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article imageAtheist group seeks $30,000 for hotline for those leaving faith Special

By Jessica Geyer     Jun 5, 2013 in World
(UPDATED VERSION with interview from Recovering from Religion's Executive Director)
An atheist group has announced plans for a hotline targeting people who are struggling with the desire to leave their religions.
The group, called Recovering from Religion (RR), hopes to raise $30,000 by June 30 to fund the hotline project. According to RR's Twitter feed, they have already raised $4,529 of their goal.
RR's hotline would provide a secular support network for new atheists or people doubting their faith. It would be operated 24/7 by trained volunteers and is not directed to followers of any particular religion.
Sarah Morehead, Executive Director of RR, said that the $30,000 will keep the project running for two years. This includes the cost of the phone lines and volunteer training. It will also pay for two independent psychologists who will help RR ensure the quality of their training program.
No one at RR gets paid, said Morehead. "For now, it is a labor of love," she said.
According to RR's website, "Leaving religion is full of potential problems, both emotional and practical." This can include isolation from from friends and family or even the loss of employment. The hotline volunteers will aid callers in coming up with an action-based plan to deal with these difficulties. They can also link callers up to other resources, such as secular support grounds, the Suicide Hotline or job-seeking aid.
"It'll be a sort of clearing house for resources," Morehead said.
Finding these resources can be difficult for new atheists who have always had the support of faith and the church for their problems.
"Even if they go to Google, they might not necessarily find them because they don't know how to look," said Morehead. That includes searching for terms such as 'secular' or 'free-thought' instead of simply 'atheist,' or learning to deal with the loss of loved ones without the comfort of a belief in an afterlife.
Leaving religion "is an existential crisis that [new atheists] don't have the skills to deal with," she said. "They have their identity wrapped up in religion ... they have to discover who they are."
Some people have accused RR of attempting to “de-convert” Christians. RR, on the other hand, insists this is not the reason behind the hotline.
"The goal is not to create atheists," said Morehead. Instead, the hotline is meant to offer anonymous support for anyone doubting their faiths, whether it is complete disbelief or finding a church that fits better with their individual views.
"We're not the ones knocking on doors on Saturday mornings," she added. "This is pretty much the opposite of conversion."
Though the calls on the hotline will be anonymous, RR will try to collect as much data as they can. This might include age, gender, sexual orientation and what religion the caller was raised to believe. Morehead said the callers will not be obligated to provide any data, and the service is not contingent upon revealing personal information.
They hope the data can be used to prove the effectiveness of the hotline, which will help with future donations and grant support.
RR already holds support groups across the United States and has groups in the United Kingdom, Australia and Canada. Their members are made up of people who were formerly religious. These groups "offer the opportunity to explore the negative impact of religion" in the lives of the participants. The hotline will add anonymity to RR's services.
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