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Atheists create church without God

It would have been easy to mistake what was happening in a hotel ballroom here for a religious service. All the things that might be associated with one were present Sunday: 80 people drawn by a common conviction. Exhortations to service. Singing and light swaying. An impassioned sermon.

There was just no mention of God.Atheists create church without God
Billed as Louisiana’s first atheist service and titled “Joie de Vivre: To Delight in Being Alive,” it was presided over by Jerry DeWitt, a small, charismatic man dressed all in black with slick, shiny hair.
“Oh, it’s going to be so hard to not say, ‘Can I get an amen?’ ” he said with a smile, warning people that this was going to be more like church than they might expect. “I want you to feel comfortable singing. And I want you to feel comfortable clapping your hands. I’m going to ask you to silence your cellphones, but I’m not going to ask you to turn them off. Because I want you to post.”
Jerry DeWitt
As Mr. DeWitt paced back and forth, speaking with a thick Southern accent, his breathy yet powerful voice occasionally cracked with emotion. The term may be a contradiction, but he is impossible to describe as anything but an atheist preacher.

Mr. DeWitt acts so much like a clergyman because he was one.
He was raised Pentecostal in DeRidder, La., a small town near the Texas border. In 2011, after 25 years as a preacher, he realized he had lost all connection to the religious point of view that had defined most of his life. He left the church and found himself ostracized in his hometown and from his family. Since then, Mr. DeWitt, 43, has become a prominent advocate of atheism, giving lectures around the region and providing an emotional counterpoint to more academic atheist exponents like Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens.
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With Sunday’s service — marking the start of Community Mission Chapel in Lake Charles, which Mr. DeWitt called a full-fledged atheist “church” — he wanted to bring some of the things that he had learned from his years as a religious leader to atheists in southern Louisiana.
The percentage of religiously unaffiliated Americans appears to be on the rise. A 2012 Pew Research Center study found that while only about 6 percent identified as atheist or agnostic, they were among nearly 20 percent classified as religiously unaffiliated. That was up from 15 percent in 2007, a greater increase than for any traditional faith.
Mr. DeWitt counts himself among the hard-line atheists, but he believes that something may be lost when someone leaves the church — not just the parts about God, but also a sense of community and a connection to emotion.
Jerry DeWitt (born September 17, 1969) is an American author and public speaker, and a prominent member of the American atheism movement.[1][2] He is a former pastor of two evangelical churches, who publicly deconverted to atheism in 2011.[3] DeWitt is the former executive director of Recovering From Religion, a group which helps people find their way after a loss of faith.[4]

Biography

DeWitt is a former pastor of two churches surrounding DeRidder, Louisiana, a town where two-thirds of the population report membership in a faith organization.[1][5][6] DeWitt first experienced doubts about his religious beliefs when he contemplated the idea of hell.[7] He later found himself unable to invoke God's help after a congregant asked him to pray for her injured brother.[1] He preached for the last time in April 2011.[1]
After becoming aware that he no longer held theistic beliefs, DeWitt joined the Clergy Project, a group which lends confidential support to preachers who no longer believe in God. The Clergy Project was founded by Richard DawkinsDaniel Dennett, Linda LaScola, former preacher Dan Barker and anonymous non-believing ministers, "Adam Mann" and "Chris."[8] DeWitt's outing as an atheist occurred in October 2011 after a photo circulated online of DeWitt and Dawkins, taken at a meeting of freethinkers.[7] DeWitt was the first member of the Clergy Project to drop anonymity and speak freely about his involvement in the project.[citation needed] After more information emerged on Dewitt's loss of faith, he was fired from his secular job, and his wife left him,[1][2] although they later reconciled.[9]
In 2011 and 2012, he served as the executive director of Recovering from Religion, a Kansas City-based organization which helps former theists recover from the trauma of their religious indoctrination and subsequent experiences.[2]
DeWitt has written a book based on his career and experiences entitled Hope After Faith.[10] The 288-page autobiographical book was written by Dewitt and Ethan Brown, and published in 2013 by Da Capo Press.

Community Mission Chapel

The former fundamentalist minister hosted the first meeting of the Community Mission Chapel, which DeWitt calls an "atheist church". In a story for the New York Times, DeWitt said, "Just because we value critical thinking and the scientific method, that doesn't mean we suddenly become disembodied and we can no longer benefit from our emotional lives."


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