depending on the situation. All anyone can “know” with *absolute* certainty is *Cogito ergo sum*: in colloquial English, “I’m thinking; therefore, I exist.” So when I mean that I “know” something with the greatest degree of *reasonable* “certainty” I can have, I’ll say I “know” it as surely as I “know” Australia exists. (“Australia” being a random choice of a place I’ve never seen, even from the air.)

    “Believe”? Sometimes, the word is used simply to mean “I guess.” More seriously: I’d readily say I “believe” my nephew is a Republican and his wife a Democrat, because they’ve told me so. But they *could* have been “pulling my leg.” I “believe” with much *greater* certainty that Barack Obama is a Democrat.

    What I’m getting at: I wouldn’t say I “believed in” something as serious as the existence of a deity unless I *thought* I “knew” it to be true – as true as the existence of Australia!

    I consider myself an agnostic. But if I were to say agnosticism means simply “I don’t know,” someone might take it to mean that I think any of the existing religions *might* be true. So I say I’m an agnostic and a non-theist. An agnostic because I don’t *presume* to claim certainty for my hypotheses. And a non-theist because to the extent I *have* hypotheses, they pretty much rule out the existence of “gods.”

    2. I prefer the term “non-theist” to “atheist.”

    Consider: We have the terms “Christian,” “non-Christian,” “anti-Christian.” Being more specific: “Catholic,” “non-Catholic,” “anti-Catholic.” With its being understood that a “non” may or may not also be an “anti.”

    I think that if we use the same terms regarding theism, we can more clearly communicate what we mean. I believe the world will be better off when theistic religions have died out – as I’m sure they will. But I recognize that they do enrich many people’s lives…and I also see an inevitable cultural evolution taking place, requiring *time*. So I won’t go as far as trying to turn others against religion.

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