O Me of Little Faith

O Me of Little Faith


Clergy Who Don’t Believe

posted by Jason Boyett

How many of the pastors and ministers in our churches no longer believe in God? That’s the question asked in “Preachers Who Are Not Believers,” a fascinating report by Daniel C. Dennett and Linda LaScola of the Center for Cognitive Studies at Tufts University. Dennett, of course, is a cognitive scientist and prominent atheist. His book, Breaking the Spell, put him at the forefront of “new atheists” movement, along with Sam Harris, Christopher Hitchens, and Richard Dawkins.

The report offers five case studies of Christian ministers who no longer identify themselves as believers — but their churches don’t know it. They are secret atheists or agnostics who are still serving their congregations, teaching them about God and the Bible, and otherwise functioning as clergy.

Money quotes from three of them:

Darryl is a Presbyterian who claims to follow Jesus, but “…it is arguable whether I am also a ‘Christian.’…I reject the virgin birth. I reject substitutionary atonement. I reject the divinity of Jesus. I reject heaven and hell in the traditional sense, and I am not alone.” But he lives as a Christian anyway. “Whether there was a God or not, I would choose to live as if there was a God. Because I didn’t like the alternative.”

Darryl admits that he’s still in the ministry because it pays the bills. It’s how he makes a living. To admit his lack of beliefs would mean walking away from his only source of income.

Adam is a Church of Christ worship leader who lost his faith after reading books in which he thought atheists made better arguments than Christians. He talks about how he tried, as a reader fascinated with learning, to “be open and listen, and use my mind and reason.” He worries about what others would think if they knew how he’d changed. “Even if Christianity isn’t true, is it best to leave the people alone in their ignorance? …They’re happy, and they have hope in a life to come, and so it helps them through their suffering, which is a strong selling point of Christianity.”

How does he handle his role as a Sunday morning worship leader? “I see it as play acting. I see myself as taking on the role of a believer in a worship service, and performing. I know how to pray publicly…I love singing. [But] I don’t believe what I’m saying anymore in some of these songs.”

Jack, a Southern Baptist worship leader, fell into atheism after deciding to read through the Bible carefully as a way to get closer to his faith. It had the opposite effect. “I think most Christians have to be in a state of denial to read the Bible and believe it. Because there are so many contradicting stories.” He didn’t plan on becoming an atheist. “I didn’t even want to become an atheist. It’s just I had no choice if I’m being honest with myself.”

Jack admits that he’s still in the ministry because it’s his job. It puts food on the table. But he’s planning to leave as soon as he finds another way to support his family.

————-

In posting this report, the Washington Post asked some of its religion panelists — from Albert Mohler to John Shelby Spong — to respond to the report and the questions it brings up. Their answers were interesting, and all over the map (which isn’t surprising…it’s a diverse group).

I want to ask you the same questions.

Pastors and ministers are rightly seen as authority figures when it comes to matters of faith, so…

What should pastors do if they no longer hold the defining beliefs of their denomination?

Is it better for clergy to uphold the faith of their congregations or to be honest about their own doubts and theological changes?

What would you want your pastor to do with his or her personal doubts or loss of faith?

 



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vanilla

posted May 25, 2010 at 8:03 am


What would I want my pastor to do? I would want him to find Christ and turn his life over to Him. Should this pastor “come clean?” Of course. Should he remain a preacher? Not if he remains in unbelief.



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DoctorE

posted May 25, 2010 at 8:53 am


Take it all the way… grow out of Super Harry Potter



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Tony Konrath

posted May 25, 2010 at 8:59 am


I’m a retired psychotherapist. During twenty or so years of practice I’ve had several clients who were pastors of varying denominations who had lost their faith and had to struggle with the difficulties that this made. Some had families and faced unemployment, the loss of their houses and problems with the community that they lived in.
Most of them continued in their churches, keeping their agnosticism a secret.
My private practice was specifically for lesbian and gay men – so why did they choose me as their therapist? They told me that it was because they saw congruencies between the problems they were facing and they way that they counseled gays and lesbians in heterosexual marriages. Their advice to their clients was usually to continue with the marriage and share the struggle with their partners. They knew that there was no chance of their churches supporting them in the way that couples support each other in difficulty.
Some of my clients regained their faith, others sidestepped the situation by going into academic work or asking for postings that didn’t require pastoral contact.
What was evident throughout was the impossibility of their communities helping them.



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WarWeasle

posted May 25, 2010 at 9:12 am


Maybe you should read the bible too. But you are obviously to busy to bother so here are a couple of passages, out of context, as Christians generally prefer:
“Let him who is without sin cast the first stone.”
“Judge not, that you be not judged. For with what judgment you judge, you will be judged; and with the measure you use, it will be measured back to you.”



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Kate

posted May 25, 2010 at 9:51 am


The whole problem is that God never intended pastors to be an authority on the word of God, or a gateway to him. They aren’t functioning properly and carrying a load that was never intended for man. So when they begin to doubt they should be honest and set themselves and others free from the burden of pretending.



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Donald Eric Kesler

posted May 25, 2010 at 10:14 am


WarWeasle, the story of the woman caught in adultery is a later insertion, missing from all early Greek manuscripts.
Regardless, I don’t think that the article is judging anyone.



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Caddy

posted May 25, 2010 at 10:14 am


A pastor has a kind of trust bond with his ‘flock’, he would be breaking that bond by not telling them the truth. he should prove his points in his church, and set an example to the people. this would bring the people into a new era.



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Jason Boyett

posted May 25, 2010 at 10:21 am


WarWeasle:
Just curious. Who are you addressing? Who is too busy to bother reading the Bible? Who is judging the doubting clergy? I’m trying to understand your comment.



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Alise

posted May 25, 2010 at 10:37 am


@Tony — When my husband came out as an atheist, the person who most helped with/understood our struggle was my best friend who happens to be a lesbian. The similarities between coming out as a gay person and coming out as an atheist/agnostic in the Christian community are very striking.
For us it was relatively painless. But I’m not sure how a minister should address it. I just know that living something that you’re not is the absolute worst and as painful as it would be for me to hear that my minister had lost his or her faith, I would so rather that than them continue the agony of living a lie.



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Mr. Big

posted May 25, 2010 at 10:49 am


Wow. WarWeasel seems to be angry and I think took this post in the wrong way. I’m not even sure which side he/she is on.
I went back to see how Jason had editorialized. His only description was that the comments were interesting. I don’t really think that should be categorized as casting stones or judging.
Anyway, this is an interesting report. I’ve often thought about “Christian” musicians and how it must feel for any of them that have backslidden or just took the job as a job without any faith to back it up. But for someone to lead a church while in this state is amazing and must be such a burden on their psyche. Many Christians don’t live what they believe, but to not believe what you live is whole different story. It reminds me of the old song “The Great Pretender”.



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Jason Boyett

posted May 25, 2010 at 10:55 am


Thanks for the defense, Mr. Big. I’m honestly not sure if WarWeasle was upset with me or with Vanilla, the first commenter.
Either way, you make a great point — there’s a profound difference between not living what you believe and not believing what you live.
Thanks to Alise and Tony for noting the similarities between a church leader coming out of the closet as a homosexual and a pastor revealing his/her unbelief. That makes for a fascinating comparison.



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Robert

posted May 25, 2010 at 11:05 am


I am not a pastor, but I am an evangelist. I am not called to do the work of a pastor so I will not step into that role in a church unless my calling changes. This is what I know for myself.
Show me the contradictions, prove the stories aren’t in any Greek, Hebrew, or Aramaic text before you tell people they aren’t there, then you have the right to say so. I have read the Greek and Hebrew texts and find everything to be in tact.
As for standing in the pulpit and pretending? The person who does so brings damnation upon themselves. It doesn’t matter whether you believe it or not. God’s word says it, that settles it. The scriptures are divinely ordered. All one has to do is to look at the prophecies of the old testament to see this is a fact. Look at Daniel and tell me what part of the statue prophecy has not been fulfilled other than the stone not cut by human hands breaking the statue into pieces. I think you will be unable to find one. The odds of that prophecy alone happening in perfect order is astronomical, it could only be written centuries in advance if it were inspired by God.
If a man loses his faith, he should resign his position, plain and simple. To do otherwise is to take a chance of having another’s blood on theiir hands. That will be worse than being accountable for their own sins which is bad enough. Church is no place for games, the pulpit is definitely no place for games. One more thing! The Bible is not a book for one to read with reason, but to study with faith. The Bible cannot be understood by the carnal…natural man because the Bible is spiritual in nature. The only way it can be understood is if the spirit of the living God dwells in the person doing the reading. For a pastor to say they lost their faith after reading the Bible thoroughly is hardly believable. This brings their “relationship” with God, even from the very beginning of their “so called” Christian walk into question.
I would surely want my pastor to step down while admitting why he did so to the congregation, nothing more…nothing less!



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Alise

posted May 25, 2010 at 11:20 am


It is certainly convenient to simply write off the faith of one who has fallen away, but I think we do a major disservice to those who struggle when we do that.
Of course, this is one of the biggest problems I see. We don’t allow people to question or have doubts. So they keep all of that inside. And they aren’t rescued because no one allows them to be honest about needing rescue. And eventually they see the whole thing, based on our non-responsiveness, as false. Then to make matters worse, we tell them that they never really believed in the first place. So the person sitting over here who is still at the questioning stage moves even more quickly to the unbelief stage, because if the pastor never really believed, then surely *I* never really believed.
By all means, let’s make sure we never let ANY pastor voice his or her doubts or questions. That will show ‘em.



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Paul S

posted May 25, 2010 at 11:25 am


@ Robert -
So you’ve read the Greek and Hebrew texts. So what? Does that mean that whatever the Greek and Hebrew texts say is necessarily true? And did you read the original manuscripts? Or were they copies?And your views on fulfilled prophecies are erroneous at best, foolish at worst. The people writing about the fulfilled prophecies had access to those prophecies to start with. Talk about circular reasoning! The Bible is not a book for one to read with reason because it is unreasonable. It’s funny that God would give us the power to reason and then expect us not to use that power when we read His book. On second thought, it’s not that funny. It is ridiculous.



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Kristian

posted May 25, 2010 at 11:37 am


I don’t see this as much different from a biology teacher teaching stuff about evolution while some of it might contradict some aspects of their religion. Teaching is the job, it brings the bread to the table.
For someone who has spent years upon years to build a career as a pastor of some sort, it’s understandable they don’t want to abandon it all just because they stopped believing on it themselves.
Robert’s points are entirely moot from a non-believing pastor’s point of view – there’s no damnation to worry about, there’s no sins, there’s no retribution. When you run out of faith, all this becomes completely irrelevant.
“For a pastor to say they lost their faith after reading the Bible thoroughly is hardly believable. This brings their “relationship” with God, even from the very beginning of their “so called” Christian walk into question”
This is condescending and offensive. I’ve read the bible, twice, and I find it puzzling how anyone could believe any of it, but I don’t go out and attempt to mock those who do.



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Jason Boyett

posted May 25, 2010 at 11:44 am


Robert, thanks for stopping by. I appreciate your confidence and input, but my firm belief is that doubters (and atheists) need to receive the same grace from confident Christians that I’m sure you believe you have received from God, through Christ.
Since you believe “God’s Word says it, that settles it,” then I’d ask you to read and apply Jude 22: “Be merciful to those who doubt.”



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Danny Bixby

posted May 25, 2010 at 12:00 pm


“What would you want your pastor to do with his or her personal doubts or loss of faith?”
I’d want him to be honest about it, but not public about it. By that, I would hope that he his a close circle of people he can trust himself to and be honest with his struggles…but that circle is not the entire church body from the stage on the weekend.
A pastor putting themselves in the position of confession from the stage would find themselves crucified and condemned by most church bodies, deacon boards, denominational structures, etc; as opposed to loved and cared for as they should be.
It’s disgusting display of our own lack of love & mercy towards those who need it, but I feel it’s accurate.



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Robert

posted May 25, 2010 at 12:13 pm


Jason,
I do agree, those who doubt deserve mercy just as much as I did when I was a doubter living in sin. I simply stated my answers to the three questions, nothing more…nothing less.
I pray for all those who do live in doubt, I, wish that all had found the same grace and confidence that I have found in Christ but I know that is not, nor ever will be the case. Mercy I have, but I also believe in:
Jude: 23
“And others save with fear, pulling them out of the fire; hating even the garment spotted by the flesh.”
I love all people, but I do detest the sin that any person “chooses” to dwell in.



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Kristian

posted May 25, 2010 at 12:18 pm


“I pray for all those who do live in doubt, I, wish that all had found the same grace and confidence that I have found in Christ but I know that is not, nor ever will be the case.”
It is said here before, but faith without doubt is not faith at all, and confidence isn’t something anyone should thrive for or pray for.



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Esther

posted May 25, 2010 at 12:52 pm


Tony said, “What was evident throughout was the impossibility of their communities helping them.”
I think this is the crux of why a pastor would remain silent. Pastors are human beings and should not be treated as men or women who have all the answers.
Bixby nailed it – definitely don’t remain silent – living a lie is very painful. But rather my hope is that these individuals would have people who are safe to talk to.



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Britt

posted May 25, 2010 at 12:55 pm


To answer the first question, if a pastor or clergy member does not hold to the beliefs of the ministry they partake in, it is my belief that they should seriously consider leaving that particulr ministry. I say this because while they are struggling to find out what it is they believe, there is a congregation of hungry, dry, joyful, hurting and searching people who need to have someone is grounded in their theological beliefs.
The second question is a perfect segway. I think the clergy members can be honest about their struggles because it lets lay people know that they are not alone, and that God doesn’t love them less if they happen to have questions or doubts about their faith. Often ministers assume that they have to have all the answers to life’s big questions. Yet, the truth is no one can have all the answers, and many well-meaning church folks have left the church because a minister lets them know that a real believer doesn’t have those questions or doubts. I would argue that a real believer would have the biggest questions and doubts because of their deep longing to know God in the purest form.
The third question is intriguing. I’m not sure what I would want my pastor to do. I certainly want he or she to work those internal questions and doubts out through prayer, study and maybe even counseling. Sabbatical is also helpful for a pastor, because it gives them the freedom to explore these questions and revisit the doctrines they once celebrated and accepted as pure, true and holy. I would most likely want to them to have a good, extended period of retreat where they could reflect, study and pray over of the things they have been struggling with and come back with a renewed understanding of where they are at and where they are going. If they were to come back even more convinced that Christianity is a bunch of lies, then I would want them to consider leaving the church because their influence could greatly affect the people who need hope and direction from God.



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Adam

posted May 25, 2010 at 1:11 pm


I would want them to keep quite and use their sermons to show the hypocrisy and evil inherent in the so-called “good book.”



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Rachel H. Evans

posted May 25, 2010 at 2:05 pm


This is such a fascinating topic. It reminds me of an article I read a few months ago about parents who pretend they are believers in order to stay in church for the sake of their children.
Once, when I was really struggling with doubt, I asked myself how long I could “pretend” to be a Christian author selling Christian books if I secretly gave up on faith. It’s kinda scary how well I think I could function as a complete poser in the Christian subculture. I often wonder how many people – even pastors – are doing just that.
If my pastor had resolved in his (or HER!) heart and mind that he could no longer follow Christ, I would want him to be honest – for his sake and for the sake of the congregation. But I would want to give him some grace and some time to find employment elsewhere and provide for his family. Seems like the right thing to do.
Now, if my pastor were simply struggling with doubt, I’d want him to stay on. A lot of Christians have doubts, and I appreciate leaders who are open enough to admit when they do too. I learn the most from people who don’t have all the answers.
Great discussion! This is such an interesting topic. I’d like to learn more about other people “faking” Christianity. I wonder if there are more out there than we realize.



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Brian

posted May 25, 2010 at 2:21 pm


A simple answer to these questions would be honesty, first and foremost. I know that things aren’t always simple, so:
1: I believe that pastors need accountability partners just like the rest of us. Leaders in the church are still human and are prone to doubts and questions and sin. When they find themselves in these positions, they should seek the friendship and council of their partners and mentors, people that they can be open and honest with, who can then pray for them and guide them.
2: This one gets trickier, but still I would vote that the pastor or leader be honest with the church. If, after they have sought council and are still unable to come to terms with their doubts, then I believe the healthy thing is for them to be honest with their congregation. Yes, it will shake up members of the congregation, but God has called to put our trust in Him and Him alone, not in a fallible person.
3: I would want my own pastor or worship leaders to come clean about their doubts. First of all, when we are honest about our pitfalls and shortcomings, then we can be honest with ourselves and with God about the grace in our lives. Second, it will allow the people of the congregation to realize that doubting is apart of who we are, that it is healthy to doubt. God gave us a mind and granted us wisdom. He called for us to ask questions and seek out His Kingdom. Third, it is my responsibility to love my pastor or my leader during this trial in their lives, regardless of what conclusion they come to. It is not my place to judge nor condemn, for that is God’s alone. It is my place to love them and to show them grace always.
Honesty allows us to tear down the walls self-righteousness because grace belongs to God alone. We’ll never be “good” enough to satisfy God on our own, therefore we need His grace, His assurance and His love. I prefer a pastor who is real and honest about the struggles in his life over a false, “good” Christian, because his life will speak more about God’s grace and make God look even bigger.



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Tess Mallory

posted May 25, 2010 at 4:01 pm


Oh man.
I think the fact that these five pastors/leaders continue to “playact” in their churches is really wrong. I hate to sound harsh, I really do, but if you don’t believe, to the point that these men don’t, you should not be in a position of leadership in a church. It’s different if they simply attend the church. There are lots of people who attend church who aren’t Christians and yes, they might be considered hypocritical to be there, but instead I would say they are still searching, else they wouldn’t be there. (Unless their wife is making them come.) But if you are a leader of the Church then you should be a believer. Period.
That doesn’t mean a leader might not have questions or doubts. But if you know whole heartedly that you don’t believe any more, or as the first guy quoted says,”I reject he divinity of Christ” then you have a responsibility to both yourself and your church to remove yourself from leadership.
I have to say that the last quoted reference was most particularly disturbing. If a person “reads through” the Bible and then decides he doesn’t believe because there are “contradictions” then I have to say that he was looking for a reason not to believe. There are hundreds of thousands of theologians, men of faith and brilliance, who have looked at these same contradictions and found answers that explain or gives the reader an understanding of why they were written in such a way. I would have to wonder if this man went and searched not only the Scriptures, but the writings of learned men to see what their view of these contradictions might be. Or did he simply rely on his own mental outlook and capabilities?
Ultimately, more and more, I find I am looking at Christ in the scriptures more than any thing else. If you look at Christ, and read what he said, and then apply that to further writings by Paul and other disciples, then it all becomes very simple and makes so much sense that it doesn’t matter what contradiction was written in Kings or Judges or some descrepancy in the Gospels. What matters is that for whatever reason, when Man chose the Tree (whether that was a real account or a metaphor) instead of God, and fell to this world, God offered a way back through the supernatural personage of Christ. As ABC says “Start Here”. The rest becomes rather unimportant.
Wow, I didn’t know I felt so passionately about this, but I do. In summation — It’s just wrong for someone to lead a religious community — of any religion — and not believe in what they are preaching.



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Tess Mallory

posted May 25, 2010 at 4:04 pm


And gee, plugged a TV network at the same time. ha.



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ThatGuyKC

posted May 25, 2010 at 4:13 pm


This is a tough question because these men are in a position of leadership and influence.
Regardless of their beliefs/doubts the positions they hold have a responsibility and if their misgivings or denial of Christianity results in deteriorating the faith of those under their care God has very stern words about this in scripture.
I think they should look for other work instead of living a lie though.



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Hank Shiver

posted May 25, 2010 at 5:04 pm


I was sitting with a group of seven ministers at a political event in Troy, Alabama several years ago. Only one of the ministers stated that he believed in the Christian God. The rest were agnostic, deist, or atheist. Four said they only claimed to be Christian, because their civic works would end if they came out of the closet. Two said their political base would collapse if they came out of the closet.



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RationalAgent

posted May 25, 2010 at 5:53 pm


What should pastors do if they no longer hold the defining beliefs of their denomination?
This would be very hard. Your finances, your family and friends, your identity of self would be lost. Ultimately I think the aim should be to leave. I think it might be better to try and retrain and see if the lay world is suitable and if your family are agreeable. You can make arrangements with the hierarchy in many situations they will be supportive.
Is it better for clergy to uphold the faith of their congregations or to be honest about their own doubts and theological changes?
Religious honesty is only applicable in certain faiths in certain geopolitical regions. While many religious groups preach tolerance some do not. If speaking out will not endanger you and may help then yes it is a good thing to do. First with family and friends, then with the hierarchy and then with the congregation.
What would you want your pastor to do with his or her personal doubts or loss of faith?
I do not have a pastor but I think something similar can be said of a cultural leader. If I believed in the position of a cultural leader and carried out acts in accordance with their recommendations then I personally would like to hear them express their doubts. Doubt is the sign of a rational being. As an informed person I could then choose what I wanted to do with that information. I could severe my ties with this person of I could listen to try to find the problems or rationality of their new position.
The problem with honesty is that is usually ethically and intellectually satisfying whilst simultaneously being politically and socially unrewarding. This is the problem not limited to religion.



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Geoff

posted May 25, 2010 at 6:07 pm


An odd dilemma this one. Let’s take Father/Priest/Rev X as an example…
On the face of it (and my face has atheist sunglasses), why on earth should he resign? He’s doing his job, he still cares for a group of people who look to him for moral, ethical, spiritual and (I’m guessing) very practical guidance. He’s still fundamentally a good person, doing a good job. The situation echoes very strongly with my own belief, because I try to be a good person because of a logical moral code I’ve developed, not because I’m worried about the consequences of an afterlife I don’t believe in.
On the flipside, he’s a fraud of the worst kind. His parishioners aren’t just trusting him with their relationship problems and moral dilemmas, in their eyes he has their *eternal soul* in his hands. Eternity…it’s a big thing. It’s the same argument that the Spanish Inquisition used, torture was a valid action if it got the person’s soul into heaven because they recanted; every possible action in this very temporary world is excusable for a shot at infinity.
Now I’m not comparing doubts in a god to the use of torture, I’m just pointing out that the justification is very similar – it’s Pascal’s Wager, which states that even logical atheists like me should believe in a god because the cost is so low compared to the payoff.
In this case, however, he’s gambling with other people’s money…or eternal souls, whichever metaphor happens to take your fancy. That’s the rub.
If you pretend to be a policeman when you’re not then you’re doing the Wrong Thing, even if you act in entirely police-like ways.
He has to be honest with his parishioners, full stop. That’s the job at the end of the day. Tell them about his doubts, discuss it. It’s a two way relationship at the end of the day – a friend of mine left his job as an Episcopalian priest under much the same circumstances, he had some fairly serious doubts and decided his position was no longer tenable. There was a bit of an outcry from many areas of his congregation who didn’t want to see him leave, even knowing about his doubts.



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Robert

posted May 25, 2010 at 6:39 pm


Kristian
If I sounded condescending, I do sincerely apologize. The last thing I want to do is be condescending to anyone. I was not speaking of the average person who goes to church, sits on a pew, and listens to a pastor preach in my answer. The questions were referring to clergy who do not believe, not to church members. I am also not attempting to mock anyone for any reason. I am speaking from my viewpoint on the clergy side of the coin, unless you are clergy you can’t speak for clergy.
Before a man takes a position as a pastor, or clergyman of any type, they are to know there is a calling on their life. That is a faith you do not simply lose. That is a faith you must turn your back on and walk away from.
Paul
Maybe I misspoke. Sure, you can use reason when you read the Bible. You cannot understand Christianity, or faith through reason. That’s not to say that you can’t make many good deductions about both by using reason, but it is saying you can’t reason your way to faith.
Also, if you will double check my post, I did not say those writing about the prophecies, I said the prophecies themselves as written in the Bible. There is a big difference in the two. Anyone can write about prophecy after it has been fulfilled, not just anyone can make such a prophecy and have it come true. That’s my stance on reason and faith. Can you reason your way to making a prophecy that is to come true in times that don’t even remotely resemble your own? None of us can if we are honest. To make such a prophecy takes faith in the one who is telling you to write the prophecy, for the prophets, that was God Himself. They didn’t stand around and reason about anything, they stepped out on faith and wrote what they heard.



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Kristian

posted May 25, 2010 at 6:53 pm


However, anyone can report and describe things to have happened as described in a prophecy, whether they did or not. Any random Joe 2000 years ago could have read some old prophecies and re-write history with intent to fit events into the prophecy, through omissions, additions and falsifications. Hell, they do it today every time something catastrophic happens, to fit the events into prophecies of the bible or Nostradamus or whatever else. Prophecies in general are (intentionally) vague enough to have zero value.
Also, clergy isn’t much different from any of us. It doesn’t matter if they once had a “calling”, they’re just as likely to losing their faith than anyone else. From this side of the fence, there’s no magic in their calling. Although, as clergymen and -women do a lot more theological digging around, one could suspect that they’re more likely to find their religion and faith inconsistent with the world we live in.
In general, the more educated you are, the more likely it is that you are or become an atheist. The less educated you are the more likely it is that you’re religious. Perhaps theological education is not an exception to this rule.



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Adam Ellis

posted May 25, 2010 at 10:00 pm


In reading the post and several of the comments, I’m finding that I disagree with several of the assumptions behind what’s actually stated.
a) I think that faith, by definition, is a form of agnosticism. Faith is a word that is more related to words like trust, (relational) confidence, and hope…and less to do with words like certainty. (That passage in Hebrews your thinking of is actually a very clever play on words if you take a close look at it)
b) I think that a living faith (like all living things) is fluid. Our concepts become idols the second we confuse them with God. Faith is always in process. The second it is static, it is dead.
c) I’m pretty sure that there is no better example of a purely fictional character than a minister/pastor who never has doubts. While I think doubt is inherent to faith, I also think the very nature of the job virtually guarantees that there will be serious questions and seriously dark times. It is a choice to wrestle with those questions and even with God himself in a sense. It is a choice to enter into suffering. Many were surprised a couple of years ago when some of Mother Teresa’s writings surfaced revealing serious questions and doubt. I wasn’t. Many thought these letters raised serious questions about her faith and about the viability of faith in general. I thought it lent weight to the authenticity of both.



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SocraticGadfly

posted May 26, 2010 at 2:33 am


As a nontheist with a graduate divinity degree myself, from trying to follow in my dad’s footsteps, I am of two minds on this. 1. I can understand the variety of reasons these clergy don’t give up decent-paying jobs. 2. OTOH, I can’t **respect** them for that at all, especially if they’ve been hypocrites for years on end.



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SocraticGadfly

posted May 26, 2010 at 2:38 am


As a nontheist with a graduate divinity degree myself, from trying to follow in my dad’s footsteps, I am of two minds on this. 1. I can understand the variety of reasons these clergy don’t give up decent-paying jobs. 2. OTOH, I can’t **respect** them for that at all, especially if they’ve been hypocrites for years on end.



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Kristian

posted May 26, 2010 at 9:45 am


Also, to comment on what Tess Mallory said above:
“There are hundreds of thousands of theologians, men of faith and brilliance, who have looked at these same contradictions and found answers that explain or gives the reader an understanding of why they were written in such a way”
I recently read a book by a Christian author who stated that all these answers by these hundreds of thousands of theologians provide very little help to a doubter. If a lowly Christian author/blogger with a big forehead (no offence meant to the guy, I think he and his forehead are brilliant) can’t find consolation and certainty from the explanations, why on earth should we assume they’d help clergymen/women?



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Robert

posted May 26, 2010 at 10:14 am


Kristian,
The statue prophecy I referred to has only happened one time in history. It is recorded only one place, the Bible. It has come true in perfect order right up to today’s time. It is still coming true, and will continue to come true until it is completed. The part that’s coming true now would be the feet and toes made of part iron and part clay; Daniel 2:41-42, refers to the Revived Roman Empire that would be the European Union in today’s terms. The prophecy in Daniel 7 uses animals to bear out the same thing. Just so you know, the Lion with the eagle’s wings represented Babylon, the bear represented Medo-Persia, The leopard with the four heads represents Greece. Just so you know; Greece was divided into four parts. When Alexander died Greece went to his four generals thus the four heads, the beast with the iron teeth represents the Revived Roman Empire… see earlier note. The ten horns it had are ten divisions of the European Union. If you will look into it you will find that the European Union already has plans for a One World Government which divides the world into ten parts. The European Union will be the Ruling aspect, but the little horn represents the Roman Catholic Church with a pope who defects from the faith. Have you heard President Obama talking about a One World Government or not? Did you know that Henry Kissinger stated that Obama is being groomed to lead the One World Government? Does any of this register yet? Again, the prophecy was made hundreds of years ago; there has never been another series of events which meets these criteria so there are no writings from which the prophet could have gotten his information as you put it.
Now let’s see who is uneducated.
Adam,
You are absolutely right. There never has been, nor will there ever be a member of the clergy who hasn’t had, or doesn’t have doubts at some point in their life. Having doubts is not the same as saying you don’t believe the Bible or you aren’t Christian. It’s simply saying you have doubts. And you are right when you say faith is always in process. Faith must be constantly in use, constantly growing stronger, or it begins dying. The choice to not exercise one’s faith is what leads to a “so called” losing the faith, but it takes a personal choice to allow your own faith to begin the dying process. To make that choice is in my opinion, a choice to turn your back on your faith, and to walk away from God. Again, this is from my standpoint as clergy.



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Adam Ellis

posted May 26, 2010 at 10:47 am


Robert,
I am also in paid, professional ministry (a cumbersome and problematic term, I know). I guess I’m questioning if its possible that some of the ways we frame “faith”, particularly for pastors/ministers forces a false choice for many of them. It seems to me that much of “christian culture” operates under the assumption that the pastor/minister should be a paragon of certainty, or else his faith and vocation is at least suspect. Given the very nature of faith, it seems like this could (and in many cases, does) engender a cautious, defensive inauthenticity. Whereas others can struggle and process in community, in many cases this individual is implicitly told he/she cannot. The situation could (and often does) become so unbearable that it is easier for them to jettison the struggle, act like everything is ok, and give people the persona and answers they’ve wanted all along (even if its only an act).
Thankfully, I now find myself working with a congregation who’s expectation of me is that I am a fellow human being who is trying to follow the Way of Jesus, while placing my faith, trust, hope (rather than certainty) in the God who is revealed in Jesus. They assume I have doubts, and I clearly communicate them. They have them too, and they don’t feel like they have to hide them from each other of from me. Oddly enough, that seems to help us authentically believe all the more.



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Kanawah

posted May 26, 2010 at 3:27 pm


To the ‘men (and women) of the coth’ that lost the cloth, it is just a job. The majority of the people in the world are in the same situation. You got to put food on the table, and a roof over your head. If you do not have the wher sith all to walk away, you suck it up, and go on as best you can.
As to the ‘turth of the bible’, it is all a collection of myths, BS, and the ranting of dumb shepherds and nerar cave men. It is a shame that it is still being used to ‘fleece the flock’.
For the ministers that ‘have lost it’, it is their decision as how to procede.
As for the comment that christians do not hert anyone living in their own little worlsd, I give you 911 (not christian, but religion, the atrosity that is the texas school board. (our nation will pay the price of their arogant stupidity, if not the world)
The last time the christian religion got controle of the ‘intilectual world’, it was known as the ‘DARK AGES’. Hundreds of years of pain and suffering.



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Deaner D

posted May 26, 2010 at 6:17 pm


Anyone who asserts that the book of Daniel and/or the “statue prophecy” is ‘proof’ of prophecy is proving his-or-herself to be lazy, complacent, and/or self-delusional when it comes to embracing critical thinking, dedicated research, and practical reasoning. Anyone interested in honest inquiry, the Wikipedia page on the “Book of Daniel” is a good place to start, and actually quite thorough as an overview. From there one could easily find a thousand other avenues of pursuit, unless, of course, one already believes they already know everything they need to know or swallows hook-line-and-sinker stories of ancient near east magic.



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Kristian

posted May 26, 2010 at 7:22 pm


Robert, I think you just proved my point. Anything can be made to fit into the general vagueness of a prophecy if you try hard enough. Really. Pick up some other prophecies by some non-Christian faiths, look around and think hard, and *POOF!* – their prophecies have come true.
Does this mean that these non-Christian religions are true?
Like I said, prophecies are worthless babble. Also, with your “Obama One World Government Leader” stuff, you probably lost 90% of the readers of this blog.



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Headless Unicorn Guy

posted May 26, 2010 at 9:38 pm


Since you believe “God’s Word says it, that settles it,” then I’d ask you to read and apply Jude 22: “Be merciful to those who doubt.”
– Jason Boyett responding to Robert Our Spiritual Better
Every time I hear “God Says It, I Believe It, That Settles It,” I really wish they’d add a fourth line: “AL’LAH’U AKBAR!”
Truth In Advertising.



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Robert

posted May 27, 2010 at 12:29 am


Kristian,
If you honestly think that the Babylonian empire layed down, gave up power, and gave up their land and all their possessions so the Medo-Persian empire could have it all, including the glory of ruling the world so to speak, and the Medo-Persian empire did the same so that Greece could have their turn, then Greece decided to do the same for the Roman empire just so a prophecy written centuries in advance of these events unfolding; you really must have an active imagination.
Deaner,
Wikipedia?
Enough said!



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Kristian

posted May 27, 2010 at 10:39 am


Robert, I think you’re missing the point. Of course people didn’t do these actions to fulfil a prophecy. No matter what had happened in the history, someone could have fit the events into the prophecy.
THAT’S the whole point. This connect-the-dots game is easy to do after the fact. With enough facts, you can find ones that vaguely could fit into the prophecy, and you can ignore the facts that don’t.
It’s called retroactive clairvoyance. Prediction of any events is impossible before the facts because the prophecies are intentionally vague enough. But, thanks to the vagueness, you can wait and wait and wait and eventually an event is bound to happen that could be described in a manner that fits what was predicted.
And just to repeat: with enough facts (over enough time), it becomes a statistical likelihood to have enough events that fit a prophecy.
It’s not magic, it’s not supernatural, it’s just statistical probability. Indeed it would be unlikely that this long after the predictions were made there wouldn’t be historical events to match it.
But it also means that whatever the prophecy was is irrelevant. Even if they had come up with completely different one, we have enough history between it and us that we have enough material to practice retroactive clairvoyance.
I’ll make a prophecy: a furious hurricane will hit a big city, earth will shake and destroy another one, and a man-made disaster will strike upon a third. A nation will split apart, and others will join to form a new one.
Will my prophecy come true? And if so, do I have divine powers?
Events that fit mine are likely to happen within much shorter time scale than the biblical ones, but they’re both based on exactly the same method.



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Joel

posted May 27, 2010 at 11:34 am


Hmm, very interesting post. I will say that I’m as skeptical about anything from one these “new” atheists as I am a fundamentalist Christian. Both have agendas that color anything they say. To be honest, I take everything I see, hear and read about faith with a grain of salt. I was lead down the primrose path once, because I didn’t ask questions. I’m not doing that again. Anyway, as for your questions
What should pastors do if they no longer hold the defining beliefs of their denomination?
I don’t presume to speak for anyone else, but if I didn’t believe, I don’t think I could fill that role any longer. Being a pastor is different than working in an office or something of that sort. It requires a level of commitment head and shoulders above that of most other jobs. That’s why it’s a calling, not just a job.
Is it better for clergy to uphold the faith of their congregations or to be honest about their own doubts and theological changes?
Be honest. Everyone doubts and, as a leader of a congregation, you’re not doing that congregation any favors by pretending you don’t.
What would you want your pastor to do with his or her personal doubts or loss of faith?
Talk about it, wrestle with it, deal with it. Perhaps not with the congregation as a whole, but definitely with someone they respect.
One question that I’ve come up with reading this post and the comments is why do we put pastors on a pedestal by expecting more of them than we do of ourselves?



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Kathryn

posted May 27, 2010 at 12:21 pm


When i was at a point of doubt & distress in my life, i was “voted” to lead our young adults’ Bible Study for a season. I don’t remember much of that time or what i “taught” but i’m sure it couldn’t have been very good & was probably tinged with a great deal of cynicism if not outright sarcasm. Fortunately for me, a young man from the nearby university joined the group & somewhat took over.
I remember the dissonance i felt when trying to lead the group & how uncomfortable it was for me. I can’t imagine being a pastor in a similar, long-term situation. Unless the pastor had either shut himself down so much that what he was doing didn’t overtly effect him, or had such a sense of humor & such deep cynicism that he could carry on day to day work without letting himself focus on what he was really doing. (Using male gender terms here as most churches still hold to male pastors/priests.)
What would i want him to do? Um, not be my pastor.
Although, i can’t help but wonder if this is what is going on with the pastor in our church. I hear his depression screaming in much of what he preaches & there is a definite cognitive dissonance between what he is preaching & what he lives. In all honesty, he is a much nicer person than the God about whom he preaches. I think he thinks that God is a rather mean bully, but then as pastor he turns around & can be so kind & gentle to his parishioners.
I haven’t answers.
http://4katekattoo.blogspot.com/



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Kathryn

posted May 27, 2010 at 12:23 pm


When i was at a point of doubt & distress in my life, i was “voted” to lead our young adults’ Bible Study for a season. I don’t remember much of that time or what i “taught” but i’m sure it couldn’t have been very good & was probably tinged with a great deal of cynicism if not outright sarcasm. Fortunately for me, a young man from the nearby university joined the group & somewhat took over.
I remember the dissonance i felt when trying to lead the group & how uncomfortable it was for me. I can’t imagine being a pastor in a similar, long-term situation. Unless the pastor had either shut himself down so much that what he was doing didn’t overtly effect him, or had such a sense of humor & such deep cynicism that he could carry on day to day work without letting himself focus on what he was really doing. (Using male gender terms here as most churches still hold to male pastors/priests.)
What would i want him to do? Um, not be my pastor.
Although, i can’t help but wonder if this is what is going on with the pastor in our church. I hear his depression screaming in much of what he preaches & there is a definite cognitive dissonance between what he is preaching & what he lives. In all honesty, he is a much nicer person than the God about whom he preaches. I think he thinks that God is a rather mean bully, but then as pastor he turns around & can be so kind & gentle to his parishioners.
I haven’t answers.
http://4katekattoo.blogspot.com/



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Your Name

posted June 3, 2010 at 9:53 am


i think these clergypeople should come out to their congregations and be honest about why they’re atheists. maybe they can help others be honest with themselves and realize why they’re really there.



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Jay

posted June 4, 2010 at 7:45 pm


This is my whole point. People are asked to believe in nonsense, to pledge allegiance to arcane ideas/doctrines. Clergy are no different. The more educated you are-the more you think, the less you are able to uphold many of the sadistic/masochistic ideas sanctioned by bible.



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D.L.Jones

posted June 20, 2010 at 9:12 pm


The quest, or the journey of developing self beliefs not only takes a lifetime it is, also, a personal one. It is a quest of great reward, and as in anything of immense personal value it can be, at times, a soul crushing experience. Beliefs that we can believe in are hard won, and cannot be borrowed from others. A leap of faith is great, but we are by nature a physical people. A spiritual world is hard to imagine. It is as hard to believe in as limitless space. It is difficult to even imagine space that goes on to infinity. We have, always, been limited, we have always been protected, we even live live in limited time. It is, truly, a near impossibility to believe in our immortal spirit, when we cannot, even, imagine, immortality. One key is the relationship we share with God, the Father, the Son, and the angels in heaven. The love God has for us has reason behind it. In order to start to understand why God loves us so you must, also, understand the relationship between the Son and the three in heaven who take note. I love the people that from time to time lose faith, and admit it for they are the honest ones. They are the, very, ones meant to lead. It is, far, easier for the others to proclaim a true belief when, in fact,they have none. There are to many that posses no faith, they merely present the facade of faith. Thanks



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Bharathi Moses

posted August 6, 2010 at 4:20 am


An atheist is like a blind man who can not see a flower. He cannot see it through somebody else’s eyes either. He has to see it himself to appreciate it. FAITH IS ALSO A PERSONAL EXPERIENCE. When we accept JESUS as our saviour and have that precious personal relationship with him, we experience the joy He gives us.



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