A Sunday morning in church is not in the cards for those who say they're "beyond belief" -- beyond belief in the God of Scripture, anyway. And for some, the abandonment of their faith wasn't easy. Our Cover Story now from Mo Rocca:
Visit Jackson, Mississippi, and you can't miss the First Baptist Church. To Neil Carter, it was like a second home.
"This is where I grew up," he told Rocca. "My parents were married here. My sisters were both married here. I got baptized here, twice actually."
At the age of 15, Carter says he was "saved" by a youth evangelist.
"It was a very emotional experience for me," he said. "I really broke down into tears. Almost immediately after I got saved, I began teaching Sunday school. And I did that for about 10 years."
After college, he went to seminary, and thought about becoming a minister. But he started having doubts.
"I like to say that I've always lived with an inner skeptic," he said. "Even when I was a kid, I always had a lot of questions that were never really answered."
His questioning lasted for decades. But five years ago, Carter finally admitted to himself that he's an atheist.
It took him another year to tell his wife: "It was very upsetting -- for her, it felt like it was like I had died. The man that she had married was gone."
Their marriage (they have four daughters) ended in 2012.
But Carter says he never mentioned his atheism to his middle school history students.
Rocca asked, "How did the kids find out that you're an atheist?"
"One of them had been stalking me on Facebook and saw that I had 'liked' a page about atheism," Carter said. "And then she came to school the next day and started asking me in front of the students if I was an atheist, and I refused to answer the question, which to them was enough of an answer."
The principal soon instructed him never to discuss anything to do with religion in class. And shortly after, he was transferred. "First, they moved me out of my classroom to a math class," he said. "And then after that, they just told me they wouldn't bring me back the next school year. They didn't really give me any reasons, but obviously I knew what the reason was."
We don't know for certain why Carter was transferred. No reason was documented, and his school declined to talk with CBS News.
Since 2013, he's been teaching math at a nearby high school. He started a blog: Godless in Dixie, and he's joined a group called "Openly Secular."
On its website, Carter talks about the price he says he pays for declaring he's an atheist:
"Because around here, people are taught that morality comes from religion. So if you don't have religious beliefs, then you must not be a moral person."
"Like a light switch, it's, 'You're immoral, you're gonna raise evil children, you're a bad parent,'" said Todd Stiefel, of Raleigh, North Carolina. A former Catholic, he leads the Openly Secular campaign. "They're questioning your whole existence. I'd rather somebody assume I'm stupid than assume I'm wicked. It's painful. It's discrimination. It's prejudice."
Read the rest here.
Two weeks ago, I posted a blog, expressing my disgust with CBS News Sunday Morning and an Easter Sunday show which seemed to me to double-down on the whole "he is risen" thing. Two weeks later, likely because of the pending Openly Secular Day (April 23rd), Sunday Morning has at least made a reasonable attempt at leveling the playing field, putting the above-cited piece as their lead story. This is in addition to an hour-long CNN piece produced a few weeks before which dug considerably deeper into the diversity of atheism and atheists and the blunt fact that we are, indeed out there.
I don't pretend for one moment that the CBS piece was a direct response to my protest or those of other atheists, though our feedback may have encouraged the producers of CBS News to push for a piece they were already researching. I also can't help but notice the too-typical responses CBS is getting to the website post of the story from those who can't deal with a non-theological point of view. The one thing I hope the CBS and CNN stories do is to let more people know that atheism is becoming part of the mainstream, an element of our society which is not going away and indeed is growing daily larger and more vocal.
And as for Openly Secular Day, I'm giving that some very serious thought, in terms of telling at least one person and maybe more: "I'm openly secular. Indeed, I am an atheist."
And because I believe in both positive and negative feedback, I just posted the following to CBS News' website:
Two weeks ago, I signed on here and called you to task for an Easter Sunday program which I thought frankly doubled-down on the whole "he is risen" thing with the stories about the song of faith and the man with the crosses.
Today, though I don't especially think it was in response to my protest or that of other atheists who may also have written, I want to express my appreciation for the top-story piece you did on atheism and Openly Secular Day. It was a thoughtful and well-done segment which gave a snapshot of who atheists are and what we're about. In a world saturated with religion, your look at an alternative point of view was and is very much needed.
That said, you can't just stop there and say that you've done your bit. A large number of the comments on your website copy of the story reflect the continuing ignorance too many people have regarding atheism and atheists and issues associated with both. This is an ongoing story which will want your continued attention as time goes on and more non-believers come out of the closet.
Please keep this in mind. I will be watching, and I doubt I'll be the only atheist doing so. Thank you.
I think it's great that atheists criticize the media for their pro-religion bias. They should know that many of their viewers really don't care to Find Jesus.
I just gave them my positive feedback:
Two weeks ago, I commented negatively about your religious stories on Sunday Morning. I ended with this statement: "In the future, I hope to see you catering to christianity less, and rationality more. "
Congratulations and thank you for today's story: "beyond belief". It's a start.
Thanks, Loren; I'm happy to see that godless folk in Dixie are organizing and making it easier for others there to quit.
I quit Catholicism while at the University of Florida, an oasis of reason in bible-belt north Florida. The rest of my dad's five kids quit Catholicism while in St. Pete which, due to the many Yankees who moved there after WW2, wasn't the bible-belt Dixie that's now in the news so often.