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Posted on Fri, Jun. 12, 2009 10:15 PM
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New support group Recovering Religionists helps people who leave the church

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Julie Price has left the Catholic Church, Christianity and God.

She has entered a new life without angels, saints, prayer, forgiveness and heaven. It’s unsettling at times.

She told her story to a newly formed group called Recovering Religionists, or RR for short.

“Religion was like a comfort blanket, and sometimes I miss that comfort,” said Price, of Prairie Village, at a recent gathering in Wyandotte County.

The number of people unaffiliated with any particular faith has grown more rapidly than any other religious group in recent years. According to a 2007 Pew study, 16 percent of American adults say they don’t belong to any religion, compared to 7 percent who were raised unaffiliated.

The idea for the group came from Darrel Ray, an organizational psychologist and author of “The God Virus: How Religion Infects Our Lives and Culture.” He was raised in a fundamentalist Christian church and attended seminary. But by the time he graduated, he had abandoned the notion of becoming a minister.

He was a member of the Quaker church for two years and then a Presbyterian Church for 10 years, where he taught Sunday school.

“We lived in Leavenworth. It’s a small community, and a lot of social activities revolved around church,” he said. “And I was a businessman, and there were good connections in church.”

But by the time he was 40, he was divorced, his children were grown and he’d become an atheist.

“I had seen over the years how hard it was for me to get out of religion and maintain proper social relationships with other people,” he said.

In his family are ministers and people deeply involved in religion and missionary work.

“It is almost easier to come out of the closet as gay than as an atheist, especially in the Midwest,” he said. “My hope for RR is that when people are ready to leave religion they have a group for support.”

The first RR meeting was in March. He announced it on the Internet, and 11 people showed up.

That was too many for one group. He wants to keep each group smaller so people will feel free to share personal experiences. Cole Morgan of Olathe volunteered to start a Johnson County group, which had its second meeting this week.

Kay Huddleston of Kansas City, Kan., is leading the Wyandotte County group. Groups also have started in Joplin, Topeka, Atlanta and Cincinnati, and Ray has received inquiries from people in several other cities. He’s also looking for someone to organize a local group on the Missouri side.

The members all have a different story about how they decided religion was not for them.

Morgan, a store manager, attended a conservative Southern Baptist Church with his parents, who were leaders in the congregation. He went “when my parents made me.”

By age 13, he was finding jobs that required him to work on Sundays — mowing lawns, taking care of pets — anything to keep him from church.

In his 20s he was questioning religion, and by 35 he was an atheist.

“I found too many contradictions between all of the religions and decided none of them could be right,” Morgan said.

In the last year he has became involved with skeptic, humanist, atheist and free-thought groups. One group sponsored a billboard last fall that read: “Don’t Believe in God? You are not alone.” A Web site and phone number were included.

A few months ago he and Ray met and discussed Recovering Religionists.

“I liked the idea,” Morgan said. “I sincerely feel a lot of people are afraid to come out of religion. They are unsure about how they feel about leaving religion and how to talk to their parents and children and friends about it.”

To reach Helen Gray, religion editor, call 816-234-4446, or send e-mail to hgray@kcstar.com.

Posted on Fri, Jun. 12, 2009 10:15 PM
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