Pastors Who Don’t Believe: Can Churches Support Them?

How many churches today are led by ministers who have lost their faith? Can churches learn to accept and support them?

Something like this may have happened to you: You step outside to fetch your morning newspaper and see your neighbor, an infirm old lady, struggling to retrieve her newspaper. You dash over, grab her paper, and bring it to her. She beams thankfully at you and insists on giving you a cookie she has just made.

When their faith wanes, [ministers] pay a heavy price for their play-acting.

How can you refuse? You take one bite — and regret it, but politely thank her and marvel at how delicious it is. The next day, you see her standing hopefully in her doorway looking at you, so you bring her newspaper to her again, and once more, this time reluctantly, accept the cookie. Yesterday you said it was scrumptious, and she’s made this one especially for you. You don’t want to hurt her feelings, so you gag it down, smiling, and once again praise her skill as a baker.

Clearly you have made her day, even her week. And, alas, a tradition has started: you take her the newspaper and she obliges you to eat a repulsive cookie.

How to get out of it? It’s too late to back out gracefully. Either you must now tell some whopping lies about how the doctor has advised you to avoid certain sorts of baked goods from now on, or pretend you’re not home, discontinue your subscription to the newspaper, and just disappear from her life.

pulpit coverIf you’ve ever been lured by your own basic goodness into a situation where you (or your neighbor or both of you) must suffer unjustly, think how your predicament pales next to that of the preachers Linda LaScola and I describe in our 2010 pilot study of five Protestant pastors, “Preachers Who are Not Believers,” and our 2013 book, Caught in the Pulpit: Leaving Belief Behind, which reports on 35 participants from diverse religious backgrounds.

How many little white lies, how many whoppers, how much dissembling, how much systemic hypocrisy have they accumulated in their quest to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable?

None of the secretly non-believing preachers and pastors who have poured out their hearts to Linda in confidential interviews went into the ministry for the money — a laughable goal — or for fame and glory or political influence. A few of them may have been particularly attracted to a career in the clergy by their self-assessment as natural-born preachers, relishing the spotlight for their eloquence or indulging their love of ceremony or showmanship in the service of God. But when their faith wanes, they pay a heavy price for their play-acting, since their congregations include many — or so they must assume — who would feel deeply betrayed to learn that their speech acts had been less than the candid truth.

“How could you?” the congregation would protest. “How could you lead us on, forgive our private confessions of sin, preside over the sacred ceremonies of birth, death and marriage, while knowing in your heart that you didn’t take seriously the defining beliefs of our lives?”

Maybe there is a gentle path out of this institutionalized hypocrisy. We might well hope so, for there is no telling how many clergy are in this predicament today. Many we interviewed believe they are the tip of a gigantic iceberg of secret disbelievers. They have no safe way of checking their hunch. Not a few clergy have confided their secret to a close friend or colleague only to be exposed as frauds and drummed out of their positions.

We can get at least a lower-bound estimate of their numbers by noting that The Clergy Project, a confidential, mutual-help website for current and former non-believing clergy, started just three years ago and now has nearly 600 members — about a quarter of them still retaining their pulpit and clerical garb.

pastor1Can Churches Help Clergy Who Don’t Believe?

We wonder if the time has come to start a public movement of support for revisionary — or we might say, visionary — churches that gently but firmly remove the presumptions that now trap some of their best leaders in lives of deceit.

Why might this be a welcome development? With falling membership rolls and rising costs, churches need effective leadership more than ever, but the attractions of the clerical life are not compelling these days. Churches in many denominations — and not just in mainstream liberal Protestantism — face not just declining populations of congregants but plummeting populations of able candidates for ordainment.

How might the transition to a more honest kind of church be propelled?

There seems to be a continuing and sincere yearning for community, and for moral teamwork, among people who are not now committed to any church. Many of these people miss the traditional ceremonies — the art and music, the processions and rituals — and the sheer opportunity for moments of solemnity in their hectic lives. Well, we already have a well-established set of traditions, needing no introduction, no training or reminders, that could serve here: the traditions of the theater.

When the curtain goes up, the audience goes quiet; everyone realizes that it would be anti-social, and an act of vandalism, to interrupt the actors in the middle of a scene, to stroll up and down the aisles, to talk to one’s companion. The respectful attention almost automatically paid to the activities on stage is at least close kin to the decorum observed when sitting in church. Dramatic ceremony requires a family of attitudes and postures that are infectious — and welcome. Whether laughing or crying, or frozen in horror, we in the audience feed off the synchrony of our reactions with those around us. Just like in church. A theater audience is almost a community.

The main ingredient distinguishing church ceremonies from dramatic ceremonies in theaters is the presumption that the performers actually believe the speech acts they utter so eloquently, actually adhere to the creeds their performances symbolize. Imagine a new kind of theater, which, instead of presenting revivals of beloved musical comedies or yet another version of Hamlet or MacBeth, performed carefully researched, respectfully mounted replicas of Latin masses, Quaker meetings, Congregational Easter Sundays, Southern Baptist baptisms, Oxford College evensongs, revivalist prayer meetings, and any and all variations and combinations of these — whatever the people wanted to experience — without the slightest pretense that the celebrants were anything other than professional actors.

Then add a program of good works, community service, outreach, and a collection plate, and you’d have gatherings that were all but indistinguishable from “real” church services.

The coexistence of both kinds of celebration, believing churches and theater churches, in the same towns and cities might make for some useful confusion. People might begin to wonder if it mattered which one they attended. Since many churchgoers are already in the position of non-believing supporters of their traditional churches, they would be hardly upset to contemplate the possibility that their own minister might be one of them, but just playing a more official role.

It is pleasant to imagine a “real” Baptist minister moonlighting on occasion and playing the role of a Baptist minister in the local theater-church — a role he knows so well — and telling a congregant that it didn’t matter which event she attended. They both serve the same ends.

Another nice transitional step would be for the pastor of a church to announce that next Sunday, “Ecumenical Sunday” perhaps, instead of leading the church’s regular ceremonies, she would be introducing to her congregation the rites and creeds of another religion, so that they could see firsthand what it is like to be an adherent of that religion. Nobody would expect her to believe the creed she declared, and nobody would expect her, or the congregation, to believe the words of the unfamiliar hymns they sang together. But they might well decide that they liked one of the hymns well enough to request it be added to their “real” services in the future, with or without the alien words.

Perhaps that is an unrealistic fantasy, but if so, we ought to try to devise some more realistic ways in which we might gradually tear down the wall of dissembling that now poisons the lives of so many churchgoers, clergy and laity alike.

Our interviewees differ in their own hopes for the future, but they are strikingly alike in one regard: even though they often feel trapped in their self-spun webs of pretenses, they comment on the wonderful freedom they experienced when they acknowledged to themselves their release from the obligation to hold the religious beliefs they were taught to profess. Our brave pastors have gratefully and finally left belief behind, and they set an example for others.

Daniel C. Dennett
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  • Doug Wilkening

    Where ya been? Such institutions have been around for years. They’re usually called “non-denominational chapels,” and their main lines of business are weddings and funerals. My brother and his wife, both non-believers, were married in one. My sister-in-law, an ex-Catholic, wanted the pomp and ceremony, and the chapel’s balding, middle-aged entrepreneur was happy to oblige, complete with RC-like altar and vestments. He didn’t have the chutzpah to do a mock Holy Communion, however. The older relatives on the bride’s side would have dragged him out and stoned him.

  • Bill

    So we need to have churches where we celebrate our faith and other churches where we celebrate our “faith?” The easiest way to tear down the wall of dissembling is for people to engage in honest conversation, not to build structures that maintain a pretense.

  • Rick Wingrove

    Thanks to Daniel Dennett and Linda LaScola for revealing this American slice of high irony.
    Over 600 preachers have bailed on their religion. That is over 600 preachers who came to the crystal realization that the bronze age deity popular in the west is a fabrication by men who thought the earth was flat. And all that that implies. And that’s just the ones who’ve managed to find The Clergy Project and had the courage to come to terms with the implications of their involuntary and accidental self-enlightenment.

  • Joscha Bach

    Perhaps this is less of a problem in Europe? We have prominent protestant theologists like Drewermann (“a God that exists does not exist”) who publicly disentangle spirituality from ontological beliefs. The catholic church has at least said farewell to the “God of the Gaps”. A lot of the clergy will tell you in private that they do not hold an ontological belief in God or the Trinity (even if they maintain that they can be experienced by observing the right practices, and should be upheld as sources of common morality and social fabric). However, the Christian tradition is not entirely congruent with the spirit of enlightenment, i.e. it is usually seen as morally acceptable and even necessary to serve a more simplistic story to the literally minded audiences.

  • Timothy Smith

    The ideology I grew up in is well-inoculated against this approach, I think. The Great Deceiver is commonly said to appropriate scripture and smooth talking to lead those of weak faith into destruction. Fundamentally it’s (professed) belief, not behavior, that counts.

    It might work for the growing secular population to support secular (or “all beliefs welcome”) meetings, like weekly community-level TED talks with discussion groups, data-driven local charity work, etc. Church planting is a well-understood paradigm that might be viable. The social function of getting together every week is still beneficial, even if many of us have lost touch with it.

    • X-Christian

      Science = “There appears to be no God. Let’s explore the implications of how we can live together and build society.”
      Religion = “shut up! shut up!”

      The great deceiver is non other than yourself.

  • A3Kr0n

    Churches have been watering themselves down for years. There might not need be a formal church declaration that there is no God, but between the old car shows, balloon rides, and Fourth of July celebrations, he just might not come up in conversation anymore at the church private community center.

  • Karan Dodia

    Earnest and beautifully stated call.

  • gretta vosper

    Ah, religion as theatre. A wonderful analogy and one I wish more would embrace. I just scheduled a tweet about religion as entertainment. But there is good entertainment and bad entertainment and the good stuff lifts our hearts and inspires us to be better people, to live in right relationship with ourselves and the world around us.

    As an unbelieving pastor in a mainline denomination, I can attest to the fact that congregations will and can support clergy who no longer believe and do it with courage and grace. Which isn’t to say that some days aren’t a living hell; getting to where we are now was a long and challenging journey but one that was totally worth it. You can find out more about us by googling West Hill United. We are ready to share what we have learned with clergy wishing to help their congregations transition beyond belief, both through The Clergy Project or directly. Email if you are interested.

    (Pretty frustrating that you can only post a comment through a apple product …..)

  • brucechap26

    There is a broader, related issue in mainline Protestantism, where people go to seminary to be educated beyond belief – where denial of such foundational tenets of the historic Christian faith as the divinty and literal resurrection of Jesus is poses no roadblock to ordination whatsoever, whereas stepping ever-so-slightly out of line with the politically correct fads and fashions of modern leftist academia is guaranteed to elicit scorn and mockery. The faithful in a number of deniminations can safely assume that their newly minted minister will be more concerned about global warming and boycotting Israel, than with an “arcane” notion like the Incarnation.
    Some of those clergy who find themselves struggling with doubt and disbelief no doubt started out in ministry as honest believers and, now, disillusioned for whatever reason, find it hard to know what to do except plod along. But perhaps more than a few of those you describe embraced the “institutionalized hyprocrisy” from the get-go. They convinced themselves they had compassion and a healing message until, encountering parishoners hungry for faith and desperately seeking pardon for (dare I say the word?) sin, they were forced to ask the person in the mirror, “Who are you, really, and just what do you have to offer?”

  • RocksCryOut

    Congregants who rely on their pastor as the cornerstone for their faith are pathetic. Pastors are human beings who have their doubts and failings like anyone else. While they need to be held accountable, expecting them not to have human faults is unrealistic at best. Christians: have faith in Jesus Christ. He alone is our sure foundation, the only Faithful One who is worthy of our unreserved trust and faith.

    • X-Christian

      Have faith in Jesus?
      “…bring those enemies of mine who would not have me as their King, and EXECUTE THEM in front of me.” – Jesus (Luke 19:27)

      This is from the parable of the 12 Minas, perhaps the most sinister words in any holy book. Before you tell us that this is somehow taken out of context, think about its horrific effect on 2000 years of human history first. It is time for people to stop glossing over the most murderous philosophies of the ancient world – all of religion is an abomination to humanity.

      • RocksCryOut

        Surely as an “x-Christian” you realize that this is judgement language and is a portent of the future return. Then Christ will no longer be a harmless, sacrificial lamb, but will instead be a conquering King. This age is meant for repentance and Jesus preached more about Hell than Heaven as a warning to those who would reject Him. A loving God came in the form of a harmless sacrificial servant in order to make a way for all who would embrace Him. He won’t force you to enter into relationship with Him but He did tell us what the consequences would be otherwise. Jesus also said, “Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with that person, and they with me.” He wants to have a relationship with you but he doesn’t break down the door. He politely knocks and requests entry. For now. Open the door of your own free will before it is too late.

        Oh, and yes– you did take this verse out of context. :)

        • X-Christian

          “those enemies of mine….Execute them” – Jesus

          I gave you the context. I told you it was from The Parable of the 12 Minas.
          Is it supposed to make me feel better that Jesus didn’t know
          that people would misunderstand his parables?

          Hitler, a Catholic, was certain about the meaning of that parable!

          “….the personification of the devil as the symbol of all evil assumes the living shape of the Jew.”
          - Adolf Hitler (following the
          position of Martin Luther), Mein Kampf, Vol. 1 Chapter 11

          “Hence today I believe that I am
          acting in accordance with the will of the Almighty Creator: by defending myself
          against the Jew, I am fighting for the work of the Lord.”
          -Adolf Hitler
          (Mein Kampf)

          If Jesus didn’t know how his Parables would be “misinterpreted” (your word) how could he have been God?
          And if Jesus DID know they would be read this way – perhaps he simply meant what he said.

          • Don Marsh

            So, Hitler was spreading Catholicism? That would came as quite a surprise to the Catholics he executed and put in concentration camps. All Hitler was doing was posing as some sort of Christian because there is no better way to borrow credibility. He didn’t come in Darwin’s name, even though he lived by Darwin’s model, because no one thinks that Darwin loves them.

          • X-Christian

            Don,
            Hitler was spreading “HIS VERSION” of Catholicism – YES.
            Look up his ideas of the Holy Aryan Race or his Nazi belt buckles with “Gott Mit Uns” (God on our side).
            Hitler’s first peace treaty – as you probably know – was the Koncordat with the Vatican in 1933. The Pope loved Hitler and gave him veto power over which bishops would represent Germany in Rome. The church celebrated Hitler’s birthday with ringing of bells even through World War 2.
            Notice how many versions of Christianity there are.
            Powerful Religions can be made up of nothing more than a few jesus verses and ideas in a notepad.
            Next thing….have a little war. With so many Christians running around it is very easy to get a little religious ‘outreach’ program.

          • robert chacon

            Not only are you foolish you are quite ignorant of truth.

          • X-Christian

            What did I say that was ignorant or foolish?
            Do you deny Hitler was a Catholic? Do you deny that the church celebrated his birthday?
            Do you deny Hitler loved Jesus and loved his parables?
            Do you deny Hitler’s SS guard were practicing Catholics and Lutherans?

            I do not understand – There is nothing ignorant or foolish about these facts.
            Jesus is a nightmare to humanity and it is time to put this legend and its theories in their place. The trash can.

          • Eli Odell Jackson

            If Hitler loved the Christ then why did he reject the Christ all the way to the end?
            Why did he lie, murder, steal, covet, lust after other men’s wives, embezzle, cheat, fornicate, drink, break the Sabbath, blaspheme and worship graven idols?
            I am no catholic and I despise what romanism has made of the Church of Christ but I will not let you slander their names sinner.
            And why did he make all those funny statements denying Jesus, advocating for german paganism and never make one reading from the Word of God but merely fluff in a few speeches?
            And why did he murder all those pastors and priests who took a strong stand on the Rock of Ages?

          • Me1000AAA

            I’m not a Christian in any recognizable form. But, I find it fascinating that atheists spend so much time knocking others who believe in Jesus or those who have other spiritual beliefs. Atheists usually preach tolerance but then completely lack the ability to have tolerance for those religious folks who believe in Jesus, God etc. Why would a person who is tolerant of others’ views need to tell them that their God should be thrown in the trash can?

          • X-Christian

            Well, it is very fine having a belief if you want it. Go ahead!

            You would think Christians would be so happy feeling like everything will work out with Jesus.

            Unfortunately, Christians and Muslims can’t leave us nonbelievers alone. There are millions of us who have no interest in these superstitious scams. “Faith-based” nonsense is being pushed on us and we nonbelievers are simply not going to shut up:

            Religious agendas work against:
            Science, free inquiry, evolution, establishment clause of
            the US Constitution, sexual health, mental health

            Religious agendas promote:
            Medical ignorance, Intellectual repression, superstition, pseudo-science,
            para-psychology, bigotry, misogyny, sexual repression, genital mutilation of millions of children,
            honor killings, suicide bombings, holy war, holy terror, etc.

            Evangelicals like ‘Truth In Action Ministries’,
            spend millions of dollars a year on causes like these:

            State Legalized Murder of Doctors – South Dakota

            Mandatory Trans-vaginal probes – Virginia Legislature


            Preaching of the Bible in public schools – funded by Hobby Lobby

            Blocking all people from family planning – Texas, 5 other states.

            Obstruction of prescriptions – Illinois, Washington


            Discrimination as religious choice -Arizona (SB-1062)


            Anti-Gay laws – Texas
 & elsewhere

            Anti-women’s rights laws – Texas, Louisina, Virginia


            Biased Counseling laws – South Dakota

            Creationism to replace Science Education: 12 States

            So as long as you support funding
            these faith-based programs I will have to challenge this.

            Christians shouldn’t be so angry that Jesus can’t seem to help them without all these government
            programs.

            We Atheists are angry about these absurd laws being forced on us – these are public laws and should not be religious.

            If Christians could keep their angry ideas about humanity out of our laws we could all just get along fine.

        • truth_machine

          Christianity is a disease and Rocks fully manifests it.

        • Eli Odell Jackson

          Who are God’s enemies brother, is man?
          Christ Jesus loves us one and all, He came not to judge the world but that the world through Him might be saved. (John 3:17).
          This poor sinner thinks he’s found some great stumbling block for the believer, ha! brother, praise God and let it be so, all who are unsaved shall face the Judgment fires, and rightly so.

          • X-Christian

            Your scenario – that a person bled to death for you – is delusional, sick, twisted, immoral and psycho.

  • MoMac62

    The godless writer advocates for the corruption of faithful assemblies for the “benefit” of faithless leaders; why should that be surprising? I will be as clear as I can, a church (the church) is the called-out assembly of believers. The followers of Jesus congregate to worship, study, encourage, and evangelize. A church can minister to the individual who doubts but they cannot be led by them. The Apostle Paul said “follow me as I follow Christ”, that is the contract of congregation and Pastor.

    • Chicken_Fingers

      Dennett has finally fallen among the ranks of the other New Atheists who can’t stop themselves from publishing on subjects in which they have no more understanding, training, or insight in than any of their readers would.

      Dawkins the theologian. Harris the philosopher. Dennett the atheist Oprah Winfrey.

      • X-Christian

        Dennett has never been better. His effort with TheClergyProject is the KINDEST, MOST COMPASSIONATE, CARING thing going on in religion today.

        We need to climb down from the pulpit. God isn’t real. The damage of Religion doesn’t just affect us – it affects the entire society.

        • Chicken_Fingers

          So, if you had to donate time or money to either TheClergyProject or GetChristiansOutOfChineseJailsProject, which would you choose?

          • X-Christian

            Nonsense. Your crocodile tears reveal the truth.
            Religion for you is just a team sport. Christians vs. Everyone else.
            Fascist BS. And why are you pushing Chinese people into the same brain freeze, selling your dangerous religion – of course the prisoners should be released – by you who put them there! Leave people alone. They don’t need stupid jesus.

          • Chicken_Fingers

            Christianity has been in China since the Tang Dynasty, and in Asia since Christianity’s inception. It’s been in Africa since the first century and was the official religion of Ethopia in the 300s. Whatever cartoonish understanding you have of Christianity, it would not hurt to let it be informed by geography and time. Perhaps the issue here is your fanaticism vs. the religious fanaticism you’re reacting against, and nothing more.

          • Eli Odell Jackson

            I’ll pray for you brother, filled with bitterness, ignorance, hatred, lust, envy and death.
            That ain’t the way to go, Christ Jesus didn’t die ‘pon that Cross for such a life, you are to live more abundantly brother, not rest on the lauarels of lawlessness and spite.
            Read that Bible someday sonny, you may be surprised by what you find within.

          • X-Christian

            Pray? Why not smoke a goat for your lord instead? (Exodus 29:18)

  • Chicken_Fingers

    So much false piety in this essay.

  • http://www.hafree.org David Tamayo

    This excellent and original idea has created a new way of
    thinking about clergy people, while creating also a new avenue of expression
    for those caught between a rock and a hard place. Dennett and LaScola approach this issue in a
    very humanistic manner not only with the idea to learn about the subject, but
    also with the idea of helping by doing so.
    I hope many other social scientists use this great work as a basis to
    continue exploring this area of our society.
    Fortunately many of the clergy involved have the Clergy Project to help
    them at every stage of their dilemma. Thank you Daniel and Linda for the great
    work! -Hispanic American Freethinkers

  • ArloPlinthJr

    Perhaps, as an experiment, you should start your own “church,” Dr. Dennett, and see how many followers abandoned the Godite religions for yours. A church that openly disavows the supernatural hokum but embraces the ceremony, the community, the art, literature and music. A church that preaches a morality based on our evolving understanding of the evolutionary roots of human ethics. A church that actively promotes “salvation” – perhaps call it “self-esteem,” instead – based on the performing of good works, deeds done for the good of the society. We could call it Danism, I’d join.

    • Eli Odell Jackson

      We call that atheism buck, or episcopalianism, or a football game brother, all one and the same, the worldly crowd already fought your game.

  • X-Christian

    As an Atheist who struggled with ‘faith’ for decades and came to Atheism very reluctantly – it is DEVASTATING to read the sad stories of the pastors who have nobody to turn to.

    The more we Atheists and Agnostics speak up, the more we change the culture and give these lonely men and women – most of whom only wanted to do good for others – a way back into society.

    • Eli Odell Jackson

      These lonely men?
      Vipers they are, let them be accursed, they have denied the Lord and were never saved, every time they get up to the pulpit they commit terrible sin, and with their lying tongue they serve Satan and do their best to mold the brethren unto him.

      And they’re called pastor…. Not pastors, not shepherds, hirelings! When the wolf comes they run, but the wolf knows them best, he runs them all down, mauls them, and takes many back to his den, to feast on them for eternity.

      If there’s one kind of sinner I fail to forgive it is the false shepherd who betrays his flock, if anyone has blasphemed the Holy Spirit it is him, and I see no way to redemption, he has rejected Christ and therefore let him be accursed.

      • X-Christian

        Nonsense.

  • belovedspear

    Intellectual and personal integrity doesn’t seem too much to ask of anyone in a leadership position. If you reach the point where everything you say is pretending, then you need to find something else to do. When it becomes just a paycheck, or just a set of social commitments, you’re creating a dissonance in yourself that can only be resolved by removing yourself from that community. Go join or form a secular community. Go be Unitarian. Unitarians are cool. But don’t be dishonest with yourself or those around you. That sort of unrealistic, manipulative fantasy we’ll leave to folks like Mr. Dennett.

  • Mark Rutledge

    Mark Rutledge It
    is much easier to start-up a new congregation with a membership
    covenant which openly drops supernaturalism, than it is to change an
    existing one which contains many members who hold orthodox beliefs. It
    is not the job of the minister to go on a crusade
    to de-convert faithful members who support the church financially as
    well as with their community service and actions for social justice.
    That will seldom work, although in rare cases and with a lot of work it
    is not impossible, as the post here by Gretta Vosper shows. There are
    already many liberal churches who support a “big tent” approach
    welcoming a wide diversity of theological viewpoints–that’s realistic
    to encourage. In this kind of church a minister can be one among all
    those who are on evolving spiritual journeys and talk about it without
    condemning each other. I am currently a minister who is associated with
    a church which welcomes this kind of diversity. It’s not a big deal.
    Of course this would not apply to anyone who is just anti-church in
    general for whatever good of bad reasons. In many cases It might not be
    either-or, yet some circumstances could call for walking out. My
    advice to ministers who are “caught” in churches that would expel them
    if they “came out” as non-supernaturalists, is to explore changing to
    one of these churches, or start a new church or community (as some
    atheist assemblies are modeling) rather than necessarily bailing
    completely. There is a home for post-supernaturalists in many existing
    churches. I am happy to be in one of them.

  • http://YourGods.com/ Robert Penczak

    With all due respect to the esteemed Dr. Dennett, he should know as well as anyone that outrageous claims require extraordinary evidence – and I just have to say this whole notion of repulsive cookies and people actually reading newspapers strikes me as distinctly un-American if not patently absurd.

    But putting that aside for the moment, if there’s one thing Daniel Dennett and Linda LaScola have demonstrated through their “Preachers Who are Not Believers,” pilot study, and their subsequent work as detailed in Caught in the Pulpit, surely it is that their subjects felt genuine heartache as they struggled to come to grips with their own falls from innocence.

    Because seminary, one might suppose – they might have supposed – would be where fledgling members of the clergy learn the answers to all those niggling questions that skeptics are prone to pose.

    Why is there so much suffering in the world?

    Why are the good guys so often vanquished by raw power?

    Why is slavery condoned, misogyny preached, and infanticide commanded by our omnibenevolent Sky Lord?

    Then there’s the torment of Job, the binding of Isaac, and the transformation of Lot’s curious wife into a pillar of salt. And we’ve not even mentioned the trans-generational punishment assigned to the children of one’s children’s children or God’s decision to crucify his own son instead of simply forgiving the flawed people that he (God the Father, presumably not in his Trinitarian form) had created with foreknowledge that they – I mean we – would sin.

    Satisfying replies to such queries have evaded the best human minds for eons. Hence orthodoxy’s
    insistence that we look to sacred texts for the answer. But what is an honest pastor to do when he or she learns (but usually he) that the bible isn’t actually the word of God, or of Jesus, or any of Jesus’s original buds. How to swallow such a problematic nugget as the foundational Gospel of Matthew not
    having been written by Matthew (or Mark by Mark, Luke by Luke, or John by John). Nor did Moses scratch out the Pentateuch. Indeed, biblical scholars can’t even agree as to whether Jesus was a historical figure, a mythic one, or an impossible to dissect blend of the two.

    So, who quilled the divine word? A chain of politically motivated authors and anonymous scribes interpreting faulty translations through the bias of disparate agendas that shifted as days turned to decades and then centuries. Thus does the honest preacher come to realize that the bedrock foundation he’d been promised is naught but shifting sands, leaving him with the difficult question of what to do about it.

    Sadly, but predictably, the higher ups of organized religion (and a number of parishioners as well), would like their wayward shepherds to simply keep their mouths and minds shut. Dennett, LaScola, Dan Barker, and Richard Dawkins had a better idea, however – The Clergy Project. And now Dennett is pushing the envelope just a bit further, suggesting we take the existing infrastructure and couple it with an agreed upon level of theatrics (see Andy Thomson’s Why We Believe in God(s) for a concise explanation of how religion has harnessed the neurochemical power of song, dance, and trance through its rituals).

    No need for hypocrisy.

    No need to war against science.

    But perhaps a gentle-sloped path to Humanism in which community can confer true blessings.

    • Eli Odell Jackson

      A gentle slope to ‘humanism’
      No sir, a rocky ride straight down your slope into the yawning chasm, the wide gate, of the broad way, and straight into the roaring conflagration of the Judgment fires.

      You aim to judge God my friend, but your petty judgment is of no effect to him, you are a fool born in trespasses and sin, if you die in sin you will face His Judgment for you have refused the Savior who was sent.

      You were bought with a price, but you rejected the blood and instead offer up yourself, vile and full of the devil, with a rotten, filthy stinkin’ heart.
      The Father compares your heart to the one that was freely given, and there is no compare, down you go.

      Don’t let it happen brother, don’t let it be, in your ignorance it is not yet too late to be saved.

  • Dave

    The bible has alot to say about these people who profess to be believers but truly are not. They would be called false teachers. Sometimes they are hard to detect. The parable of the wheat and the tares comes to mind, maybe we can’t determine who all the true believers are but there will come a judgement and the tares will be gathered up and burned.

  • Eli Odell Jackson

    The Judgment of God be upon this vile blasphemer who wrote this work of the devil, how dare you blaspheme the name of our Lord.