My bio: Hello, Reddit! I am Sarah Jane Wood, Director of the Hotline Project, a one-of-a-kind peer-support phone and live chat line for those struggling with the negative effects of religion. Our goal is to provide neutral ground for those who have doubts, concerns, or difficulties related to religion. Our clients are extremely diverse and represent both atheists and theists around the world. Since we launched in February 2015, we have helped over 1000 unique clients and trained over 100 agents. Our entire staff is 100% volunteer, and our funding comes entirely from donations to our parent non-profit organization, Recovering from Religion. AMA!!

My Proof:

Other Info: Are you struggling with doubts, concerns, or difficulties related to religion? Is someone you care about struggling? We are here to help!

Phone line: 1-84-I-DOUBT-IT (1-844-368-2848) - Open from 4 PM - 10 PM central time, 7 days a week

Chat line: - Open from 8 AM - 10 PM central time, weekends only

Apply to be a volunteer or hotline agent:

Donate to the cause:

Please note: Religion is a deeply personal and often controversial topic. Please be civil to one another. Thanks! :)

Edit: I'm stepping away from my computer to grab some snacks, but I'm going to do my best to answer every question on this thread. Keep posting! I'll be back shortly.

Edit 2: I'm back!

Edit 3: Since the discussion seems to be winding down, I'm going to sign off, but I'll keep checking back for as long as I keep getting question. If you respond, so will I! Thank you for being such awesome Redditors! I was braced for trolling and proselytizing, but it turns out everyone was just lovely. :)

Comments: 180 • Responses: 63  • Date: 

slipstream3729 karma

Do you ever recommend for people to join reddit and post their stories in ex-religion subreddits?

For instance:

Also, shout out to /r/thegreatproject in which ex-theists post their deconversion stories.

Also, do you ever visit /r/DebateReligion, /r/DebateAnAtheist etc?

TheHotlineProject25 karma

Yes! I recommend the various exreligious subreddits quite often to callers, especially callers who are unable to attend local meetups. When people are closeted and living in situations where it is unsafe to go to secular events and gatherings, online communities can be an excellent alternative.

I hadn't heard of The Great Project, but I'm going to share my own story there now that I know about it. What an awesome idea!

I have lurked in the various debate subs off and on, but I haven't really engaged. I think it's great that they exist though. When I was in the midst of my own deconversion, I watched a ton of debate videos on YouTube. It was really helpful to hear people rationally debate religious ideas.

jordanmom19 karma

One of the last things that kept me believing in religion was the fear of hell. I still think about it from time to time. Will that ever go away?

TheHotlineProject25 karma

Fear of hell is a common concern for both theists and atheists, especially recent deconverts. One of the best ways to combat lingering fear or anxiety stemming from religion is information. For example, this is a great YouTube video about the history of the devil. When you know about the origins of a given idea, it often helps to demystify it. If you continue to struggle with the idea of hell, something that can of course cause a lot of anxiety, therapy can also be very helpful. Check out the Secular Therapist Project for help finding a therapist who will not offer religious advice.

edit: link formatting

TigranMetz5 karma

I clicked on the history of the devil link and, strangely enough, the ad was for a website of weird Christian shows called Um, no thanks.

TheHotlineProject1 karma

Yikes! Okay, that's not what I wanted at all! lol I wonder if I attached the wrong link. I'm going to double check it right now. Thank you for pointing that out!

edit: I just realized I misunderstood your comment. :P It's the right video. Sorry about the ad! Here's the link that's in our database:

Free2L10 karma

How can I volunteer? And if I do volunteer, is there training? The idea of fielding calls kinda scares me.

TheHotlineProject19 karma

We would love to have you as a volunteer! The training that you would receive is a total of 4-6 hours (broken up into chunks) of online training with a live trainer. Training covers how to handle certain types of calls, how to be an active listener, what resources are appropriate for what situations, and how to use our hotline software. Following training, you'll also complete a minimum of 4 hours of mentored shifts with an experienced agent. The mentoring process isn't intended to nitpick your call technique. Instead, it's meant to help facilitate your transition into working as a solo agent. While you're on a call (or chat), your mentor can listen in and offer guidance, suggest resources, and suggest questions to ask the caller. Everybody's a little nervous at first, but after a couple of calls you'll build confidence. It's very rewarding.

If you're nervous about taking calls (I know I was!!), you might also consider volunteering as a chat agent instead. Our chat line is entirely text-based. It's often a little easier for particularly introverted agents (like me!).

Finally, if you get through training and you feel like being an agent isn't a good fit for you, you can always volunteer in another capacity. We are always looking for trainers, supervisors, tech support reps, database managers, etc.

Go to to apply.

redshrek8 karma

Based on the work you are doing, what are the top 3 factors do you see as key in triggering doubt in believers? My exposure to Matt Dillahunty and The Atheist Experience show started me down a rabbit hole of doubt.

TheHotlineProject40 karma

Off the top of my head...

  1. Reading the Bible or one's relevant holy text in its entirety
  2. Going to college and being confronted with new ideas
  3. The growing body of scientific knowledge and discovery

Which can really be summarized as: information.

WingChunLi-29 karma

Really? Information? Can you tell me what lies beyond the expanding universe? Can you tell me how anything exists? Can you tell me if there are other dimensions out there and can they be "harnessed" one day? Can you tell me where time, space, matter and anything came from? What is our origin and why do we exist? Do you really think everything just happened to happen?

TheHotlineProject29 karma





Can you tell me what lies beyond the expanding universe?

Not yet

Can you tell me how anything exists?

Some things, yes. Some things, no.

Can you tell me if there are other dimensions out there and can they be "harnessed" one day?

Not yet, but I'm also not a physicist.

Can you tell me where time, space, matter and anything came from?

Time, no, although our entire conception of time (i.e. time measurement) was defined by man. Space was presumably always in existence, but we can't be sure. Matter, no. Anything? Again, some things, yes. Some things, no.

What is our origin and why do we exist?

The origin of humans is undeniably evolution. The origins of life are still unknown, though there are many credible explanations that don't involve supernatural deities. As for why we exist, I don't know. I don't really know of any reason that we need to have a reason to exist. We need not have a preordained purpose in order to create purpose in our own lives.

Do you really think everything just happened to happen?

Yes, but it's okay with me if you don't.

WingChunLi-26 karma

Space and time aren't man made. And by origin I mean where did everything come from. It's ok though your answers have told me enough about you

SoundTrax13 karma

It's ok though your answers have told me enough about you

Does that help you dismiss her as a person?

TheHotlineProject16 karma

Haha, probably. It's okay. I was actually sitting over here all day feeling a little disappointed that no one even tried to troll (not that I mind having such an awesomely civil AMA on such a controversial topic, of course). Thanks for stepping up and saying that nonetheless. Have an internet hug from me. /HUG

TheHotlineProject11 karma

I never said space and time were man-made, and I responded to your question about the origins of everything. We don't know where everything (i.e. matter, the universe) originated from. Maybe it always existed. Maybe it came from something we don't understand. Maybe it even came from a supernatural god. Nobody knows. We might know someday. I'm not losing any sleep over it though.

It's ok though your answers have told me enough about you

Wonderful! I'm glad they clarified that for you. I hope you have a lovely night.

WingChunLi-26 karma

Ok so u basically know nothing. Ok

TheHotlineProject12 karma

It's true there is a lot that I don't know, certainly a vast, vast amount more than I do know. As is true of all humans. I don't even know if a supernatural deity or force exists, and I would never claim otherwise. However, I have been convinced by the information available that the existence of a god is much less likely than the nonexistence of all gods. If evidence becomes available that points to another conclusion, I will change my mind. All I can say is that I will keep striving to learn more.

plainoldname7 karma


TheHotlineProject24 karma

Among Christians, Mormons and Jehovah's Witnesses have an extremely hard time extricating themselves from religion, especially because leaving often comes with substantial personal costs (e.g., being disfellowshipped, losing family relationships, divorce).

Muslims also have a very hard time leaving religion. From the conversations I've had with ex-Muslims, one's family is a big factor. Like any religion, Muslims fall on a broad spectrum. It's presumably much easier for a mainstream Muslim from a relatively liberal family to deconvert than a Muslim from a deeply devout and conservative family.

In all cases, location is a big factor as well. Leaving religion in the South is a different animal than leaving religion in Seattle. Obviously, I'm generalizing here, but those are the trends I've seen.

edit: typos

plainoldname15 karma


TheHotlineProject13 karma

Absolutely. Well said.

Rock-Quarry6 karma

What is a typical phone call like when someone calls the hotline?

TheHotlineProject14 karma

Call content varies a lot so I'll provide a couple of common examples. Our most common calls tend to be from a) closeted non-believers who are contemplating coming out or b) callers who have lost social connections and a sense of community since leaving the church and are looking for new connections.

For people considering coming out, we usually spend quite awhile just chatting about the person's situation. We can also help create an action plan, a step-by-step plan and timeline for coming out. We also emphasize that coming out is a very personal decision that ultimately rests with the individual. Under no circumstance do we ever advise a caller to come out if they haven't already made the decision to do so.

In the second scenario, again, we usually spend some time talking about the caller's situation to get an idea of how we can best help. We also try to figure out what type of group would best suit the caller. For example, would they rather join a group that practices street epistemology and counter-apologetics or a group that organizes humanist community service projects? Based on the info we gather, we have a wide variety of resources through which callers can find local groups, meetups, or support groups.

edit: link formatting

Draperville3 karma

Holy Godsend. Could there be a FaceBook group where members practice and chat about street epistemology?

TheHotlineProject9 karma

Indeed! It's very cleverly called Street Epistemology! It's a private group, but they're super welcoming and have great videos and resources for those interested in SE. Also, check out Anthony Magnabosco's YouTube channel. He regularly uploads videos of his SE encounters. He's also just a great guy.

kent_eh3 karma

And there is also /r/StreetEpistemology right here on Reddit.

TheHotlineProject3 karma

Awesome! Thanks for sharing that!

jrob3231 karma

For example, would they rather join a group that practices street epistemology

Philosophy is the methadone to the heroin of religion. Please don't do that.

TheHotlineProject1 karma

Are you familiar with SE? I wouldn't call it philosophy (though I'm familiar with the epistemology branch of philosophy). SE is a technique used to get people to critically think about their own beliefs without being antagonistic or confrontational. It can be extremely effective. It doesn't have to be directed at religion either. It works for having conversations about pretty much any topic on which someone holds a very deep belief.

Pepperminting6 karma

How can a friend or family member be supportive of someone who may want to leave religion? Also, best practices and what to avoid?

TheHotlineProject11 karma

The single most helpful thing to remember when your loved one is considering deconverting or has already deconverted is that they are the same person you've always loved. They just lack a belief in gods now. Another helpful thing is to talk to them and give them space to discuss their beliefs. People make so many assumptions about atheists, and those assumptions can lead to unfair distrust and criticism. Instead, ask questions and listen. You don't need to agree with them, and you don't need to change your own beliefs. Just try to understand theirs. Additionally, if you hear someone bashing atheists or making assumptions, say something. It doesn't need to be a debate or a confrontation. Even just, "Hey, I actually know some atheists who are great people" can be so, so helpful. As is the case with so many minority groups, the stigma is really hard to overcome, and new deconverts often experience a lot of criticism, backlash, and even bullying when they're already going through a difficult transition. Anything that helps demystify and destigmatize atheism helps. Finally, many people get offended when an atheist even alludes to their atheism, but atheists are constantly surrounded by religious ideas, news stories, facebook posts, etc. If your friend or family member brings up atheism, try not to take it as a personal attack. It almost never is.

Gileriodekel5 karma

Hey Sarah! I'm very happy that something like this exists. I think as time goes on it'll get more and more calls.


Anyway, I just wanted you to about Mormon Spectrum. It's a website that put together a list of all the in person exmormon groups that people can join for support/social interaction. Would you consider creating something similar for other ex-religions?

TheHotlineProject6 karma

That's an amazing resource! Thank you so much for sharing that with me! I'm going to contact our Resources Coordinator right now and get it added to our resource database for callers. As far as creating something similar for other religions. I think that's an excellent idea! That's something I'll float out to our resources team as well. Chances are that's a project that would be best handled by someone else, simply because it would likely be quite time consuming. However, we actually categorize a lot of our resources by religious denomination (e.g. ex-Muslims, ex-JWs, etc.), and we do our best to have diverse resources available to serve specific religious groups.

thesurvivalproject5 karma

I live in Dubai :3, Can I still Volunteer?

TheHotlineProject10 karma

It certainly is possible for you to volunteer from Dubai. We have volunteers from all over the world. Just go to We look forward to working with you!

ianovic695 karma

Your bio mentions that you support people around the world. What kind of percentage of your calls are outside the US?

TheHotlineProject8 karma

Since our organization is based in the US, most of our advertising, podcast appearances, etc. reaches those in the US. However, we're really starting to get traction in other countries. Off the top of my head, we've had callers and chatters from the US, Canada, the UK, New Zealand, Australia, Egypt, Mexico, and Morocco. We also have agents in six countries, including the US, Canada, Sweden, the UK, Australia, and South Africa. As far as the percentage of calls goes, I don't know off the top of my head, but somewhere around 5% probably. We just launched our live chat line in February 2016, and it made it much easier for international clients to reach us (it's internet-based). The phone line gets far few calls from abroad since international calling often overrides the toll-free thing, though we get a lot of calls from Canada.

josephbgirthlin2 karma

Podcasts have been immensely helpful to me throughout my faith transition, and I found them early on. I would love to hear you on an episode of Mormon Stories or Infants on Thrones. Have you ever considered reaching out to either of them and offering to do an interview?

TheHotlineProject8 karma

I'm actually actively pursuing podcast appearances right now! I've recently appeared on the Recovering from Religion podcast and will hopefully be appearing on the Legion of Reason Diversion podcast as well. I will absolutely reach out to Mormon Stories and Infants on Thrones. Thank you for suggesting them!

itsbritneyb_tch5 karma

I know that you have to be detached and neutral, but is there one story that you didn't know how to approach or that made you give a subjective answer?

TheHotlineProject11 karma

It's always possible for a caller to throw you a curve ball. I'm going to stay away from talking about specific call details to protect the confidentiality of our clients. However, I can think of several situations where it's hard for me to remain neutral. For example, any call were a child is struggling and being deprived of choice/control is very, VERY hard for me in terms of staying neutral. It's also difficult to handle calls where the caller is clearly being impacted negatively by religion by they want to remain religious. We've got a lot of tools in our tool belt though to support callers in challenging situations without abandoning neutrality. When appropriate, there are also ways to gently advise (what I call open-ended advising) without inserting one's one opinion. The main thing that a hotline agent does is listen to the caller. We make every attempt to meet the caller where they are.

Jesterr015 karma

How do feel about openly confrontational atheists?

TheHotlineProject11 karma

I think there's a time and place for everything, including confronting/debating religious folks regarding their beliefs. Shows like the Atheist Experience and Dogma Debate are essential and provide space to challenge ideas. Likewise, people like Dave Silverman are making great strides for the secular community by being outspoken "firebrand" atheists. That being said, providing safe spaces like our hotline is also essential. Having religious doubts, much less actually deconverting, can be stressful and scary. Many people face very significant personal consequences if they deconvert or come out as atheists. I think it's imperative that we give people who are struggling a place to speak openly with someone who is empathetic and non-judgmental.

murdamcloud5 karma

Do you find similarities between people leaving "cults" and people leaving "religions"? And what differences do you find?

(My experience was that there were some major similarities on the macro scale and the micro scale).

TheHotlineProject1 karma

Sure, there are definitely similarities. Indoctrination and fear are major components of many religions and many cults. See: religious trauma syndrome, as well. However, among deconverts of religion, people really have a huge range of experiences (the same is probably true of cults, too, but I have much less experience with people leaving cults). Some people find it quite easy to leave religion. For example, in my own experience, I was raised in a religious home, attended church regularly, was encouraged to participate in youth group, choir, acolyting, etc., but my family and my church were always accepting of questions and doubts. No one ever told me to just pray about it or just trust in the word of God or just blindly believe. In fact, one of the first people in my former religious community I shared my atheism with was my priest. His reaction was to tell me that was just fine. He said that if people never question their own beliefs, they're doing it wrong. For people who are as fortunate as me, deconversion tends to be a lot less traumatic.

josephbgirthlin5 karma

Have you ever offered support to a believing spouse of someone who has lost their faith? As a non believing Mormon, I feel like I have an incredible amount of support from the exmormon community. However, I feel like my wife is in a place of almost complete isolation and is being severely neglected by her church in this regard. I feel like the information they do give her is not healthy and is meant to undermine my credibility.

TheHotlineProject7 karma

Yes! While many of our callers are atheists or are headed that way, we are very welcoming to theists as well. We are always happy to offer support and resources to those who are struggling with a loved one's deconversion. Please let her know that we're here. Also, here are a couple of resources you might want to check out and share with your wife.

In Faith and In Doubt (book)

Til Death Do Us Part (article)

Good on you for being mindful of your spouse's needs. It's easy to feel resentful/frustrated in an interfaith relationship, but it's very possible to have a happy, healthy, loving mixed-faith marriage.

josephbgirthlin7 karma

Wow, that was fast! Thank you soooooo much for what you are doing! I really appreciate your incredibly thoughtful answer and for the encouraging words regarding having a happy, healthy, loving mixed faith marriage. And thank you for the links, I will definitely check those out. I will let my wife know you're there and will keep my fingers crossed that she calls.

TheHotlineProject4 karma

Good luck! You're already off to a good start just by being proactive. :)

King-fannypack4 karma

Are you a religious person? If so, does your job conflict with your beliefs?

TheHotlineProject1 karma

I am not religious, but I was for well over 20 years. My job doesn't conflict with my beliefs, but I often speak with callers with whom I disagree. That being said, differing beliefs, in my opinion, is not a valid reason to deny someone the same help and support I would give to someone with whom I agree. The people who call us, even the ones with whom agents vehemently disagree, still call us because they are in need. We do our best to treat every caller with the same caring, empathy, and respect, regardless of beliefs.

TheHotlineProject1 karma

I'd also like to add that my lack of beliefs is not meant to be a representation of all the agents on the hotline. I have absolutely no problem bringing on religious agents, so long as they are willing to follow our guidelines of never attempting to (de)convert or debate callers.

einyv4 karma

What if anything is your group doing in regards to lawmakers wanting to allow gay conversion therapy when it has been proven to be a bunch of BS as well as damaging to the individual going through the process? Does your group field questions from people going through this? Lastly what advice do you give people wanting to tell their parents but are afraid of being kicked out but are having a hard time concealing their atheism?

TheHotlineProject11 karma

What if anything is your group doing in regards to lawmakers wanting to allow gay conversion therapy when it has been proven to be a bunch of BS as well as damaging to the individual going through the process?

Gay conversion therapy is a topic that really weighs on me. I'm glad to see that it's being fought against in the courts lately. However, to best serve our clients, the Hotline Project doesn't play an active role in influencing lawmakers (though I strongly support people who do).

Does your group field questions from people going through this?

Absolutely. Many of our callers are part of the LGBTQ+ community, and we hear a lot of stories about families and churches denying, disapproving, and/or condemning individuals' sexual identities, including some families who have forced their children into conversion therapy. A big part of what we offer these callers/chatters is peer-counseling and support. It can be really freeing to be able to speak openly with someone who truly values and respects the caller. We also have resources in our database that can help people struggling in those situations, such as Secular Safe House and the Secular Therapist Project.

Lastly what advice do you give people wanting to tell their parents but are afraid of being kicked out but are having a hard time concealing their atheism?

If you think it's going to be more trouble than it's worth then it's okay to delay coming out. If you have decided to come out, remember it's a process. The first conversation may not go very well, but hopefully there'll be other conversations. Don't try to downplay your decision to them, and don't try to convert/debate. You have changed your mind about one thing, but you're still the great person you've always been.

lyinggrump4 karma

How do you like being a part of the hotline project?

TheHotlineProject8 karma

From me: I love it!! I've been with the hotline since it launched, and I wore pretty much every hat available (agent, mentor, supervisor, trainer, tech support) before becoming the director. Being able to help a person in a difficult situation is incredibly rewarding and intrinsically motivating.

From my fellow agents who are helping me answer questions: "Being a member of the hotline is awesome! It's so uplifiting to be able to provide support and care to those who feel like they can't go elsewhere. Hearing callers say 'thank you' is what it's all about!"

"Knowing that I've been where they are and can help them get through it is very rewarding."

moomsy3 karma

If someone called and were merely "doubting," does the Hotline Project always encourage that individual to leave his/her religion? I like that the project is described as a neutral ground for people with questions, but the name of the parent company, Recovering from Religion, sounds decidedly less neutral.

Sorry, I haven't heard of RFR or this project before, so these may be "duh" questions. Thanks for doing this!

TheHotlineProject3 karma

We never, under any circumstances, push a client toward any ideology or lack thereof. We staunchly believe in maintaining a neutral safe space for anyone struggling with difficulties related to religion and their concerned family members and friends, regardless of their religious beliefs. Volunteers who violate our mission (something that is very, very rare) are required to be retrained or are dismissed from the hotline. I agree that the name of RfR gives the impression that we are decidedly not neutral, and I think that's unfortunate. I think it also makes it much less likely that we will get volunteers who are believers, though I would love to have them if they're willing to follow our guidelines. That being said, Recovering from Religion is an amazing organization that does incredible work. Despite the unintended effects their name might have, I wouldn't choose to be attached to any other organization.

RedditSlave19303 karma

Have you gotten any death threats so far from doing this, if so, from what religions did it tend to be the majority of the time (if they said), and what were your reactions to it? Called the police?

TheHotlineProject1 karma

No, I have not received any death threats nor have any of the hotline agents. Needless to say, I'm very grateful that's the case. If any agent ever received a death threat due to their work of the hotline, we would take it extremely seriously and take appropriate actions.

classicrando3 karma

Since I have to pose this as a question, are you familiar with what happened to the CAN organization? It was set up to fight cults and provide info and it was sued and all its records and its name were taken by Scientology.

Also, in the form of a question, do you have policies for destruction and protection of any personal info of people who use your service?
Please read the eff paper about private data.

TheHotlineProject2 karma

Thank you for sharing those links! I was not aware of CAN or what happened to it until now, but it sounds like a truly terrible story, especially for those who continue to reach out to the organization on the assumption that it continues in its original mission.

As for personal info of our clients, first and foremost, this is a question that would be better addressed by our Technical Director, who handles the IT/information security side of our hotline. However, I can tell you that we follow the same confidentiality and information security guidelines as many crisis lines. We strive to protect our client's identifying information to our greatest ability. The information we do retain is carefully secured. It is necessary to retain certain information about calls in order to protect ourselves should our actions ever be challenged in court, but we take the protection of callers information and identities extremely seriously.

supposedtobeworking12 karma

Do the calls ever reveal concern for the caller's safety? For example, has a caller ever mentioned some sort of abuse within a religious organization? What is it like and does the training cover a situation like that? Thanks for doing this, it's a very interesting AMA!

TheHotlineProject1 karma

Fortunately, those types of calls are relatively rare, but they do happen. If a caller is in a situation where they are suffering clear emotional or physical abuse, we refer the caller to the appropriate crisis line. Crisis lines (unlike peer-support hotlines like ours) are able to contact emergency services and put callers in touch with many local resources like shelters.

glass_shelf2 karma

Ex-Mormon, current agnostic atheist here.

What do you say to people when they tell you how sad it is that you aren't religious anymore?

I tell them I'm not sad about it at all, but I find the entire sentiment patronizing and off-putting and wonder if I should say more sometimes.

TheHotlineProject5 karma

As a relatively recent totally-out atheist, I've heard that line quite a bit. I share your frustration. Obviously, the "correct response" isn't going to be a one-size-fits-all statement. It depends a lot on who I'm talking to. However, I always explain that I'm actually much, much happier since I deconverted. I often point out that religious belief (or lack thereof) is a personal experience. I know that being religious makes many people feel just as happy and comfortable as being an atheist feels to me - we don't all need to agree. The last thing I want is for people to feel sad about my deconversion. If I'm talking to someone who I know well, especially family members, I try to be a little more assertive and detailed. Like I might point out that it's presumptuous to assume that I'm worse off. I also suggest that they ask me how I feel/what I believe instead of making assumptions. The only thing I don't recommend is lashing out or responding sarcastically (tempting though it surely is), e.g. "Well I think it's sad that you base your identity on a myth!" I haven't always held to that rule, but I try. Being snarky almost never improves the situation.

glass_shelf1 karma

No, I save my snark for the internet. ;) Much better than with friends and family.

Thanks for answering. I usually just don't get into it at all. I'd rather discuss almost anything OTHER than religion, and I don't think people mean to be offensive when they say these things. It is, though.

TheHotlineProject6 karma

Yup. No argument here. I also do my best to keep my atheism out of the conversation (as well as anyone else's religion). I hesitated to even share my AMA on my facebook today (though I eventually did) because I knew that many of my friends were unaware of my role on the hotline, and I didn't really feel like being bombarded with religious comments. :P

simonsaysblrblglblrb2 karma

Do you see people struggling with what to believe morally once they leave the structure set for them by an organized religion?

TheHotlineProject11 karma

We don't generally see people struggling with what to believe morally after leaving religion. One's moral code, even for deeply religious people, is almost always personally defined and sticks around when someone deconverts. What we do tend to see is more acceptance and open mindedness regarding certain topics (homosexuality, abortion, women's rights, racism, etc.) after they leave religion. Additionally, people express a stronger moral conviction, because the desire to do good is rooted in their own decision rather than the demands/expectations of religion.

edit: typos

Pepperminting1 karma

Do you conduct follow-up with callers? Can they schedule additional conversations or is it a strictly crisis hotline?

TheHotlineProject4 karma

This is a great question. Most importantly, we're not a crisis line. In the US (and elsewhere I assume), hotlines are classified as crisis lines, peer-support lines, or information/referral hotlines. Different types of hotlines have to meet different regulations, and crisis lines have the strictest regulations (understandably). We are considered both a peer-support line and an information/referral line. When we do get crisis calls, we refer them to the best crisis line for their situation and invite them to call us back when the crisis has been resolved.

As for follow-ups, we don't technically arrange follow-ups, but we have TONS of repeat callers - some have called us over 50 times. Repeat callers can be great because we get to see how they change and progress overtime.

emv_phife2 karma

I don't know if this is something commonly brought up, or if it's brought up at all during calls, but from what religion are most callers affiliated with?

TheHotlineProject1 karma

I would say most of our callers are some variety of Christian, but I don't think it's really accurate to lump them all together. For example, Mormons and Jehovah's Witnesses differ dramatically from Episcopalians and Methodists. We also get quite a few Muslim callers and have recently been getting more Jewish callers. Again, specific flavors of Islam and Judaism vary significantly. So, I guess I would say that Christians as a group are most common, but there isn't any particular denomination of any religion that sticks out as being substantially more prevalent.

modembutterfly2 karma

Losing your faith and leaving religion sometimes results in losing your family, or at least losing their support. How often do you come across this in your work?

TheHotlineProject1 karma

Depressingly often.

Tragic162 karma

Thank you for being such an awesome person! It really helps to know that you're passionate about making a difference in a marginalized group of people.

How many non-Americans do you have as volunteers currently?

TheHotlineProject2 karma

Thank you for the kind response! I really love what I do and the people I work with. It's incredible to see so many volunteers investing their time, energy, and passion is this project. I invest a lot of myself in the hotline, but the hotline couldn't exist or be nearly as effective without the tireless efforts of my fellow volunteers.

About 20% of our current agents live outside the US. I'd love to have even more. :)

Tragic162 karma

I'm quite interested in helping out. However, I question whether I'm actually capable of doing it right. From what I've read about good and bad indirect hotline experiences, there needs to be a certain degree of neutrality to be effective with helping. How can I guarantee that I won't take it personal, for example?

TheHotlineProject2 karma

You will almost certainly take some things personally. Even after almost two years of working with this project, I still get the occasional call that gets under my skin for days. What's important is being able to keep your own opinions out of the call even when you're upset. Once a difficult call is over, we have many tools to help get yourself back in a good headspace (e.g. vent to your fellow agents, reassess the call and think of ways you might approach it differently in the future, get guidance from your supervisor, go work out, take a break from taking shifts for a little while and decompress, etc.). We also have an excellent psychiatrist that volunteers with the hotline specifically to help agents debrief after hard calls and come up with ways to approach similar calls in the future without getting personally invested. It's not easy, but it get's easier the more you practice. For what it's worth though, the vast majority of our calls/chat are not difficult.

edit: I wanted to add that you'll get a good idea of what to expect in calls during training. If you get through training and feel like it's just not a good fit, that's okay. You can choose not to volunteer or you can choose to volunteer in a different capacity on the hotline (IT, resources team, admin team, supervising team, etc.).

TheGeorge2 karma

What do you think of the News story of the guy who's volunteering for the first head transplant?

TheHotlineProject1 karma

I just saw his AMA recently! I'll be interested to see if a head transplant actually becomes a feasible procedure. I hope it's successful for his sake and the sake of humanity, but it's clear the risks and challenges are huge. I'm constantly amazed by the progress scientists are making in medicine.

choongjunbo2 karma

Did you get any death threats from your work? If you do, How do you deal with them?

TheHotlineProject1 karma

Not yet, but there's no telling what the future holds. I do get plenty of comments from people saying I'm damning people to hell or spreading evil or whatever. More often, people just think I'm a bad person, asshole, etc. I try to remind myself that these people are almost certainly unaware of what the hotline actually does (we never attempt to deconvert or debate anyone or push atheism). They also don't know me. The comments they direct toward me come from a place of fear and ignorance, and the best thing I can do is try to contradict their assumptions about me. Most of the time, we just have to agree to disagree, and that's okay. If/when the death threats come though, I will do whatever I can to ensure my own safety.

bushidomonkofshadow2 karma


What kind of education do your hotline people possess to make them experts on the world's religions so as to be deemed qualified to offer advice on the matter?

TheHotlineProject2 karma

Our agents are not experts on world religions, and we do not consider them qualified nor do we allow them to advise clients on what to believe. Instead, our agents are trained in peer-counseling and active listening, which allows them to work effectively as facilitators and peer-counselors (not advisers).

TheGeorge2 karma

How do you ensure staff neutrality?

TheHotlineProject1 karma

Through screening, training, policy, and oversight. Prior to working on the hotline, all potential volunteers are interviewed, and we specifically look for indications that they might be prone to debating or deconverting callers (you'd be surprised how easy it is to spot). All volunteers also complete yearly training, including an entire course on call handling, which emphasizes the need to remain neutral and teaches agents techniques for keeping their opinions and beliefs out of the call. Additionally, we have very clear policies that enforce neutrality. We maintain oversight of our agents through multiple channels (though we try not to micromanage so long as agents stick to our policies). Agents who violate policy are required to complete retraining and are dismissed from the hotline if they continue to engage in debate, criticism, judgement, or deconversion tactics with callers.

ayecapnx2 karma

What proportion of your cases are Mormons? What proportion are from other religions?

TheHotlineProject3 karma

It's hard to say without doing a lot of call report analysis (we don't specifically track callers' religious affiliations -- though that's something I may add to our call/chat reports now). However, lately we've gotten a TON of Mormon and ex-Mormon clients. I'd estimate they've made up 15-20% of our calls/chats lately.

ayecapnx2 karma

I am a total data nerd, and that is absolutely a stat I would love to see tracked. You can compare your call volume with overall membership numbers of each religion to get a sense of how common these issues are per capita, or per thousand.

Something like "we get one call from a Mormon per thousand Mormons, 1 call per Catholic per 10,000 Catholics" or whatever.

Thanks for responding!

TheHotlineProject4 karma

Stat nerds, unite! Thank you for the suggestion! I've added it to my (seemingly infinite) to-do list. :D

trashsnatch1 karma

What's your favorite dairy product?

TheHotlineProject8 karma

Cheese! So much cheese.

Edit: Shoutout to my brother's amazing, life-changing vegan cheese!

trashsnatch2 karma

Fantastic! I usually carry bricks around with me to eat during breaks. Also I typed this while servicing a Catholic school

TheHotlineProject6 karma

Excellent choice! Cheese is one of my primary food sources, haha.

FirstForFun441 karma

When you hear that hotline ring, can it only mean one thing?

TheHotlineProject3 karma

Hahaha, nice reference! We try to keep our hotline blings and hotline rings strictly separated.

JazzySpinalFusion1 karma

I volunteer at my local crisis center. We take a very non-judgmental and objective approach to crises. Would you say this hotline does as well? What sort of differences would you have calling into this hotline as opposed to the average crisis or suicide hotline?

As a person who went through a very rough deconversion about 4 years ago, I am glad this hotline exists. Thanks for helping those who struggle with religious dissonance when nobody else will.

TheHotlineProject2 karma

Thank you for volunteering at a crisis center! It's hard and often unappreciated work, but it's so valuable to people in need. :)

As for your questions... Most importantly, we are not a crisis line. We are not equipped or legally allowed to act as crisis support agents. We are classified as a peer-counseling and information/referral hotline. That being said, the biggest difference between calling us and calling a crisis line is that we are not able to contact emergency services or counsel callers in the midst of crisis situations. We refer all crisis callers to the appropriate crisis lines. I imagine we use a lot of the same techniques for peer-counseling though.

We absolutely strive for non-judgment and objectivity. It's not always easy, especially when a caller is a) going through a very similar experience to the agent's own or b) appears to hold some very unhealthy beliefs (Importantly, I want to clarify that I do not believe that religious beliefs are inherently unhealthy. I'm talking about extreme situations). A lot of our training specifically focuses on avoiding self-disclosure, avoiding assumptions, and letting callers dictate the type of support that would be most helpful for them. We never attempt to deconvert, debate, or criticize callers. Instead, we practice active listening and meet callers where they are on their own journey. Because of the nature of our hotline, we get a lot of atheist callers or callers headed that way, but we actually have a lot of resources specifically for theistic callers who fully intend to remain religious. We can even help them find new religious communities that suit their beliefs. Initially, it can be difficult for some agents to get on board with our safe space/neutral philosophy, but I think it's the single most important aspect of our hotline. There are not nearly enough safe spaces in the religious/non-religious communities. It's important that we remain one.

JazzySpinalFusion2 karma

Thank you for responding, I hope your hotline continues to help others :)

TheHotlineProject1 karma

Thank you!! So do I. :D

GetBAK11 karma

Who's the best atheists speaker: Hitchens, Dawkins, or Sam Harris?

TheHotlineProject5 karma

Just from those three, it's a really tough call. I'm a big fan of all three. Sam Harris appeals to me because he's a neuroscientist (my original field of study). I also admire how incredibly calm he stays in almost every debate, even when his peer keeps escalating. Dawkins appeals to me because he's such an amazing educator regarding evolution (I'm a big biology nerd). I think Dawkins is one of the best speakers around when it comes to explaining complex biology concepts in a way almost anyone can understand. No one does scathing wit like Hitch though. He's who I channel when I have a bad day, haha. I really miss him.

bydeawee1 karma

About how often do you receive phone calls? Several a day or a few a week or ? I'm glad you are offering this service, thank you :)

*fixed missing word

TheHotlineProject3 karma

We average 2-5 per day, but it fluctuates a lot. Every once in a while, we have a day with no calls or chats at all. In contrast, a few weekends ago we had so many calls at once that three agents weren't enough to cover all of them, haha. After today's AMA, we got 7 calls in 4 hours. :D

just_old_light1 karma

Thanks for doing this awesome work. In your experience, what are the typical emotional states of people who call in, and what are the proportions of those groups?

TheHotlineProject2 karma

We speak with many clients who are struggling with depression and anxiety, especially among people who have deconverted recently. Many people genuinely grieve for their lost faith, and the process is just as difficult as the other forms of grief we experience. That being said, it's not unusual to talk to clients who are very sad and conflicted. Anger is also common since it's often a shock to conclude that one's religious identity was based on falsehoods. Anger is frequently directed toward the church in general or clients' families. In my experience, a lot of those emotions, especially anger, wane over time. When they linger long-term, we always recommend support groups and/or counseling.

On the other hand, we get a lot of calls from people who feel an entirely new level of freedom, independence, peace, and happiness after leaving religion. So we hear from plenty of callers who are almost giddy. Most often, our clients don't appear to be feeling an intense emotion, positive or negative, when they call (though tone of voice isn't really a good indicator of a person's inner thoughts).

As far as stats, I don't really know what the proportions are.

neapologist1 karma

What advice would you give to someone who deals with some sometimes crushing cognitive dissonance?

I lost my faith and left mormonism, but after about a decade ended up attending a non-denominational megachurch. I still know many of the arguments against religion, and ways that the bible is contradicted by itself and by evidence. But at the same time, I have a great community there, and most of my friends are part of that church. I've seen a lot of weird things in my life, and my church community says those things are God, but then I'm torn between that and what I know to be fact - such as there could not have been a literal Adam and Eve.

To make things worse, I've been diagnosed with gender identity disorder by two different psychologists (under DSM IV), but my church (and the religious people in my family) says I just need to pick up my cross and follow Jesus and live as my birth gender. And life is easier in a way when I try to "conceal, don't feel" - but mostly because it just decreases instances of people being mean to me. I can only go six months or so before the dysphoria starts weighing down on me pretty hard. I was two years into transition, and had even legally changed my name, and they talked me into reverting. So there's depression around that. And the ongoing cognitive dissonance from me engaging with community which tells me that what I am is wrong.

It seems like the short answer would be to just abandon everything and be myself, but in reality life is much more complicated. Is there any hope in a situation like that?

TheHotlineProject3 karma


I'm so sorry you're going through that. There's really no simple solution, and you're right that saying "just be yourself!" is far, far easier than doing it.

First and foremost, yes! There is hope.

Also, consider therapy. Many people underestimate just how helpful therapy can be, but it can be life-changing. If you don't already know about it, the Secular Therapist Project is an amazing resource. It's a database of therapists who have specifically pledged to provide secular, evidence-based therapy. Even for theists, secular therapy is wonderful. No one will ever tell you to just pray about it or pick up your cross and carry on. They'll offer you well-establish tools, techniques, and guidance to cope with and make sense of your situation.

Furthermore, give yourself permission to do what feels right for you. If that means embracing the community you've found in your church, that's okay! The only person who can determine what you believe and need is you.

That being said, it sounds like you're quite conflicted about your own beliefs and identity. Understandably so! Many of our callers benefit from simply doing research and gathering more information so they can make an informed decision. It sounds like you have already done a lot of research and still maintain a lot of the knowledge you gained when you were not religious.

Another thing you might consider is looking into other sources of community and fellowship. The Secular Directory has a HUGE database of secular groups all around the US and even in some other countries. Many secular groups don't overtly focus on patting themselves on the back for being atheists. Instead, a lot just establish a religion-free zone in which cool people can get together, hang out, and enjoy activities together. Others focus on humanistic charity work or community service. Others actively cater to people of multiple religious backgrounds and discuss their varying ideas. Perhaps forming some good social connections outside your church would give you a little more freedom to make up your mind without stressing as much over losing your social support. Even if you choose to remain active in your church, having some friends outside the church may give some added support and give you an outlet to vent about/discuss the religious beliefs with which you disagree.

I would also suggest trying to find a local support group or even an online support group for trans people. How you identify and whether or not you choose to transition and live in line with your gender identity is an entirely personal decision. What is best for you is something only you can determine. Please don't let others dictate that for you. Whether you choose to transition or to continue to live as your birth gender, do it because you believe it's best for you not because someone else pressured you.

I'm truly sorry I don't have a magic wand to set everything right. Here's another /HUG though.

goodnewsjimdotcom0 karma

Hey, I know Jesus is real from miracles. He wants us all to be good and loving to each other. Anyone can see the world can use more love.

Are you just against negative problems people get from bad theology and teachings or are you against Christianity in general?

TheHotlineProject1 karma

The hotline is not against any religion or lack thereof. We focus on helping anyone who is struggling with difficulties related to religion. Many of our clients are atheists or heading that way, but we also happily serve religious clients and never judge or attempt to deconvert them.

pupunoob-2 karma

My question: what is the point? Do you really think you're helping? Will talking to you stop my government from oppressing me? Stop them from telling me I can't eat that one month in a year. Stop them from telling me who I can't and cannot marry? Stop them from sending me to some brainwashing camp if they found out I'm not a believer (better than death but still). What is the fucking point? Who does this benefit apart from stroking your own ego and ex-muslims in western countries? Who?

TheHotlineProject1 karma

No, talking to us will not stop your country from oppressing you. I wish it would. If it were in my power, I would make that happen. That doesn't mean there's no point or benefit to what we do though. Millions of atheists live in fear around the world. Millions face real threats ranging from grief and mental illness to losing their families and livelihoods to physical threats. We can help in actual, tangible ways with many of these issues. I don't think the fact that we can't solve every problem and threat that faces atheists means that the hotline is pointless.

pupunoob1 karma

We can help in actual, tangible ways with many of these issues.


TheHotlineProject2 karma

I've offered plenty of information to you in /r/exmuslims. You've made it very clear that you are not interested in what I have to say or what the Hotline Project does, and that's okay. I won't continue to argue with you over the interwebs though just so you can feel good about criticizing me and the work I and my dedicated agents do. I truly hope that your circumstances improve (which I assure you I realize will require more than "just talking"), and the hotline will continue to collect resources to tangibly help (e.g. agencies that provide shelter, safety, escape plans, financial assistance) to atheists living in non-secular countries.

KingMarshmalo-7 karma

How does it feel to waste your time and money doing something completely shitty and being an asshole in general?

TheHotlineProject2 karma

Assuming you're referring to my work on the hotline, it feels amazing. Nothing feels better to me than helping someone who hasn't been able to find help or support anywhere else. I hope that the people who we serve don't share your opinion of me.

WingChunLi-15 karma

Is this some troll shit? It's just so dumb I feel like I'm drunk reading something so stupid lol

TheHotlineProject8 karma

Is this some troll shit?

Nope. We're actually pretty awesome, and we work really, really hard to make the world a safe, happier, healthier place for our fellow humans.

It's just so dumb I feel like I'm drunk reading something so stupid lol

Isn't is amazing that we live in a world with so much content constantly at our fingertips even if a lot of it doesn't personally serve each individual? Have you considered getting figuratively drunk on something you really enjoy?

LC_Music-16 karma

But smart people dont need support hotlines?

TheHotlineProject10 karma

LOL There's an /s implied in there, I hope, but I'm answering anyway. Everyone needs support. For some people, support isn't available among their friends and family, so a hotline or meetup group or even subreddit can really help.

edit: words are hard

Draperville10 karma

I'm 62. Last year, I had no one for about a year that I thought I could talk to about the information I researched about my religion (Mormonism). It was agony and I think I aged 5 years that one year. This Hotline would have been perfect for me.

TheHotlineProject7 karma

I'm so sorry to hear that you went through that. Deconversion is hard even in the best of circumstances. Going through it alone is terrible. I wish you had known about the Hotline Project earlier, but I'm glad you know about it now! Even now, if you ever feel you need to talk or vent or get resources, give us a call or chat. Let your peers know we're here as well. We still have very low visibility, even though we've been around almost two years.