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5 Religious Leaders Who Gave Up the Faith and Became Outspoken Atheists and Agnostics

What if renouncing your faith meant losing everything?

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4) Anthony Pinn. Anthony Pinn is a professor of religious studies at Rice University and an outspoken expert on African-American humanism. As he explained in  a recent speech at Skepticon, he began preaching at the ripe old age of 12, and was ordained at age of 18. His doubts started immediately after he started working as a youth pastor in Bed-Stuy in Brooklyn. Now he has a Ph.D. in religious studies from Harvard and a professorship in Houston, and he’s a blunt and outspoken critic of religion, focusing specifically on religion’s inability to address the concerns of the black community.

Depending on your point of view, Pinn’s acerbic wit and no-holds-barred approach to the discussion of belief versus non-belief is either delightful or offensive. In a recent  interview with the Root, Pinn summed up his critique of religion by saying, “I think African Americans are worse off because of their allegiance to theism. The belief in God and gods has not been particularly useful or productive for them. It has lessened their appeal to their own creativity and ingenuity, and in most cases has resulted in a kind of bizarre understanding of suffering as a marker of closeness to God and a mark of divine favor. Nothing good can come out of that.”

5) Andrew Johnson. In the Mormon faith, young men must demonstrate their right to inherit the priesthood by going on a missionary trip to spread their faith to the non-believers. For Andrew Johnson, however,  going on a missionary trip made him a non-believer. The time away from home made it easier to research literature (including Richard Dawkins' instant classic, The God Delusion) that spoke to his doubts about God.

Johnson has since put that famous Mormon work ethic to the task of helping other ex-Mormon atheists find community and support, creating a club called Atheists of Utah Valley. “I thought I was the only one,” Johnson said, but his work organizing atheists in the atheist-unfriendly Mormon region of Utah has conclusively demonstrated that atheists are turning up, and thriving, in every corner of this country.

These are just a sampling of the stories happening every day in this country as people who aren’t just believers but leaders in their various faith communities are losing their faith and turning to secular humanism to find the answers to life's big questions. The Clergy Project, an organization devoted to helping members of the clergy who no longer believe, has over 200 members, despite its rather recent founding. Now that atheists are organizing and making their presence known more than ever before, the ranks of religious leaders who no longer believe and want to come out is only likely to keep growing.

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