Darrel Ray: Recovering From Religion
By Robert Bernstein
Darrel Ray was recently speaking to the Humanist Society about his organization "Recovering From Religion" just after the horrific murders at the Atlanta massage parlors by Robert Aaron Long.
Humanist Society President Judy Flattery gave a timely introduction that raised an important question. Immediate news coverage emphasized the race aspect, tying it in with an increase in attacks on Asian-Americans.
But she cited a valuable piece in the New York Times with the title: Suspect’s Church Calls Spa Attacks ‘the Result of a Sinful Heart’.
Long's former roommate Tyler Bayless described a "religious mania" that gripped the killer.
Another New York Times article gave even more detail. Bayless said that Long's Crabapple Baptist Church forbid sex outside of marriage. That Long "was distraught by his failed attempts to curb his sexual urges."
Bayless noted: "Nearly once a month, Mr. Long would admit he had again relapsed by visiting a massage parlor for sex".
Perhaps the mass murder in Atlanta was driven by religion, sex and guilt rather than race? The killer said he was just trying to remove temptation and race was not an issue for him.
I will add that US laws involving sex are largely based on religion rather than on public health or rights of sex workers. The US is an outlier among industrialized countries. Most other industrialized countries treat sex work as legal and a matter between consenting adults. Often receiving medical and social services support and regulation for safety and public health.
What is considered "moral" and legal in the US is largely driven by Church beliefs. And, conversely, what is considered moral in Church teachings is affected by societal standards enshrined in law. Perhaps if sex work was an accepted legal profession (as in these other countries) these problems would be reduced?
Darrel Ray thanked Judy for her introduction and validated that it was relevant to his talk. "Religion gets a pass too often."
But Ray's primary focus in his talk was: How do we help people in their journey out of religion?
His book "The God Virus" talked about how religious ideologies infect peoples' brains. It makes it difficult for these people to see the real world.
They end up with cognitive dissonance. They are holding two contradictory beliefs in mind at the same time. This causes concern and discomfort as powerful as pain. Notably, there will be a conflict between the person's religion and their sexuality. They are told that they can't masturbate or have sex outside of marriage. That they can't even eat certain foods.
At some point the conflicted person will realize their religion is really a cult. But separating from it causes pain.
Some of us have experienced long lasting pain. Perhaps from disease or from an accidental injury. We have nerve damage and we try to alleviate it. We can end up in a cycle of pain and relief.
Cognitive dissonance does the same thing. The result can be ever more pain. A person leaving their religion may be shunned by their spouse, children and extended family. They might lose their job. And, in some parts of the world, they may get their head chopped off.
In 2009 Ray started Recovering From Religion (RfR). He had no idea what he was getting into. It started from seeing people in pain. They didn't know what to do. Their spouse was leaving them. They might want to come out as gay. There were no resources to deal with it.
It started as a local support group. Like Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) in a way. But without the religion. And they don't keep you forever. Nor do they tell you that you are "addicted".
RfR will celebrate its 12 anniversary in April.
Ray wanted to describe the psychology behind what they do and why they do it in a certain way. He was trained as a psychologist. Originally clinical and then on to organizational.
Almost everyone in RfR is a volunteer. They are systematically trained.
Perhaps the most important point Ray made: People don't need advice. They need emotional support. For the journey they are in.
RfR can direct people to resources. Including therapy. The main thing is dealing with that immediate pain. In particular, from being shunned. The pain can be quite literal when a father beats a child because they don't believe anymore.
Around 300-500 communicate by chat or phone each month. You can see how this works at their web site https://www.recoveringfromreligion.org/
The volunteer agents have access to a vast library of online resources. There are 275 volunteers in 16 different time zones. Many volunteer for 10-20 hours per week. Australian volunteers take a lot of chats and calls from Americans up late at night! There are direct phone numbers in the US, Canada, the UK, Australia and South Africa.
They are not trying to convert or deconvert people. It is all about asking good questions. Based on "Street Epistemology" which he talked about before. By asking the right questions, a person is able to reflect on their own beliefs and change on their own if they want to. 9 out of 10 who come to RfR move farther from religion. Some move from one religion to another. Perhaps from being a Muslim to being a Buddhist. From Baptist to Unitarian.
Giving advice is damaging. It is usually based on your life without understanding what the other person is going through. What is helpful is to connect with others who are going through the same thing.
When a person joins a chat, the volunteer can invite them to join one of a wide variety of "channels". Some channels are by region. Others are by the religion being questioned. Others are by specific challenges like coming out as gay or trans or being Black. Or being a clergy person!
About 80% of chat people have a sex problem. Darrel Ray has published a book "Sex and God: How Religion Distorts Sexuality". Religion creates major guilt and pain over perfectly normal fantasies.
RfR vets people before they can join a Channel which reduces the types of conflict seen in social media. They are free to join as many as they want.
He noted that few of us listening to his talk will need these services. But we likely know someone who does.
Their most common phrase: "You are not alone."
People often think they are the only atheist or doubter of religion in their place. It may be Montana. Or Bangladesh. Or Pakistan. RfR goes through protocols to protect their privacy and safety. Using a VPN, for example.
At this point, Judy Flattery recalled that Darrel Ray grew up with religion. Ray said he indeed grew up in a very religious household. His parents even became missionaries when they retired. He went to a Quaker college and then to a very liberal Methodist Seminary. But after age 12 he didn't buy into it. But he didn't know how to get out of it. He even thought he would become a minister, though he hoped he would be a liberal one!
He enjoyed outings where he collected fossil shark teeth. He showed them to his mother and aunt and asked how they got high up above the ocean. "God put them there in the Flood." As a teen he realized they had no idea what they were talking about. He believed in evolution as soon as he heard of it.
Still, he went all the way to a Master's degree in religion. He was married with one child and another on the way. He wanted out of the church. But his wife wanted to stay. By 1988 he divorced. He declared freedom from religion and never looked back.
A couple of years after he divorced he started dating again. His mother said "I hope she is a nice Christian." That is when he came out to his parents that he no longer believed in Christianity. He stayed close with them. They knew he was an atheist. They continued their missionary work.
RfR has Monday night Zoom meetings with 100-150 people. People coming from different religions learn from each other. An ex-Scientologist might realize how similar it is for an ex-Baptist.
Some come to RfR and need professional therapy. The Secular Therapy Project (STP) has a careful vetting process. It is surprisingly difficult to find a therapist who does not believe in Jesus or in "woo" New Age nonsense, he said.
STP also requires the therapist have methods that are evidence-based. He noted that anyone can go to STP to find a quality therapist.
I asked if they ever had a religious person try to sneak in as a therapist under false pretenses. He said there was one, but it was not about religion. It was about her nonsense woo methods. STP just needed to ask better questions and her web site showed the problem if they just looked a bit deeper.
This led others to ask related questions. Nan asked if Jungian therapy is "woo"? Ray answered that there is no peer reviewed support for it.
He also noted, in response to a chat comment about sex addiction, that there is no such thing. "Sex addiction" is a religious concept. It is not in the standard reference of psychiatry: Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM).
He noted that Dr Patrick Carnes wrote a 1983 book and a test that is largely responsible for the concept of "sex addiction". Ray shared it with Free Thought Oklahoma. Of the 300 people who took the test, 80% were supposedly addicted to sex! How could that be?
He noted that celebrities who do something unethical use "sex addiction" as a Get Out of Jail Free card.
Again, you may never need these resources to question and escape religion, but you may know someone who does. Please direct them to https://www.recoveringfromreligion.org/ for support.