Beyond the Horizon (Video)

Here’s some geeky goodness for you. A video created in collaboration with The Planetary Society for their 35th anniversary, the words of Bill Nye, Neil deGrasse Tyson, Emily Lakdawalla and Carl Sagan are auto-tuned and set to music. Somehow, it works.

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Hear My ‘Origin Story’ On Everyone’s Agnostic

One day in January, out of the blue, and email came from Cass Midgley asking if I would be on Everyone’s Agnostic. I jumped at the chance, having listened to several episodes previously via Stitcher. They talk to people about their life stories, particularly conversion and de-conversion. I had fun telling my story, and I’m glad they wanted to hear it. I hope it’s of some value to others as well.

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Naked Mormonism: Adam Gonnerman on Campbellism and Mormonism

Speaking to the Ethical Culture Society of Westchester

This month I revisited, in a sense, an experience from my younger years. I spoke to the Ethical Culture Society of Westchester, in White Plains, New York. It was my first time speaking to an Ethical Society, so let me explain the nostalgia.

During my second year of college, way back in 1995, I started supply preaching. That involves being sent out, in this case by the Bible college I was attending, to congregations that needed a preacher. Most of the time I was going to tiny country congregations composed of elderly people. Once I preached for 3 people! On other occasions I was sent to fill in for a minister who was on vacation, in which case I’d be speaking to 100 people or more. It was nerve-wracking at first, and then I grew to love it. Those were the days before GPS, and so I depended on maps and hand-written directions. Sometimes the directions told me something like ‘hang a left after the first big red barn you see after leaving the highway, then turn right at the second road on your right.’

With Waze to guide me, my trip to White Plains was far simpler than those supply preaching trips. Getting there, I sat in on their weekly Colloquy discussion (at other societies this is often monthly or else occasional), and then began setting up for my talk. Ethical Societies refer to their services as ‘Platforms,’ and though they have Clergy Leaders, the societies frequently bring in guest speakers. In my case, I was there to talk about The Clergy Project.

The Clergy Project is a non-profit organization that was established a few years ago to assist current and former clergy in theistic churches. The main way this works is through providing an online discussion forum. To join, a person must either be currently or previously in ministry, and also must not believe in the supernatural. This is not a place for people to sort out their doubts, but rather to connect when they have reached the conclusion that there are no gods.

Membership is open to those of all religions and denominations who fit the above criteria, and each one must be screened prior to joining to ensure the security of the private forum. We don’t want any active evangelists slipping in, or people having doubts who would be better served going elsewhere to thing through their questions.

Regular topics of discussion on the forums are dealing with believing spouses and family, as well as how to get out of ministry and what to do after. We would like, in the future, to be able to offer financial assistance for the transition.

Speaking of money, The Clergy Project was made possible through the initial funding and partnership of The Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science, and the Freedom From Religion Foundation. In my talk I mentioned, in a bit more careless way than I would have liked, that though Dawkins is a divisive fellow, he showed compassion in his desire to assist ministers who are, as I put it, ‘stuck in the pulpit.’

The people of the Westchester Ethical Society seemed to enjoy my talk, and I certainly enjoyed meeting them. They’re a friendly bunch of people, and if I lived in that area I’d be glad to be part of their community.

It was, generally, an experience very reminiscent of my supply preaching days. I hope that in the future I’ll have more such opportunities to speak about The Clergy Project, secular communities, and values. Next month, on March 12 at 12:45pm, I’ll be sharing my talk about The Clergy Project with the Humanist group of the Unitarian Church in Summit, NJ. If you’ll be in the area, it’d be great to see you there.

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Naked Mormonism: Adam Gonnerman on Campbellism and Mormonism

This week it was my great pleasure to be a guest on Naked Mormonism, a podcast that takes a critical look at the history of Mormonism. The host is Bryce Blankenagel, a man who was raised in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints but came to question and then leave that church. I’d been listening to him and David Michael on the My Book of Mormon podcast for a couple of months, when one day I heard Bryce makes some comments about Campbellism that weren’t quite right. One thing led to the other and I found myself recording an episode of Naked Mormonism to ‘set the record straight.’

Listening to myself on this podcast did not set my teeth on edge as I thought it would, though I wish I’d made it clearer that there really isn’t an ongoing history of Pentecostalism in Campbellism since the very early days in the Stone churches. I also suspect I got a couple of locations wrong. Dates, doctrines and major events are all as best I understand them.

As I mentioned on the podcast, ‘Campbellism’ is not really a flattering term, and I wasn’t using it to be offense. It’s very difficult to talk about a movement as diverse and divided as the Stone-Campbell Restoration Movement, and I thought ‘Campbellism’ would be the simplest shorthand to reference the group as a whole.

It should also be clear from the tone of what I said that I am not angry with or against the Stone-Campbell Movement now that I don’t consider myself part of it. My understanding of the world has changed, necessitating a break from that outlook. In fact, my entire purpose for doing this podcast was to ensure that the story was told as accurately as possible, and to clear the Campbellites of associations with doctrines and viewpoints that they do not in fact have.

There is a strong early connection between Mormonism and Campbellism, in that the former seems to have borrowed heavily from the latter, most likely through the agency of Sidney Rigdon. I hope that exploring this relationship and overlap will prove of some value to listeners in general.

My thanks to Bryce for having me on and for being patient with a few technical difficulties. I especially appreciate his desire to learn. He and I share a love of history, and I think that comes through in this episode.

Towards the end I put in a plug for Sunday Assembly NYC, and also mentioned Oasis. Sunday Assembly NYC is preparing to relaunch in September 2016, so if you live in the area and want to see a secular community thrive, why not join the organizing committee? As for Oasis, I understand that many Naked Mormonism listeners are ex-Mormons. There are Oasis groups starting up in Utah and Idaho (Cache Valley Oasis just kicked off), and I think John Dehlin would perhaps be the best person to connect with about those if you are interested.

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Free Online Course: 

World Religions Through Their Scriptures

Harvard University is offering a free online course in world religions (though for $50 you can take it to get a certificate of completion). Even though I’ve studied religion both informally and formally since my early teens, I may take this course. The description promises an angle that could be worthwhile:

The study of religion is a rich and fascinating dimension of human experience that includes, but goes well beyond, an exploration of beliefs and ritual practices. Through the lens of scriptures, this Religion XSeries will explore how religions are internally diverse, and how they evolve and change as living traditions that impact, and are impacted, by the cultural, historical, and political contexts of adherents. We will explore issues of interpretation through themes such as gender and sexuality, the arts, violence and peace, science, and power and authority. In addition to learning with and from world-renowned scholars, learners will have the opportunity to interact with peers from around the world representing diverse backgrounds, affiliations, and perspectives.

This sort of course is valuable to atheists and theists alike, as it helps us understand how other people think and might even help us build bridges.

Check it out.

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