Category Archives: Belief

When the shepherd loses faith: The Clergy Project

A Christian acquaintance studied ancient languages and New Testament history. With limited options after graduation, he went to work for a mega-church with beliefs and materialistic values in opposition to his own.

His desire to escape was only partly offset by a sense that he was doing some good, bringing some sense to the naivete and madness he saw in the church where he worked. Escape never came, and nearly 20 years later he is still trapped, and his family with him.

My acquaintance’s role is not as a pastor (or minister, or priest), but there is plenty of anecdotal evidence of pastors, ministers and priests who lose their faith but continue in their role. I’m familiar with this concept from my years as an evangelical Christian, many years ago the concern is sometimes expressed for the students in theological colleges, Bible colleges and seminaries taught “liberal” ideas, and “falling away from the Lord”. I hadn’t thought of it from the perspective of those individuals, and what a terrible, lonely experience that must be. As Daniel Dennett states:

“They’re like gays in the 50s without gaydar. They don’t dare raise the issue with other clergy they know whom they suspect are just as much non-believers as they are.” Source (6 min video).

It may be that they continue to hold the same values and see good in their work, but they are also likely to feel trapped, with a lack of experience and training that would make it difficult to find other employment, and a necessary secrecy that makes it very difficult to seek support.

In response, The Clergy Project has been established – a confidential online community for current and former religious leaders in vocational ministry who do not hold supernatural beliefs. I wish them well.

If you wish to find out more:

Finall, here is one former pastor describing his own journey:

Christian ministry without faith

What do you do if you’re a Christian priest or minister who no longer believes in God? Most likely you are afraid to confide in anyone, you don’t want to hurt those in your family and your congregation, and you have no other training.

Dan Dennett discusses this, describing six actual ministers who continue to preach and minister to their flocks, despite their loss of faith. (They remain anonymous, of course.) He then discusses the evolution of religion. (56 minutes)

Talking about a confronting subject – Neil deGrasse Tyson

Astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson calls on fellow atheists to show respect, compassion and understanding towards believers.

The context is the relationship between education and belief in a personal god. This belief declines from around 90% among the general public to 7% among elite scientists – small, but  still a significant minority of top scientists who believe in some kind of personal god who can intervene in the world.

At 2:39 Tyson says this:

So here’s my problem, here’s my concern: When you’re educated and you understand how physics works, and you’re mathematically literate, and you understand data, and you understand experiment, and you go up to someone who doesn’t have that training, and they’re religious, and you ask them “Why are you you religious, you’re believing in invisible things that influence your life, what’s wrong with you?”, that’s unfair.
It’s not only unfair, it’s disrespectful, for the following reason: until that number [the 7% of elite scientists who believe in a personal god] is zero, you’ve got nothing to say to the general public. These are scientists among us in the National Academy of Sciences who are religious and pray to a personal god and I know some of them. And you’re fighting the public for their religious beliefs?
Figure that one out first, because maybe there’s an asymptote. Maybe you can’t change everybody. Maybe that’s telling us something. Maybe there’s something in the brain wiring that positively prevents some people from ever being an atheist.
If that’s the case, in a way, they can’t help it, and you’ll never know it because you’re not one of them. So I ask you, first for compassion with the public, but you should target your exercise, and your experiments on understanding that number. Because that’s not zero. Yes it’s low, but it’s not one percent, it’s not one-half of a percent, or a tenth of a percent – it is seven percent – one out of fourteen.Neil deGrasse Tyson

How far to take this? I think Tyson himself demonstrates a great balance in his public life, speaking clearly and openly, with humor and respect.