Rod Dreher

Rod Dreher


Pastors who don’t believe in God

posted by Rod Dreher

Daniel C. Dennett and Linda LaScola researched five pastors — all Protestants — who no longer believe in God, but who are still in the pulpit. In interviewing these closeted non-believing pastors, Dennett and LaScola recognized that there’s a problem of definition among these folks. Even though they’re all pretty clearly atheists, in the commonsense use of the term, not all are willing to say flat-out that they’re non-believers. Dennett and LaScola:

The fact that they see it in such morally laden terms shows how powerfully the phenomenon of belief in belief figures in our lives. Most people believe in belief in God; they believe that it is a state one should aspire to, work strenuously to maintain, and foster in others–and feel guilty or dismayed if one fails to achieve it. Whether or not our pastors share that belief in belief–some still do and others no longer do–they recognize only too well that revealing their growing disbelief would have dire consequences for their lives. So they keep it to themselves.

Here’s a statement they attribute to “Wes,” the pastor of a Methodist congregation:

“I will be the first to admit that I see Christianity as a means to an end, not as an end unto itself. And the end is very basically, a kind of liberal, democratic values. So I will use Christianity sometimes against itself to try to lead people to that point. But there’s so much within the Christian tradition that itself influenced the development of those liberal values, you know. They didn’t arise through secular means. They came out of some religious stuff. …I could couch all that in very secular language. If we were in a college setting, I would. But we’re in a religious setting, so I use the religious language.”

So he’s using faith to surreptitiously lead people to embrace a set of political and cultural beliefs. As bad as that is, it’s not uncommon among pastors. But here’s the deeply unconscionable thing about Wes, in the report’s words: “Although he thinks that religion will be around a long time, he sees that part of his role is to help make his job obsolete.”
Got that? He’s a pastor who is living a lie in a secret attempt to destroy religious faith in the lives of his congregation, who trust him to be their shepherd. I cannot tell you how despicable I find that — though perhaps it says something about the quality of faith among his flock that their pastor doesn’t believe in God, and they can’t tell.
“Darryl,” a liberal Presbyterian pastor outside of Baltimore, likes the spiritual trappings of church, but is an atheist. Of the heretical Episcopal bishop John Shelby Spong, Darryl says:

“Well that guy has a glow to him; he’s just fantastic. But he can say whatever he wants because he’s got his nest egg. He’s not concerned about his retirement or anything like that. Liberating!”

Ah, so Darryl keeps his treachery to himself because if he were honest with his congregation, he’d have to go find another job. A real profile in courage, our Darryl.
One thing you see in these guys reading their interviews is that they went into the ministry to fulfill their own personal longings. Here’s “Adam,” a UCC pastor:

“I wanted my life to matter. To connect. For something bigger and better, beyond what I was doing.”

They all talk like this, explaining that they stick it out in ministry in part because it is personally fulfilling to work with people, and to do so in a churchy environment. Notice, though, that it never was about God. It was always about Me. Corruption at its root.
I have more respect for “Jack,” a 50-year-old Southern Baptist pastor who lost his faith in God through reading theology. Jack says he’s made up his mind to get out of the ministry as soon as he can find another line of work to help him pay off his debts. Though I still think it’s fraudulent to represent yourself to your congregation as a minister of God when you don’t believe in him, and I wish Jack would do the gutsy thing and resign at once, at least Jack, unlike these others, is not trying to rationalize his fear of leaving the security of the pastorate.
Nevertheless, when I step back from the emotion of my response to men who no longer believe in God but who have the spiritual leadership of their congregations in their hands, I must admit that it must be a terrible existential place to be in. I have an older pastor friend who is an Episcopalian, and who has lost faith in the Episcopal Church. He wants to be a Roman Catholic or an Orthodox Christian, but he would lose his pension if he left TEC, and would lose the money he needs to care for needy dependents who have come to him late in his life. So he remains an Episcopalian. That is not the same thing as being an closeted atheist pastor. This priest is a strong believer in traditional Christian doctrines and morals; he has simply lost faith in Anglican ecclesiology. He can be a strong leader of his congregation, shepherding them through the Christian journey, even though in his heart, he is no longer an Episcopalian. On the other hand, I have Orthodox friends who left the pastorate or good jobs in religious schools, putting their families at risk, because they felt they had to do so to answer the call to Orthodoxy. In none of these cases, though, did my friends misrepresent themselves as Christians, or, as in Wes’s case, use their position of authority as an Episcopalian (or Catholic, or Lutheran) to lead people away from the churches they were serving. That’s a big difference.
Still, on a human level, it must be so painful to have dedicated your life to something you no longer believe in. Why do these closeted unbelievers feel that many more of the clergy agree with them? It could be part of their rationalization. Or it could be what Dennett and LaScola note something interesting (below the jump):

What gives them this impression that they are far from alone, and how did this strange and sorrowful state of affairs arise? The answer seems to lie in the seminary experience shared by all our pastors, liberals and literals alike. Even some conservative seminaries staff their courses on the Bible with professors who are trained in textual criticism, the historical methods of biblical scholarship, and what is taught in those courses is not what the young seminarians learned in Sunday school, even in the more liberal churches. In seminary they were introduced to many of the details that have been gleaned by centuries of painstaking research about how various ancient texts came to be written, copied, translated, and, after considerable jockeying and logrolling, eventually assembled into the Bible we read today. It is hard if not impossible to square these new facts with the idea that the Bible is in all its particulars a true account of actual events, let alone the inerrant word of God. It is interesting that all our pastors report the same pattern of response among their fellow students: some were fascinated, but others angrily rejected what their professors tried to teach them. Whatever their initial response to these unsettling revelations, the cat was out of the bag and both liberals and literals discerned the need to conceal their knowledge about the history of Christianity from their congregations.

How does this “don’t ask, don’t tell” culture develop among the clergy? Read on:

Nobody in any church wants to learn that a person of God has lost their belief in God. Even parishioners who harbor suspicions about their pastor’s doctrinal commitments may well decide to leave well enough alone, especially if he or she is doing a fine job holding the congregation together. This incuriosity begins at ordination, when the candidate for a pulpit is examined. Nobody in our small sample was asked by their inquisitors if they actually believed in God. That would be rude, of course, and officially unnecessary. Indeed, it’s likely that none of our pastors has ever been asked point-blank, by anyone–parishioner, fellow minister, or superior–if they believed in God. “The ‘borderline fundamentalists’ ask you about your beliefs, but never about whether you believe in God.”(Wes)
This is a relief to them, since an honest answer would set off an avalanche of problems. There is variation in the severity of the ordination questioning, with more conservative churches asking more pointed questions about doctrine, but even here there are circumlocutions that pass muster. Candidates are typically well aware of what will be expected from them at the hearing, and Rick, the UCC minister, having recounted a successful dodge that slid him into a college chaplaincy remarked: “Now I might not have been able to get away with that in, say, Kansas.” As Wes puts it, “There are poisonous questions that have no business being asked. And one of those questions might be, ‘Do you believe in the virgin birth?’”

“Poisonous questions that have no business being asked”?!
I’ll tell you something. In the past few days, I have been in the presence of two Orthodox priests. Both have overwhelming duties, not only as fathers, but as pastors of their flock. Both are young men, but one told me he was so exhausted after Pascha that he had to go to the hospital for observation on his heart. Good men, men who work hard, men who believe. One of these men has an advanced degree in the hard sciences, but he went to seminary after he sensed God’s call on his life. I was thinking earlier this week that to choose to be a priest, and no doubt a pastor in many Protestant churches, is to choose to be poor — and, if you are in a church that allows you to marry, to choose for your family to live in relative poverty. In ages past, joining the clergy was a way toward social advancement. Not anymore. There is not much prestige in it these days, and most things you can do would make you more money, and give you far better hours. I cannot imagine choosing to be a pastor unless I believed wholeheartedly in the reality of God — however much I might at times, like Mother Teresa, feel the lack of His presence — and feel His calling on my life. A priest friend of mine told me that his bishop once said to him that he had to take his calling with utmost seriousness, “Because one day, you will have to answer to God for the souls of your flock.”
Think about that.
Of course, if you are like the pastors in the Dennett/LaScola study (do read the whole thing), there is no God for you to be accountable to anyway, so why not just keep living a lie, and leading your spiritual children on? Cowards. Anaxios!



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Elena Grell

posted May 28, 2010 at 6:57 pm


What I can never understand is why secular liberalism or secular humanism or whatever term you choose doesn’t simply create institutions of its own to propagate itself, instead of trying to co-opt other institutions toward that end.
Instead of becoming priests who don’t believe in God or English professors who don’t really like literature or whatever, why don’t secular liberals or secular humanists or whatever term you choose just hold meetings on Saturday morning or whenever it might be to talk about secular liberalism or secular humanism together, to denounce belief in God together, to talk about left-wing politics together, to condemn other people as “bigots” together, or whatever it is they want to do?
But why can’t they just leave the clergy to people who actually believe in God? And why can’t they leave the academy to people with an actual interest in the subjects they teach? Why all the lying, manipulation, and fraud?



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Steve

posted May 28, 2010 at 7:20 pm


Elena,
Increasingly, secular universities are those secular liberal/humanist institutions who do all of the things you mention. And pride has a way of keeping people in lofty denominational and seminary positions whatever their beliefs may devolve into.



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Chuck Bloom

posted May 28, 2010 at 7:28 pm


Rod, I guess when you get old enough (oops I resemble that remark), almost every topic you can write about in some way touches my life.
I grew up a Reform Jew in Detroit, Michigan, and attended Temple Beth El – one of the two major Reform congregations back in the day. One year, when I was but a young laddie, the temple brought in a young, charming rabbi named Sherwin Wine, who lasted all but two years before leaving Beth El to begin his own radical group.
The following is from Wikipedia:
“Sherwin Theodore Wine (Jan. 25, 1928– July 21, 2007) was a rabbi and a founding figure in Humanistic Judaism. Originally ordained a Reform rabbi, Wine founded the Birmingham Temple, the first congregation of Humanistic Judaism in 1963, in Birmingham, Mich., outside Detroit, Mich. (the temple later relocated to its current location in Farmington Hills, Mich.).
In 1969, Wine founded the Society for Humanistic Judaism. He later was a founder of several other organizations related to Humanistic Judaism, a humanist movement within Judaism that emphasizes secular Jewish culture and Jewish history rather than belief in God as sources of Jewish identity. Wine was also the founder of several humanist organizations that are not specifically Jewish, such as the Humanist Institute and the International Association of Humanist Educators, Counselors, and Leaders, as well as the cofounder of Americans for Religious Liberty, which promotes separation of church and state.
Wine was the provost of the International Institute for Secular Humanistic Judaism at the time of his death.
Wine lectured on a wide array of topics after 1976 under the auspices of the Center for New Thinking, which he also founded. The American Humanist Association named him Humanist of the Year for 2003.”
Although we were never devout Jews (mom loved herself a good ham steak on occasion), Wine’s philosophy was not accepted in our house. Besides, as my mother delcately said, “he seems like a fagallah to me,” which is Yiddish for being gay … which I learned later he was. Mom liked her rabbis to mess around with women (even if they weren’t their wives).
Wine was definitely out of the baselines in Detroit, although his charisma brought him noteriety. His congregation was never considered much more than cult-like (as I best remembered before I escaped to Texas in 1976).
Oh yeah, the six degree of separation found that I also once lived in the area NOW known as Farmington Hills, Mich., WELL before anyone knew it to be that.
So I completely understand your disdain for ministers who hide behind the congregation’s faith with concepts contrarian to what their flock THINKS is being taught and espoused. Phony is phony as a macaroni pony, my daughter used to sing. Shalom my friend.



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Steven

posted May 28, 2010 at 7:50 pm


I have attended a few of these churches. One gave me the slip by stating the Apostles Creed every week. Little did I know (till I took a Sunday School class with the pastor) he didn’t believe in the resurrection.
OK that said, I am a Protestant and understand that many religious leaders will be heretics where there are many followers present, especially when it is the culutral heritage religion (Islam in Saudi Arabia, Catholocism in Spain, or Orthodoxy in Russia). No amount of church or religous hierarchies can prevent people from being heretics if that is what they want (Judas… anyone?). Your blog makes it seem like this is Protestant problem. You act like all Orthodox believe what they state during service and in prep for ministry. Why do you have to make everything a tract for Orthodoxy. If you looked into the church in Russia, especially during the cozy spell with the communist regimes of old (and those burdgeoning today), I think you would find a few Orthodox heretics of your own.
Lastly, your Anglican friend is as much to be pitied as all the others listed in the studdy. If he believed in God, and he believed the God of the universe were calling him to a specific religion tradition, he should believe that God will take care of him. In short, if he really had faith, he would also have works.



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Elena Grell

posted May 28, 2010 at 7:52 pm


Steve,
I don’t disagree that secular universities have very largely been transformed into de-facto churches of secular humanism or secular liberalism.
And I would add that many churches — especially mainline Protestant ones — have largely been transformed into de-facto schools of secular humanism and secular liberalism.
I just don’t understand why it was necessary for secular humanism or secular liberalism to force such transformations in order to propagate itself.
Why not just build a building, hang a shingle, and announce the opening of some kind of institute for secular humanism or secular liberalism, some kind of meeting-house for secular humanist or secular liberals, where people of that persuasion could gather to proclaim their disbelief in God together, to discuss their left-wing political views together, to denounce their fellow citizens as “bigots” together, or whatever it is that they want to do?
But why co-opt and in co-opting subvert other, pre-existing institutions to achieve that end?
Why leave Christians who want to be Christians and not secular humanists and not secular liberals out in the cold by stealing their churches from them?
Why leave students who want to study literature or history or philosophy instead of secular humanism or secular liberalism out in the cold by stealing their schools from them?
To do so is lying, to do is manipulation, to do so is fraud — all of which are unconscionable things.
So why do them? Especially when it’s so unnecessary. Secular humanists and secular liberals are mostly rich and over-privileged and therefore hardly without more than sufficient resources to fund stand-alone institutions that propagate their beliefs in an honest, straight-forward, non-fraudulent way.



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I Pine

posted May 28, 2010 at 7:53 pm


I am so sad after and during the reading of this article. Jesus warned his beleivers to be careful of wolves in sheep clothing so to speak. I am coming to the conclusion that every year a congregation needs to ask their current spirtual leaders to commit his or her life to God in front of the church and sign and agreement. But if they lie because the person in question does not now believe in God they can give a hoot. How horrible our society has become. I guess that why it always best to keep your eyes on God due to people letting you down time and time again. I am praying that each of these socalled pastors are placed in the hand of God.



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hlvanburen

posted May 28, 2010 at 8:04 pm


“Instead of becoming priests who don’t believe in God or English professors who don’t really like literature or whatever, why don’t secular liberals or secular humanists or whatever term you choose just hold meetings on Saturday morning or whenever it might be to talk about secular liberalism or secular humanism together, to denounce belief in God together, to talk about left-wing politics together, to condemn other people as “bigots” together, or whatever it is they want to do?”
Many do just that in Unitarian-Universalist congregations, Ethical Society meetings, or other non-theistic groups. In fact, you will find a number of former Christian preachers among these folks.
Honestly I am not sure why a non-believing minister would stay in a church that holds to these tenets. When I began questioning standard Christian doctrine I was up front about it with my fellow ministers as well as with the congregation. Some were upset by it, others thanked me for being honest. When I parted with that congregation it was emotional, but not the end of the world for any of us.
While my heart goes out to these men and women, I share Mr. Dreher’s concern about how their dishonesty will affect their congregation when the truth comes out. I’ve seen this happen a time or two locally, and it is not pretty at all.



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MadPriest

posted May 28, 2010 at 8:09 pm


What a strange world we live in. On the one hand there are all those non-believers going around doing God’s will and, on the other hand, there are all those pharisees who say they believe but who write articles that demonstrate a complete lack of Christian charity and glorify that which Christ spoke out against. Go figure!



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lancelot lamar

posted May 28, 2010 at 8:29 pm


Elena,
A feminist theologian was asked once why she stayed in the oppressive, patriarchal church that she believed was evil and hated so much. She replied, “The church has the copying machines.” She needed the wealth and resources of the church to destroy it, and in her case the church-related college where she taught indulged her, and even assisted her in her demonic crusade.
These unbelieving pastors are simply venal, in addition to their dishonesty and hypocrisy. They exploit the good will of their church members and/or hierarchy to get a decent salary, a respected position that has little accountability, and a good pension and health insurance.
Wes, the Methodist in the article, speaking of his colleagues, said:
“They’re very liberal. They’ve been de-mythologized, I’ll say that. They don’t believe Jesus rose from the dead literally. They don’t believe Jesus was born of a virgin. They don’t believe all those things that would cause a big stir in their churches. But that’s not uncommon in mainline denominations, or even in the Catholic Church. I mean, you have a professional class of people, basically, who are working with an organization of non-professionals.”
Having been a Methodist once, I know this is true, and is one reason believing Christians have been fleeing the Methodist and other mainline (now sideline) churches for years. Once the loyal, older members have died, these churches will also, and good riddance too. There is nothing worse than religiosity and ritual without true faith. How can these pastors ask for “tithes and offerings” (which they still do believe in because it sustains their cushy lives) when they believe only in themselves and not God? To hell with them.



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Elena Grell

posted May 28, 2010 at 8:31 pm


hlvanburen,
I’ll never understand why Unitarian-Universalism doesn’t have more members than it does.
Rather than trying to convert the Episcopal Church or the Methodist Church or the Lutheran Church or the Presbyterian church or even the Catholic Church into a secular liberal or secular humanist Chautauqua-house, why don’t more secular liberals and secular humanists just join the Unitarian-Universalists, who already have completed the job of converting their former Christian church into a secular liberal or secular humanist Chautauqua-house?
And I don’t describe Unitarian-Universalism that way as any kind of insult. I don’t believe what Unitarian-Universalists believe. But I respect them for being honest and straightforward about what it is that they believe. I wish more secular liberals and secular humanists masked as mainline Protestants and even Catholics would be as candid and as upfront as that about what it is that they (really) believe.



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hlvanburen

posted May 28, 2010 at 8:31 pm


“On the one hand there are all those non-believers going around doing God’s will and, on the other hand, there are all those pharisees who say they believe but who write articles that demonstrate a complete lack of Christian charity and glorify that which Christ spoke out against. Go figure!”
LOL…such is the timeless nature of hypocritical behavior. Those who don’t believe acting as if they do are, in my opinion, only slightly better than those who do believe acting as if they don’t. While the latter’s behavior may be more destructive overall, the former is sacrificing their own integrity by keeping a charade.



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Hector

posted May 28, 2010 at 8:32 pm


Any words I might have for these people, ‘Wes’ and the unspeakable John Shelby Spong and the rest of their sort, would be unprintable on a family blog, so I won’t say them.
Anyone else reminded of the ghost of the apostate bishop that C. S. Lewis describes in ‘The Great Divorce’? Lewis was writing satire with broad strokes, of course, but the depressing thing is that within a few decades, his outrageous satire had become everyday reality.
Fortunately, in the long run the Church got past the Arians that had most of the priests, most of the bishops, most of the ruling class, and most of the barbarian armies on their side, and it will get past today’s ship of fools as well. “On this rock shall I build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.”



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hlvanburen

posted May 28, 2010 at 8:34 pm


“I’ll never understand why Unitarian-Universalism doesn’t have more members than it does.”
I would be happy to invite you, as my guest, to our General Assembly meeting this year. Maybe then you will have the answer to your question. :-)



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Elena Grell

posted May 28, 2010 at 8:39 pm


lancelot lamar,
Another way of looking at it is that people are attracted both by what they love and by what they hate.
Many academics have an adversarial relationship of enmity toward what it is they study and teach — with their fields of scholarship being “tar-babies” that they’ve become stuck to forever after striking at them in hatred for so very long.
I guess the same thing could be true of certain clergy in relation to Christianity or some other religion.
But it still seems bizarre to me.
What doesn’t seem bizarre — but rather deeply and intrinsically evil, even by secular standards of morality — is the conscious effort to rob other people of their faith, while pretending to be a religious guide.
It’s almost like the mainline Protestant cognate to clergy sex abuse of children in the Catholic church, albeit, I fear, much, much more widespread.



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Matt Stone

posted May 28, 2010 at 8:55 pm


Yes, it is cowardly and fraudulent. Part of the problem of paid ministry verses voluntary ministry. I once found myself in a small group with a former pastor who was quite dirty at having been stripped of his ministry for adultery. One slip he said, I have dependents he said. No where was their any word about his responsibility or integrity. I came away quite shocked.



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John T

posted May 28, 2010 at 8:58 pm


Some 20 years ago I was on vacation with a friend of mine in Glascow, Scotland. We had gone to a Pub one evening to hear a friend of the friend we were staying with perform.
At the same table we wound up sitting with some other folks one of whom had recently graduated from seminary as a Jesuit. My friend trying to make conversation asked him what was it that motivated him to go into the priesthood, was it is love for the Bible? The answer he gave shocked me, he said, “the Bible is a bunch of junk!”
I will never forget the conversation we had and how sad that a so called man of God had such a disrepect for his word.



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episcopal priest

posted May 28, 2010 at 8:58 pm


These ministers don’t leave their denominations because those denominations still have a certain cachet and they pay relatively well for –usually– not that hard of work. (I know that a priest/minister can work hard, but many don’t. At least not compared to many other jobs or professions)
Many priests in my denomination have so eroded the faith that their God is no longer the God of Scripture and Tradition. No Moses, no Virgin Birth, no bodily Resurrection, no Ascension, no miracles. Their God is a pious fiction that is all loving, all forgiving and really nothing at all but what they want “her” to be: their own feelings and prejudices writ large. Yet, they still dress up in Catholic vestments, sing the preface at High Mass and encourage the people to give their first fruits to God, of which 80% will go to sustaining the minister. These folks are really the same thing as the non-believing Methodists and Presbyterians; they are just more likely to be perpetrating their Marcus Borg fraud in a church called “Trinity”, “St. Paul”, or some such. I mean really, is there anything more bogus than teaching Unitarianism at “Trinity Episcopal Church”? Can’t they be honest and go the way of King’s Chapel and its 200 plus years of Book of Common Prayer Unitarianism?



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Peter

posted May 28, 2010 at 9:04 pm


It’s important to point out, despite Elena’s characterization, that 2 of the 5 people profiled are ministers in conservative, even Evangelical churches (Southern Baptist and Church of Christ). It’s not just liberal and progressive Christians who have questions.
The risks are probably too high for Catholics to participate, although it would be interesting to see why they weren’t included. The Orthodox are so small in the U.S., it’s hard to know what’s really going on there. My friends who are Orthodox seem to have a faith experience that is much closer to my experience in the Mainline church than you read from Rod. They are also cradle, ethnic Orthodox, not converts.



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Jeff

posted May 28, 2010 at 9:16 pm


The theologian was Rosemary Radford Reuther, and the copy machine quote was fairly telling, and as far as I know, never disputed. I blame the “professionalization” of ministry in large part for the insanely common phenomena this post describes . . . when mainline/sideline clergy gather, there’s an oddly elliptical process that steadily sorts out by evasion and indirection who believes and who does not. The latter is and has been the larger category for all of my years in ordained ministry, with the generation that fled into seminary to avoid the draft a very large lump of leaven in the bitter loaf.
If you manage to evade the conversational culling, it’s amazing how bluntly pastors of a certain age will admit that their choice of ministry was entirely to avoid not even just Vietnam but boot camp and manual labor and strenuous physical effort (which they could do, hence their 1-A status, just that they desperately didn’t *want* to do it). When I’m in those situations, since my familiarity with Crossan and Borg and Ehrman, let alone Kierkegaard usually gets me admission, at least early on, and then I deliberately let slip my time in basic training and knowledge of the inner workings of an M-16A1, there’s a shocked reaction that I perhaps enjoy too much. Then I wander on through the meeting rooms until I find the more rough hewn folk who have Bibles with wear on the spine and across the page corners.
And we talk about Jesus. They’re out there, but more and more often, you have to hang out with the licensed and lay pastors to find the ones who know him well enough to feel comfortable talking about him, or with him.



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The Bibo Sez

posted May 28, 2010 at 9:22 pm


My Dearest Beloveds -
Those who object to those who misrepresent themselves in order to continue to do God’s work will likely also object to the Apostle Paul:
“Though I am free and belong to no man, I make myself a slave to everyone, to win [the conversion of] as many as possible.
“To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews. To those under the law I became like one under the law (though I myself am not under the law), so as to win those under the law.
“To those not having the law I became like one not having the law (though I am not free from God’s law but am under Christ’s law), so as to win those not having the law.
“To the weak I became weak, to win the weak.
“I have become all things to all men so that by all possible means I might save some.
“I do all this for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings.” (1st Corinthians 9:19:23).
And that is what the Bibo Sez.
Bless you!



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Helen

posted May 28, 2010 at 9:27 pm


“In seminary they were introduced to many of the details that have been gleaned by centuries of painstaking research about how various ancient texts came to be written, copied, translated, and, after considerable jockeying and logrolling, eventually assembled into the Bible we read today. It is hard if not impossible to square these new facts with the idea that the Bible is in all its particulars a true account of actual events, let alone the inerrant word of God. It is interesting that all our pastors report the same pattern of response among their fellow students: some were fascinated, but others angrily rejected what their professors tried to teach them. Whatever their initial response to these unsettling revelations, the cat was out of the bag and both liberals and literals discerned the need to conceal their knowledge about the history of Christianity from their congregations.”
The cat was out of the bag. I wonder, if the history of the Bible and early church were more well known among the laity, would there be more people who doubt the existence of God?



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Helen

posted May 28, 2010 at 9:36 pm


Just also wanted comment — it’s reported that Mother Theresa did not feel the presence of God for the last *fifty years of her life*:
“Cheerful in public, despite the rigours of working among the poor and dying, she was in inner turmoil, saying her life was one of almost constant “torture” and “my smile is a mask – a cloak that covers everything”.
“I spoke as if my heart was in love with God – tender, personal love,” she wrote to another adviser, wondering if she was involved in “verbal deception” of the millions who followed her every act as proof of God’s existence.
“If you were there, you’d have said: ‘What hypocrisy.’”
More surprising still, the author of Mother Teresa: Come Be My Light, to be published in the U.S. next month, is a Roman Catholic priest who has campaigned tirelessly for the famous nun to be canonised as a saint.
Father Brian Kolodiejchuk, a member of the nun’s Missionaries Of Charity movement, says that for the last 50 years of her life she tried to feel the presence of God – but could not, “neither in her heart or the Eucharist”.
Father Kolodiejchuk says: “I read one letter to the Sisters Of Teresa’s Missionaries Of Charity and their mouths just dropped open. It will give a whole new dimension to the way people understand her.”
Maybe the difference between her and these pastors is that she *wanted* to believe? It sounds to me like she didn’t really, in her heart of hearts.



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MH

posted May 28, 2010 at 9:38 pm


Three points:
First, this kills the punchline to that old joke about why the atheist goes to church each week.
Second, this is phenomena has been covered else where a few years ago: http://www.psychologytoday.com/articles/200712/atheist-in-the-pulpit
Third, in the Lady Gaga thread I mentioned that belief in belief is common among parishioners too. I know this because other parents will tell me that they don’t believe, but that it’s important to raise your kids with something. Personally I’d rather be straight with my kids and not to pretend something I don’t



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Elena Grell

posted May 28, 2010 at 9:39 pm


Peter,
We’re not talking about people with “questions” here. These people have answers, they have foundational beliefs, they are, in some sense, fundamentalists — just secular human or secular liberal ones and not Christian ones.
Their answers are (1) that God doesn’t exist, (2) that Jesus Christ wasn’t his Son, (3) that He didn’t rise from the dead, (4) that He doesn’t offer us redemption for our sins, because there isn’t any such thing as sin to be redeemed, and (5) He doesn’t offer us eternal life, because there wasn’t any Resurrection for Him and there won’t be any resurrection for us.
Basically, their answer is that life has no intrinsic meaning, with no intrinsic evil or good, but yet they still out to get paid for playing church, and we still ought to come to “church” (or to a church building) and listen to secular liberal or secular humanist lectures about left-wing politics and how “bigoted” everyone is that we could just as easily get at home on the Sunday news shows or our newspaper’s op-ed page.
They give the same set of answers that all the other rich, over-privileged white people give, just in a different set of clothes and in a less straightforward, honest, and respectable way.
And, for that, at best, they ought to be ashamed.
At worst, in the cases where they consciously set out to destroy people’s faith, they ought to be arrested and jailed for fraud, for psychological abuse, and for spiritual molestation.
And I really mean that, and have considered my words with great care.



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Hector

posted May 28, 2010 at 9:44 pm


Re: At worst, in the cases where they consciously set out to destroy people’s faith, they ought to be arrested and jailed for fraud, for psychological abuse, and for spiritual molestation.
No need, Elena. I’m content to leave their punishment up to God.
As the poet said,
“He who shall teach the Child to Doubt
The rotting Grave shall ne’er get out.
He who respects the Infant’s faith
Triumphs over Hell & Death.”



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Jon

posted May 28, 2010 at 9:44 pm


Helen,
Anyone who reads all four Gospels cannot help but be aware that there are contradictions between the texts, and that they are not, therefore, the ABC, NBC, CBS and FOX evening news stories of the events they describe.
On the other hand we ought also keep in mind that a whole lot of biblical “criticism” is just a bunch of late-come academic speculation, and not treat it as though it were as solidly proven as the laws of physics.



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Peter

posted May 28, 2010 at 9:45 pm


listen to secular liberal or secular humanist lectures about left-wing politics and how “bigoted” everyone is that we could just as easily get at home on the Sunday news shows or our newspaper’s op-ed page.
Except the Southern Baptist and the Church of Christ “worship leaders.”
They aren’t liberals, yet the no longer believe. How did that happen? How does one go from being a small-f fundamentalist to being an athiest?



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Elena Grell

posted May 28, 2010 at 9:46 pm


Peter,
PS: You’re half-wrong. The Church of Christ is a very, very liberal mainline Protestant denomination. It is the church Barack Obama used to attend.



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Rod Dreher

posted May 28, 2010 at 9:47 pm


The difference between Mother Teresa and these guys is that she never publicly denied God, and in fact defended Catholic teaching through her words and actions. I didn’t read the book about her, but I think it’s possible that one can believe in God, but not have an emotional or noetic experience of His presence. If any of these pastors disbelieved in God but were willing to continue to teach what their church believed, theirs would be an exquisite torment, certainly, but I wouldn’t necessarily call it hypocrisy. It would depend on the circumstances. I got the impression that most of these pastors, with the possible exception of the Southern Baptist, were working subtly to undermine the faith of their congregations.



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Your Name

posted May 28, 2010 at 9:47 pm


You quote,
“In seminary they were introduced to many of the details that have been gleaned by centuries of painstaking research about how various ancient texts came to be written, copied, translated, and, after considerable jockeying and logrolling, eventually assembled into the Bible we read today. It is hard if not impossible to square these new facts with the idea that the Bible is in all its particulars a true account of actual events, let alone the inerrant word of God.”
Wow. These guys/gals who wrote this are really not paying attention. G_d has always worked through people. G_d’ greatest example is JC. Either you believe or don’t (not necessarily in JC as G_d–he is the word–but in G_d). John



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Peter

posted May 28, 2010 at 9:48 pm


Elena, that’s the United Church of Christ. The Church of Christ is very conservative. Have you bothered to read the report, because they talk about a Church of Christ minister, as well as a UCC minister.



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sj

posted May 28, 2010 at 10:04 pm


Many of the comments here seem a bit harsh when viewed against the actual stories that are told by Dennett and LaScola. With the possible exception of one, the pastors here seem to be continuing in their duties out of a desire not to disappoint or upset the congregations and their families. No one is out to “consciously destroy” anyone’s faith; rather they seem to be taking great pains not to do so. Dennett and LaScola conclude that “These are brave individuals who are still trying to figure out how to live with the
decisions they made many years ago, when they decided, full of devotion and hope, to give their
lives to a God they no longer find by their sides.” I am reminded of Miguel de Unamuno’s character, St. Manual, Martyr, a priest who has lost his faith but says nothing to dissuade his parishioners from their faith, and indeed carries out his duties with such fervor that he is considered a saint.



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Elena Grell

posted May 28, 2010 at 10:17 pm


Peter,
Have you bothered to note that one of the authors of the report is the noted “New” Atheist Daniel Dennett and that the report is entirely anecdotal, being based on just five case studies?
Now, the report does have some persuasiveness, because it jibes with widespread anecdotal experience.
But the widespread anecdotal experience it jibes with is mostly anecdotal experience of mainline Protestantism and of more or less left-wing currents therein.
I don’t think anyone has yet weighed in here with corroborative anecdotal experience of a widespread phenomenon of clergy *except* in mainline Protestant denominations who are actively working to destroy parishioners’ Christian faith in the name of pursuing some kind of political agenda.
Whereas people *have* weighed in with a fair amount of that kind of anecdotage corroborating that this kind of thing *does* go on quite a bit, and maybe more often than not, in the mainline Protestant churches.
Do you really want to deny that this phenomenon is disproportionately a phenomenon of mainline Protestant denominations and of clergy within them who identify with left-wing politics?
Do you really think that any remotely commensurate number of Southern Baptist clergy are secretly working to undermine their parishioners’ Christian faith in the name of pursuing a (presumably) right-wing political agenda?
Really?
Really?



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John T

posted May 28, 2010 at 10:21 pm


I thought of an appropriate scripture at 2 Tim 3:1-9 in the context of this subject
“But mark this: There will be terrible times in the last days. People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, without love, unforgiving, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not lovers of the good, treacherous, rash, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God— having a form of godliness but denying its power. Have nothing to do with them.
They are the kind who worm their way into homes and gain control over weak-willed women, who are loaded down with sins and are swayed by all kinds of evil desires, always learning but never able to acknowledge the truth. Just as Jannes and Jambres opposed Moses, so also these men oppose the truth—men of depraved minds, who, as far as the faith is concerned, are rejected. But they will not get very far because, as in the case of those men, their folly will be clear to everyone.”



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MH

posted May 28, 2010 at 10:22 pm


Well I could see a Southern Baptist break down and admit the evidence for evolution is overwhelming, and they ought to stop trying to muck up text books or call people evilutionists. That might count as a crisis of faith.



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Peter

posted May 28, 2010 at 10:23 pm


Elena, I think you are kidding yourself if you don’t think there are Catholics and Orthodox who are in it just for the dress up, pagentry, and free Baklava.
But you just focus on your own agenda and don’t let the actual report get in the way of that.



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Don Ror

posted May 28, 2010 at 10:33 pm


Where did God come from?
Does God enjoy watching all the “hell” on earth?



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hlvanburen

posted May 28, 2010 at 10:41 pm


“Do you really think that any remotely commensurate number of Southern Baptist clergy are secretly working to undermine their parishioners’ Christian faith in the name of pursuing a (presumably) right-wing political agenda?”
Some former and current Southern Baptist ministers believe just that.
http://www.charlestoncitypaper.com/charleston/former-southern-baptist-minister-rev-gaddy-to-discuss-separation-of-church-and-state/Content?oid=1113880
http://www.foxnews.com/story/0,2933,283373,00.html
http://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2008/jun/26/jd-greear-persuaded-his-church-to-drop-the-word-ba/
http://www.thetaskforce.org/press/releases/pr800_031505
http://www.nytimes.com/2008/02/02/us/02baptists.html?_r=1



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Elena Grell

posted May 28, 2010 at 10:43 pm


Peter,
You’re grasping at straw-women now.
I don’t dispute that there are Catholics, Orthodox, Southern Baptists, et al, who fake it once their faith lapses but their desire for a steady paycheck remains.
But I really don’t think that in Catholicism, Orthodoxy, or Evangelicalism, you have anything remotely commensurate to the phenomenon you often see in the Protestant mainline, where people enter seminary more or less faking it from day one, with no intention of doing anything but using their clerical position as an instrument to push their political ends, and in some cases, perhaps in many more cases than we’d like to think, setting out consciously and deliberately to kill off parishioners’ Christian faith in order to retool, to retrofit, and to redirect those parishioner’s moral and spiritual sensibilities toward their own — the fraudulent clergy’s own — political ends, which, in this scenario, happen virtually always to be left-wing ends.
I’m sorry if that reality is inconvenient for you, but it is what it is.
Let me end by saying that I’m not trying to suggest that this is necessarily the case with most mainline Protestant clergy or even with most politically left-wing clergy in the mainline Protestant churches.
But the fact remains — based on all the evidence we have, albeit mostly anecdotal — that the Protestant mainline churches and the politically left-wing factions within them is where this problem of clerical fraud, abuse, and even molestation is most acute.
Again, sorry, but it is what it is.



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meh

posted May 28, 2010 at 10:44 pm


Rod: “I cannot imagine choosing to be a pastor unless I believed wholeheartedly in the reality of God — however much I might at times, like Mother Teresa, feel the lack of His presence — and feel His calling on my life.”
Rod, you haven’t yet dropped acid to feel the presence of God? (MH, you are not alone. I’ve never taken LSD. It’s hip to be square.)



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Peter

posted May 28, 2010 at 10:47 pm


I’m sorry if that reality is inconvenient for you, but it is what it is.
Well, that’s your reality. But that’s not my reality or the reality. It’s much more complex than that, if you could just move beyond your culture war agenda.



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Peter

posted May 28, 2010 at 10:53 pm


But the fact remains — based on all the evidence we have, albeit mostly anecdotal — that the Protestant mainline churches and the politically left-wing factions within them is where this problem of clerical fraud, abuse, and even molestation is most acute.
Oh dear. It’s as if you haven’t opened a newspaper in two decades (or two months). Good luck with that.



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Elena Grell

posted May 28, 2010 at 10:54 pm


hlvanburen,
There are no doubt too many Southern Baptist and Evangelical clergy who confuse or conflate Christian faith with right-wing politics, just as there are clearly too many otherwise faithful mainline Protestant and other kinds of clergy who confuse or conflate Christian faith with left-wing politics.
But that kind of confusion or conflation is not the same thing as consciously and deliberately trying to destroy parishioners’ Christian faith in order to transform their former Christianity into wholly secular political ideology.
It’s not the same thing as trying to de-Christianize parishioners in order to “re-baptize” them as “born-again” secular liberals or secular humanists of either a left-wing or a right-wing sort.
That kind of deliberate effort at de-Christianization and conversion to one or another kind of secular politics does seem to go on — but it seems to go on much, much, much more often in mainline Protestant churches than in Catholic, Evangelical, or Orthodox churches, and it seems to go on much, much, much more often in an effort to convert former Christians to left-wing politics than to right-wing politics.
Again, no one here has put forward even a single anecdote, yet alone any kind of scientific research, that corroborates the idea that Catholicism or Orthodoxy or Evangelicalism are hot-beds of clergy who are faking it in order to de-Christianize their flocks and convert them to right-wing politics.
Like I said to Peter, sorry if that fact is inconvenient for you, but it is what it is.
There’s no equivalence here. There rarely is that kind of equivalences in life as it actually is.



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Elena Grell

posted May 28, 2010 at 11:03 pm


Peter,
If you were paying attention to my posts instead of just trying to be snarky, you would recognize that the molestation to which I refer is the kind of *spiritual* molestation that comes from clergy deceiving parishioners by posing as spiritual guides, when in fact they are trying instead to destroy those parishioners’ faiths and to convert them to some kind of politics.
In fact, you would have recognized that when I first brought up that kind of molestation, I acknowledged the Catholic clergy sex abuse scandals, but saying that the spiritual molestation I describe is the mainline Protestant cognate to that kind of abuse within the Catholic church.
I’m not Catholic, but I think Catholics in general have been a whole lot more willing to admit that the clergy sex abuse problem in their church exists than you seem to be to admit that a problem with spiritual molestation exists within the Protestant mainline world and within the broader secular liberal or secular humanist world.
Spiritual molestation in and of itself doesn’t discredit the Protestant mainline or the secular liberal world or the secular humanist world, any more than clergy sex abuse discredits the Catholic world.
But, once again, it is what it is — and in each case, a problem exists.
Why is it so very hard for you to acknowledge that? After all, you know full well that it’s true.



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TTT

posted May 28, 2010 at 11:05 pm


they still out to get paid for playing church, and we still ought to come to “church” (or to a church building) and listen to secular liberal or secular humanist lectures about left-wing politics and how “bigoted” everyone is
The stories in the article don’t show any evidence of trying to subvert anyone else’s faith. The people described seem to be honestly saddened for their own loss of faith and are “keeping up appearances” in order to try to fulfill their responsibility for their parishioners. Since you can never really tell who believes in God–all you get are their claims one way or another–they may well be highly suspicious of stepping aside to let someone else take over, as that person could just as well be another closeted atheist who didn’t have such close bonds of affection with the community.



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Ettez

posted May 28, 2010 at 11:07 pm


I think that if one has the calling to become a pastor is because their faith is strong an they believe in GOD. I think that if one loose faith within themselves an they loose their way they should be true to themselves and to others. If these schools teach something different then what the bible is all about they they should teach at all. If some of these pastors continue to teach the faith when their heart is not in it then they should be a shame of themselves, if they do it only cause of the money they should be kicked out of the church or congregation. They should not be aloud to be pastors if they are non-believers. Faith plays a big roll in the life of a pastor. It is so funny how we have the breathe of life keep us alive an yet we don’t see it but we believe that with out the breathe of life we will be dead. It is all about believing an having a strong sense of faith that keeps us going….GOD-FAITH -LIFE….



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Frances

posted May 28, 2010 at 11:53 pm


Interesting postings. But my recollections of reading various lives of the saints is that all of them had seriously dry periods in their lives. After the initial joy of their realization of the presence of God and Christ, and often after a considerable time of living with that joy, many of the saints went through a ‘dry’ period when they no longer were able to discern the presence of God in their lives. The fortunate ones were those who were able to rediscover the original joy. Perhaps they were also the ones who realized that, just because they weren’t able to recognize the presence of God, it did not mean that God was not with them on their journey.



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Peter Hoh

posted May 29, 2010 at 12:55 am


So, these guys are the opposite of Lady Gaga: into organized religion, but not really spiritual.



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Broken Yogi

posted May 29, 2010 at 2:27 am


I find this whole thread highly amusing. Here we have the so-called faithful condemning those who have lost faith. But where is the genuine faith among the faithful? Do they really have faith in the Christian practice of loving one’s enemies, of recognizing that “blessed are the poor in spirit”, or that God’s love falls on sinners and innocent alike? It seems to me that many of these people, even the secular liberals who are trying to steer the believers towards a non-fundamentalist, even agnostic version of Christianity, have an even greater faith in Christianity than those who merely believe. Belief is easy, but a dedicating one’s life to something one no longer has belief in, but which one still thinks can produce a positive result, is a much harder kind of faith, something to praise rather than condemn.
How many believing Christians actually have faith in the Christian teachings, which is evidenced by actually living them rather than merely paying lip service to belief in them? How many Christians who have two coats actually give one to the man who has none? How many Christians love their enemies? Precious few. And yet those who don’t are the first to condemn people like this who have lost belief, but not faith. At least the liberal secular priests actually have faith that Christianity contains great positive elements in it that are worthy of practice. And those who are just trying to get by as best they can in the midst of their fallen beliefs are at least worthy of compassion and help rather than condemnation and vilification. Especially from those who profess genuine belief in Christianity and its principles. What a strange, strange conversation this is.



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Marifasus

posted May 29, 2010 at 2:32 am


Rod, you write:
“Nevertheless, when I step back from the emotion of my response to men who no longer believe in God but who have the spiritual leadership of their congregations in their hands, I must admit that it must be a terrible existential place to be in.”
and
“Still, on a human level, it must be so painful to have dedicated your life to something you no longer believe in.”
Do any of these unbelieving preachers state that they’re in a terrible existential place, or that their situation is painful? Or is that just something you’re bringing to it?



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thehova

posted May 29, 2010 at 3:40 am


I really do believe that the Catholic Church is growing increasingly conservative and orthodox (especially with incoming young priest). This post by Rod makes me thankful for that.



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Goodguyex

posted May 29, 2010 at 3:45 am


In college, quite a few years ago one the the campus priests chaplains very much focused on the humanity of Jesus. He seems to take a Christic approach. In one of his sermons he said he was hesitant to directly express a belief in God, but since Jesus believed in God he goes along with it because he wants to share the vision of Jesus.
Also, in the Creed proclamations, especially the Apostle’s Creed, the word “Credo” or “I believe” is in 2 places; kinda like 2 creeds. The first; “I BELIEVE in God the Father Almighty, Creator of heavan and earth….”
The second : “I BELIEVE in the Holy Spirt, The Holy Catholic Church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins…..”
Is is possible to get to the 1st creed after the 2nd creed, or do we always have to to get to the 2nd creed through the 1st creed part?



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Jon

posted May 29, 2010 at 8:04 am


There’s also a certain sort of person (found mostly among conservatives these days) who do not believe in God but still think religion is a positive good for society as a whole, and tout it as such.
I am reminded as well of Florence King who described herself as “a High Church Episcopalian atheist”.



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Don Altobello

posted May 29, 2010 at 8:46 am


“I find this whole thread highly amusing. Here we have the so-called faithful condemning those who have lost faith. But where is the genuine faith among the faithful? Do they really have faith in the Christian practice of loving one’s enemies, of recognizing that “blessed are the poor in spirit”, or that God’s love falls on sinners and innocent alike?”
Well, Broken Yogi, I find your post highly amusing. The thread and discussion are about pastors who continue to pose as spiritual leaders but who flat out admit they do not believe in God. One even said he wanted to make religion obsolete by essentially using the church structure to further his own agenda.
No one is condemning a person who has lost their faith. What we have a problem with is pastors of Christian churches who are secretly atheists. You seem to think not judging and loving thy enemy is about Christians being passive and compliant with fraud and deception–of course, I’m sure that’s only the case when you happen to agree with the ideas of the fraudster or deceiver, right? So, you throw out a lot of self-righteous language about Christians not giving out all their clothes and not having a true conversion, I guess because–surprise–they aren’t perfect.



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Rod Dreher

posted May 29, 2010 at 8:51 am


Broken Yogi’s response is typical of a certain sort of person who seems to look at any situation, observe what part of it pisses off Christians of a conservative or traditionalist bent, then take the opposite view. Anyway, do liberal Christians really want atheists leading their churches? If they do, they’re going the way of the Shakers.



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The Bibo Sez

posted May 29, 2010 at 9:10 am


Well, Rod – the Atheist Moses led the Israelites for quite a good spell, and thousands of years later, they are still not Shakers.
What, you doubt Moses was an Atheist?
“Because you [Moses] did not believe in Me, to sanctify Me in the eyes of the Israelites, therefore you shall not bring this assembly into the land which I have given them” (Numbers 20:12).
And that is what the Bibo Sez.
Bless you!
[banned which]



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Bluegrass Up

posted May 29, 2010 at 9:42 am


Sad to say, pastors of this ilk– nonbelieving, or only minimal and quite heterodox in their belief– are nothing new in mainline Protestantism. I remember the new Methodist pastor in my hometown when I was in junior high, 40 years ago.
One might have gleaned that he was something of an in-your-face rebel from his pastoral prayer at a joint Thanksgiving Eve service: “Lord, as we belly up to the table, between the swill and the belch, may we remember to raise our snouts from the trough and give thanks.”
Then came the incident where a Sunday School teacher at the Methodist church asked this pastor for advice on how to teach the Lord’s Prayer to the youngsters. His reply: “Why waste your time teaching them the Lord’s Prayer? What, do you think when you pray, your prayers go up into the air here and come down again in Washington?”
Things came to a head at the joint Good Friday service, which was held in the Lutheran church with this Methodist pastor delivering the sermon. His sermon, in summary, was: Jesus? What a loser! He could’ve beaten the charges against him, and gotten off the hook in front of Pilate, if only he tried. Instead he let himself get crucified. What a loser! I remember sitting there in a pew, thinking surely this was leading to somewhere less heterodox. Only it didn’t. Jesus? What a loser! That was the sole point of the entire sermon.
My father, who was the Presbyterian pastor in town, reported that after the service, the Lutheran pastor was striding back and forth in his office, yelling, “That son of a bitch! That’s the last time he ever preaches from this pulpit!”
I can’t testify that this Methodist pastor was actually an atheist. Though clearly he didn’t buy into significant chunks of traditional Christianity. And clearly he had little regard for the traditional Christian beliefs of us unwashed small-town hicks. A few months after that sermon, he departed the parish and went back to academia to do his Ph.D. Where he went from there I dread to think, though one can perhaps imagine.
Like I say, this was 40 years ago.



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Peter

posted May 29, 2010 at 10:09 am


do liberal Christians really want atheists leading their churches?
No. Do conservative Christians?
It’s five people, two of them in conservative denominations. It’s an interesting take on a small sampling of a small group of people. I know that dismissing and condemning mainline Christians is a favorite past-time in certain circles, but this isn’t exactly an indictment of liberal (or conservative) Christians.



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Elena Grell

posted May 29, 2010 at 10:23 am


Peter,
Again, you’re grasping at straw-men and straw-women.
No one here is condemning mainline Christians in general on the basis of spiritual molestation by certain members of the mainline clergy.
Any more than anyone here is condemning Catholics Christians in general on the basis of sexual abuse of children by certain members of the Catholic clergy.
But just as the Catholic church has a problem with one kind of abuse, the Protestant mainline churches have a problem with another kind.
Is your pride in being Protestant-mainline or secular liberal or secular humanist or whatever it is that you are really so great that you can’t admit that, even though you know that it’s true?
If so, you are an especially broken man, and in need of prayer.



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Peter

posted May 29, 2010 at 10:28 am


Is your pride in being Protestant-mainline or secular liberal or secular humanist or whatever it is that you are really so great that you can’t admit that, even though you know that it’s true?
Don’t give up your day job, because you are not a clairvoyant or mind reader. You lack the gift.
There are problems in the Mainline churches (like there are in conservative churches), but this is fairly far down on the list if it is an actual problem at all. It’s more a curiosity and phenomenon that appears to impact both liberal and conservative Christians, according to the report.



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Rod Dreher

posted May 29, 2010 at 10:37 am


Of course the Dennett report is unscientific; it doesn’t claim to be otherwise. It’s just a study of five unbelieving pastors. I do think it’s obviously easier to be an atheist pastor in a liberal church, though, because the character of their belief is not as literal or as stringently traditional as conservative churches. The things the liberal pastors say reinforce this conclusion. Of course it’s possible to have an atheist pastor in a conservative church, but it strikes me as less likely because the unbelieving pastor would have to suppress his doubts much more strongly to keep up appearances.



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Peter

posted May 29, 2010 at 10:45 am


Rod, what do you think about the things that the two conservative ministers say in the report? You seeemd to give the Southern Baptist some slack because he was only holding out until he found another job, which was less malicious, I guess.
I agree it’s probably easier in mainline churches than Evangelical churches, but would actually be pretty easy to be an athiest Cathoilc or Orthodox since they are largely following a script. But on the vestments, follow the script and liturgy, and you are rarely challenged to actually talk about you own faith.
It would interesting to see how this plays out with Catholics. I think Mother Theresa is a better comparison than you wish it was. She followed the script, she did good deeds, as a woman religious her views on faith were never probed.



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Bluegrass Up

posted May 29, 2010 at 10:56 am


Oh, I should’ve specified: that Methodist pastor who thought learning the Lord’s Prayer was a waste of time, who thought Jesus was a loser for letting himself get crucified? That Methodist pastor went back to school to do his Ph.D. in theology.
Res ipsa loquitur.
(Captcha: reported experts)



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Elena Grell

posted May 29, 2010 at 11:31 am


Peter,
What Rod said.



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nixon is Lord

posted May 29, 2010 at 11:36 am


There are now three times as many episcopal clergypeople than there were in the 1920s, even though the number of episcopalians is about the same as it was then (about 2 million). All mainline churches, like the social service organizations and the public schools, have inflated head offices with titles like “Diversity Outreach Coordinator”. The clergy in mainline churches, like the professors in many schools, have adopted the view that those in their care have not had the advantages of a progressive education that they have and must be lead-something like “Take up the White Man’s Burden”, only for other white people. In Europe, in churches either officially established as the state church or paid from taxes like other social service agencies, the political agenda is basically Social Democracy in a cassock and whether or not the clergy actually believe in god or people show up to church is considered a rude and irrelevant question. Since the clergy are now considered one helping profession among others, those who join their ranks don’t consider their beliefs important.



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Major Wootton

posted May 29, 2010 at 11:37 am


Luther said somewhere, I believe, that if the devil preached a sermon that was faithful to Christian truth, God would work through even that sermon as He always does when and where His Word is preached.
Members of a congregation do not have the ability or the need to judge the heart of their pastor (or anyone else’s heart). Only God knows the heart.
But they do have a responsibility to judge doctrine. If the doctrine is wrong, the church elders or others should discuss the matter with the pastor. He can then make the needed change, or he can refuse to conform his preaching to the Faith and consequently be removed from the ministerial office. A congregation should have the right to remove a pastor who unrepentantly preaches false doctrine.
This wholesome arrangement is less likely to exist in churches that do not emphasize the preaching of Christian doctrine. If one’s church already focuses on social issues (from left or right) or on experiences of spirituality at the expense of sound doctrine, probably there is going to be a much weakened sense of any rule and norm for preaching. This wholesome arrangement (my third paragraph) is also less likely to happen in churches that overemphasize church hierarchy — where “Father” is the authority and one has no right to question him.
I’m not saying that in conservative Lutheran churches there are no pastors who have lost, or who never had, the faith, but I am saying that the damage they can do can be contained, largely, I hope, to the man himself; and perhaps he will be brought back to the faith by the work of the Spirit.
Captcha: whiffed attempt



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Matt

posted May 29, 2010 at 11:54 am


Rod, thanks for the article. You have no idea what this wrestling is like for a young idealistic theologian even going through a conservative seminary. The conservative seminaries I have attended did not shy away from discussing the more troubling matters of higher and lower criticism. I feel like my entire intellectual life for the last five years has been a radical reevaluation of my belief in God. All of this while I continue to function as a leader within the church. This is an angle I think you are not addressing, how do you continue to function as a Pastor/lay leader when belief in God is very much an open question? How can I lead others to what I have claimed to be true when I am coming to grips with it? What if I only ever embrace it tentatively? Am I not hypocritically asking from others what I have not found for myself? For me continued studies in philosophy have been the avenue to find some answers, or at least to understand that no worldview has the epistemic certainty that I am craving. But I’m willing to bet that there are quite a few seminarians like me who have either chosen to shut off their minds or are struggling with the same tensions I have faced.



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Franklin Evans

posted May 29, 2010 at 12:27 pm


Given the Lady Gaga thread’s discussion and tangents, I find it difficult to phrase my opinion here in a manner that can possibly avoid stepping on some toes. Rod, I know, has some callouses. I’m not so sure about others. Of course, I’m gonna try anyway, you didn’t think I wouldn’t, did you? ;-D
First, I find this to be a very hopeful sign, both that those men are where they are and that Christians are discussing it amongst themselves. One exception: Elena, with respect, IMO you are deep in your own original pile of straw. “Go get your own clubhouse!” sorts of arguments are irrelevant because secular humanism is a description, not a movement or a club or a religion. I respectfully suggest that you are projecting, that as a member of a group with a strong identity and a longstanding institutional entity, you assume that others must want to be the same. Mr. Bloom’s tangent about that rabbi is the exception that proves the rule. He was still a Jew, identified as a Jew, and while other Jews would have valid theological objections to him, that is for them to work out.
Secular humanism is not a dogma, though it is an oppositional set of ideas, disagreeing with religions on various topics. It does not say you can’t be a secular humanist if you believe in some religion whose leadership opposes it. What you seem to be saying is the other way around, that to be a secular humanist in any way is blasphemous, or at least heretical. The fundamentalist analog would be evolution.
And, it is true what you said about UU, but not as a support to your straw. UU was not a new club started by disaffected ex-whatevers. There were Unitarians in colonial America. There were Universalists in pre-colonial Europe. Those who wanted their own “club” went about making one because they wanted one, not because they couldn’t change the existing “clubs”. The growth in UU memberships during the 60s and 70s gave rise to a self-deprecating joke (and at the time, I was one too): UU congregations are 70% ex-Catholics, 20% ex-Jews, and the rest jealous because they aren’t exes. The truth is that UU wasn’t and isn’t a booby prize, something to settle for.



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Franklin Stephens

posted May 29, 2010 at 1:03 pm


It is about time that someone brought this subject out into the light of day! As a retired pastor, not a retired minister of God, I have been forced by moral and ethical reasons to leave the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) because of the liberalism that now controls that denomination. The final straw was when the Commission on Theology released a report that was a blatant contradiction of the Holy Scriptures… in particular, the denial that “belief in (faith in) Jesus Christ as the Savior wan NOT the only means to salvation, but MERELY ONE WAY TO SALVATION. This, of course, was all based upon “Textual Criticism”, which was an invention of atheistic philosophers bent upon undermining and destroying the Christian Faith.
In looking around at other denominations… the Methodists, the Episcopalians, and even the Southern Baptists… I have found they are all infected with “Liberation Theology” and “liberalism” in general.
People wonder what has happened to the United States, which has historically been identified as a “Christian Nation” throughout the world. It all began back in the 1950s, when the liberal “feel-good preaching” began. Track the shrinking membership in, and thus the social influence of, the Christian Churches, and you will find that it perfectly matches the invasive march of liberalism in the churches. We see this evident in the moral social decline throughout the United States today. We have sown the wind, and now are reaping the whirlwind!
“Ye shall know the truth, and the truth will make you free” (Jesus Christ).
Thanks for bringing this to light!



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Joseph D'Hippolito

posted May 29, 2010 at 1:49 pm


@The Bibo Sez: Did you ever study the whole Pentateuch? If you did, then you should realize the context of that quote. Moses had to put up with constant complaining and ingratitude from the people he was leading. On the occasion in question, the Israelites demanded water. Moses and Aaron prayed, and Yahweh told them to speak to a rock; then water would gush forth. Instead of speaking to the rock, however, Moses yelled at the Israelites (“You rebels, do you expect us to provide water from this rock?) and struck it with his staff.
Yahweh punished Moses not for a lack of belief but for disobedience. Moses allowed his anger to get in the way of his mission. Moses had allowed his passion to overwhelm him before decades before; he murdered an Egyptian before being exiled from Pharaoh’s palace. If Moses could not control his temper while executing authority in God’s name, could he really be fit for guiding a previously enslaved people into a new land and build a fundamentally new society?
If you still think Moses was an atheist, then just read Exodus 3. No way could Moses be an atheist after that experience.
Back to the topic in question: Christ’s words in Matthew’s Gospel are haunting:
“When the Son of Man returns, will he find faith on the Earth?”
That hypothetical condemns the institutionalized church as a whole: Catholic, Protestant, Eastern Orthodox, liberal, conservative, traditionalist, progressive, liturgical, evangelical, pentecostal, you name it. It should give pause to all Christians — especially those who equate institutional and theological loyalty with faith.
We are living through the answer that Christ’s question raises in our own lifetimes.



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Brad Evans

posted May 29, 2010 at 1:49 pm


Mainline Protestantism became therapy in vestments years ago. Both fundiegelicals and the “progressives” use their religion to advance social/economic agendas (while denouncing the other side for doing the same thing). The difference? The “progressives” have an ideology which calls for “inclusiveness” (while remaining as white as Vermont or Maine)which makes it hard to call for theological purity. The same is even more true of the Quakers and Unitarians, where you’ll get more disapproving states for not recycling or wearing non-natural fibers than for being neo-pagan or openly atheist.
Mainline Protestantism is like the British Empire; it lost a lot of power a few generations ago but it’s still looking for a role. Since about 3% of those under 26 are members of these churches and their median age is between 53 and 59, this will be increasingly difficult.
The ideology of the Mainline has long been that of being FOR the poor, not OF them. The US has been described as Swedes ruling India and the ideological divide between clergy (especially clergy in the headquarters of the denominations)and the folks in the pews has been something both sides have commented on for years.



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Joseph D'Hippolito

posted May 29, 2010 at 2:03 pm


@Brad Evans: Your final paragraph is a superb summary!
@The Bibo Sez: Regarding your impressions of St. Paul, let me remind you that St. Paul was never an atheist. Before his conversion, he was, as he described himself, a “Pharisee among the Pharisees.” Whatever the Pharisees were, they certainly weren’t atheists. In fact, their entire approach reflected subservience to God — in legalistic terms, perhaps, but that’s a separate issue.
@episcopal priests: Too true, sadly, all too true.



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Elena Grell

posted May 29, 2010 at 2:09 pm


Franklin Evans writes:
“Elena, with respect, IMO you are deep in your own original pile of straw. “Go get your own clubhouse!” sorts of arguments are irrelevant because secular humanism is a description, not a movement or a club or a religion. I respectfully suggest that you are projecting, that as a member of a group with a strong identity and a longstanding institutional entity, you assume that others must want to be the same.”
Franklin, with respect, you are wrong. Secular humanism is a movement, it is a club, it is more or less a religion. And it does have doctrine and dogma. You can’t affirm the creedal tenets of orthodox Christianity and also be a secular humanist. And if you can’t affirm the creedal tenets of orthodox Christianity, you shouldn’t be a member of an institution — a church — that is based on those tenets. If that’s the kind of person you are, then you should, in fact, go get your own clubhouse. And if you don’t want to live in a clubhouse, if you don’t want to be a member of a group with a strong identity and a longstanding institutional entity, then you shouldn’t choose to live in a clubhouse, you shouldn’t choose to be a member of a group with a strong identity and a longstanding institutional entity, and you certainly shouldn’t choose to be a leader in the kind of club to which you don’t wish to belong or a leader in the kind of group with a strong identity and a longstanding institutional entity to which you don’t wish to belong.
Most of all, you shouldn’t perpetrate intellectual fraud, psychological abuse, and spiritual molestation against other people who have placed themselves in your care on trust that they will not be subjected to those things by means of lying and self-interested deception and deceit.
Instead, you should get your own clubhouse like an honest and decent person would — a person worthy of respect, as Unitarian-Universalists and out-of-the-closet secular liberals and secular humanists are.



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stefanie

posted May 29, 2010 at 2:12 pm


Helen, I wouldn’t consider Mother Teresa’s experience to be “hypocrisy” at all. It’s a common phenomenon, the “long dark night of the soul.”
The problem these Protestant ministers are having, as I see it, is that they conflate faith with feelings. Faith is not a feeling, or a rush of glowing euphoria, or anything like that. It’s what CS Lewis said, (I paraphrase), when a creature looks out at a universe from which every trace of God seems to have vanished, and still obeys.
So IMO there are two situations here. The first is the religious leader who thinks that because he doesn’t experience a “glow” anymore, he must have lost his faith.
The other situation (which I think *is* hypocritical) is represented by the person who really genuinely doesn’t believe anymore, yet continues to represent the institution. That person, to me, really does have an obligation to resign, even though that might result in loss of income, status, etc.
It’s important to distinguish between these two conditions, though. In some ways the person going through the long dark night may actually be *more* faith-filled, because they’re *not* animated by transitory emotions.



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MH

posted May 29, 2010 at 2:49 pm


Rod, I suspect there are a fair number of conservative atheists of the Straussian bent who think of religion as a “noble lie”. But you’ll be hard pressed to get them admit to it.
For example, think about the clergy sex abuse scandal. If they really believed what they claimed why would they participate in or perpetrate it? It seems reasonable to me that they don’t believe what they claim.



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Broken Yogi

posted May 29, 2010 at 3:38 pm


Rod says:
“Broken Yogi’s response is typical of a certain sort of person who seems to look at any situation, observe what part of it pisses off Christians of a conservative or traditionalist bent, then take the opposite view. Anyway, do liberal Christians really want atheists leading their churches? If they do, they’re going the way of the Shakers.”
There’s some truth to this, but it’s also fair to say that it’s so darned easy to piss off a lot of conservative and traditional Christians, because their Christianity is fairly shallow to begin with, and hasn’t been deeply touched by the truly compassionate attitude of Jesus. They identify Christianity with various beliefs and dogmas and ritualistic practices, the very kind of thing that Jesus criticized in the Jewish conservative traditionalists of his own time.
I read this whole study months ago, and I was not terribly impressed with Dennet’s notion that these people are literal atheists. Most are not, but are going through a personal crisis of faith that leads to them, over time, to abandon certain beliefs that are not, in my view at least, central to Jesus’ teachings, even if orthodox conservative Christians think so. What I found remarkable about these people is that they were still able to recognize something deeply profound and meaningful about much of Christian tradition that was strong enough to keep them in the fold of the church, even if their literal beliefs were in tatters. Some of that was simply the result of having made commitments they felt they needed to fulfill, sometimes for purely practical reasons, but they also felt a great deal of sympathy with the deeper messages of Christianity and its meaning for people. In other words, I thought there was a fair amount that was admirable in these people, and I respect what they are going through and their willingness to stay with a church they don’t fully believe in in some supernatural sense, but do believe in at a human level. Call that secular humanist Christianity if you will, but I don’t see if as much different than Mother Theresa’s unfortunate and life-long crisis of faith. There’s even something saintly about it, even if the orthodox can’t appreciate that.
And frankly, I do think this sort of loss of belief among the priesthood and ministry is just a reflection of the overall loss of belief in Christianity as a whole throughout our culture. A whole lot of Christians don’t believe literally in such things as Virgin birth or all the various tenets and dogmas of the churches, but they go anyway because they don’t consider that stuff to be the core of faith in any case. Likewise, they also have sense of obligation, family connections, some general affinities that defy even a loss of belief, etc. In short, these ministers are just coping as best they can with the same world every other Christian is trying to figure out, and I admire in many cases their determination to stick it out, and even help people find a way to say affiliated with Christ or with some principle of loving compassion for the poor and afflicted in the midst of their crisis. In many respects, the humility that comes from having lost one’s belief may even make these people much better at their job than a lot of the self-righteous “faithful”. It seems to increase their sensitivity. And in a very interesting way, it speaks a kind of deeper faith than belief itself represents.
In any case, demonizing these people seems a terribly un-Christian way to approach these kinds of problems, which are systemic and unavoidable in any religion that overelies on dogma and belief. True faith is not belief, and belief is just as much a substitute for faith as unbelief is.



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Franklin Evans

posted May 29, 2010 at 4:04 pm


I wrote to Elena: I respectfully suggest that you are projecting, that as a member of a group with a strong identity and a longstanding institutional entity, you assume that others must want to be the same.
Elena replied: Franklin, with respect, you are wrong. Secular humanism is a movement, it is a club, it is more or less a religion. And it does have doctrine and dogma.
I get that we disagree, and I’m pleased that it’s respectful, but you have not offered a rebuttal beyond the bare assertion. Do people say the belong to secular humanism? Where are the offices? Who are the leaders? Where is their equivalent of holy text? Who gets to decide if one qualifies for “membership”, and what happens to those who have some level of disagreement with the “dogma”?
That’s what I mean when I say, no, it’s not a religion, dogma or doctrine, it’s a description. That it fits a large number of people is worthy of examination and discussion, but my view of your straw man is in trying to set it up as a grand enemy of religion (or even upper-case “R”). There are plenty of people who resemble the label to some extent but have a strong, even devout faith of some sort. I know, because I’m one of them and I’ve spoken with a number of others.
No, I’m not a Christian. But that would explain why you and I disagree here. I don’t hold to a religious tradition that is in conflict.



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stefanie

posted May 29, 2010 at 4:11 pm


Franklin, if you are so inclined, I would love to talk with you about your beliefs. stefanie dot bean at gmail dot com.



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MargaretE

posted May 29, 2010 at 4:39 pm


Actually, secular humanism is an official movement now. There are various “churches,” that use the term, and even a Council for Secular Humanism. (Here’s the link.) They spell out there values pretty clearly…
http://www.secularhumanism.org/index.php



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Jillian

posted May 29, 2010 at 5:36 pm


Of course the Dennett report is unscientific; it doesn’t claim to be otherwise. It’s just a study of five unbelieving pastors.
Dennett is supposedly working on a book with a lot more participants- this was just a preliminary. He’s become interested in to what extent there really are well educated believers, and what exactly they do believe and why.



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the stupid Chris

posted May 29, 2010 at 5:45 pm


So we’ve found yet another twist on the old story of living a lie, a story that always makes for great drama.
So nu? We see this story in every line of human endeavor, what makes clergy exempt?



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the stupid Chris

posted May 29, 2010 at 5:47 pm


He’s become interested in to what extent there really are well educated believers, and what exactly they do believe and why.
In essence, he’s wondering if all believers are uneducated?



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Elena Grell

posted May 29, 2010 at 5:47 pm


Franklin,
For starters, one of the leaders of secular humanism is a co-author of the very report to which Rod links: the “new” atheist (or in other words the same-old-same-old atheist) Daniel Dennett.
It’s common in Western Europe for people formally to label themselves as secular humanists.
And it’s becoming more common over here, and MargaretE’s link goes to show.
Now, the term secular humanist or secular liberal isn’t the point — rather it’s an ideology that, among other things, rejects all the most basic creedal tenets of orthodox Christianity and therefore disqualifies a person who holds such ideology from serving in the Christian clergy.
Think of it this way. How would you feel about someone who was an orthodox Christian in everything but name, who somehow deceitfully finagled his way into being a Rabbi or an Imam, with the surreptitious purpose of destroying other people’s Jewish or Muslim faith in order to convert them to Christianity? This person’s defense would be, depending on the scenario, that he is as authentically a Jew or as authentically a Muslim as anyone else, since he does not label himself an orthodox Christian, despite secretly holding views of an orthodox Christian sort rather than a Jewish or a Muslim sort.
Would you be fine with that? Would that be a-ok with you?



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Franklin Evans

posted May 29, 2010 at 5:50 pm


Thanks, Margaret. Elena, I confess that I was ignorant of that organization.
Having read their self-definitions, I would like to refine my question to Elena (and anyone who cares to jump in): The Council for Secular Humanism makes some statements that oppose religious or theological tyranny. They make other, less strident statements about ethics, morality, education and human rights. Which aspects of their self-definition do you consider “dogma” or “doctrine”, and how do you justify calling them a “religion” or “like a religion”?
My reaction to your assertion remains. Saying what they are is just a start. How do you reach that conclusion?



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Franklin Evans

posted May 29, 2010 at 5:57 pm


Elena, I see that we are posting at the same time. While you ponder how to respond to my last post, I’ll try to answer your latest question.
Superficial justifications are wrong, and I don’t care what context in which they reside. I would no more support or condone a person in the scenario you describe than I condone anyone staying in a job that has responsibility for others while having no commitment to performing the job towards that responsibility. Someone else in the thread claimed that many of those ministers started out as draft dodgers looking for a “legal” way to avoid conscription, then stayed in that profession despite their unethical motivations.
I have a further scenario for you, one that has some recent examples: Christian missionaries entering a country with laws prohibiting their entry, let alone their mission. I have as little respect them and care for their fate as I would for the person who thinks it would be fun to go over Niagra Falls in a barrel, even though the missionaries have some objectively good intentions.



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Elena Grell

posted May 29, 2010 at 6:56 pm


Franklin,
I suppose then that you also had as little respect for, and as little care for, say, Christians who gave harbor to fugitive Jews in Nazi Germany? They were breaking the laws of a democratically-elected government, right? They were asserting their religion’s imperatives against those of the secular state. And since there is no basis for morality, other than obedience to whatever the secular state’s laws happen to be wherever one happens to be, what they did was wrong, whereas those who helped to persecute and even to execute Jews were right, since they were good citizens following the laws of their democratically-elected secular state — and the secular state with the most well-educated population in the world at that point in time, to boot.



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Deacon John M. Bresnahan

posted May 29, 2010 at 7:11 pm


These two researchers may be onto something. These 5 Protestant clergy certainly aren’t the only atheists in Protestant pulpits. Possibly this is why mainstream Protestantism is shrinking so quickly.
Meanwhile, the Catholic Church with all its scandals and celibacy requirements continues to grow here and around the world. It seems that even the worst Catholic pastors and other clergy seem to be “True Believers” in God no matter how poor a job they do as men of the cloth.
So maybe all other issues are totally irrelevant to “seekers” or those who want a God to believe in. Better to be pastored by a weak, totally flawed member of the clergy who believes in God than to be pastored by a great preacher,social worker, personable leader
who is an atheist.



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Franklin Evans

posted May 29, 2010 at 7:35 pm


Elena, are you upset? I ask sincerely, because your last post has so many leaps in logic beyond our starting point that I honestly can’t answer it.
Nazi Germany was not a democracy, regardless of how Hitler originally came to power. What was ethical about the German people obeying “laws” that required the murder of people? You try to fit two very different situations together to make your point, and I just don’t see the connection.
Was there something specific I wrote earlier that you found offensive? I’d rather you say so outright, and help me understand the offense, than think to build on my statements by making assumptions that, at least in this case, are both false and don’t logically follow.
You need to know two things before responding: I have taken no offense at anything you’ve written, including (second thing) despite the fact that I am the son of a Holocaust survivor, whose family were kept alive in northern Italy by Catholic peasants and townsfolk daily risking their own lives even with the Vatican’s policy of non-intervention. Who were they “disobeying”? Whose laws were they breaking? In what way did they violate anything, oath, fidelity or loyalty?
In any event, I do suggest we not go off on that tangent. I replied to make a different point, not to agree that it is relevant to our debate.



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MH

posted May 29, 2010 at 7:52 pm


meh, but our being square means we’re not obeying the dictates of our lack of faith! We have no reason not to turn on, tune in, and drop out. So logic dictates that we must!
We’re both hypocrites and I for one am shocked by our behavior.



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Helen

posted May 29, 2010 at 8:00 pm


Elena –
My post was not clear. It was Mother Theresa, not I, using the word hypocrisy, in a letter from her to a friend.
Apparantly she wrote that she worried she was engaged in what she called “verbal deception” because people around the world used her works as proof of God’s existence.
Here is the article quoting the book: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/femail/article-477573/Did-Mother-Teresa-believe-God.html
Also, fifty years is an awfully *long* dark night of the soul.
Read more: http://blog.beliefnet.com/roddreher/2010/05/pastors-who-dont-believe-in-god_comments.html#ixzz0pMlVfMkx



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Elena Grell

posted May 29, 2010 at 9:05 pm


Franklin Evans,
Yes, I found your expressed lack of respect for and care about the fate of Christian missionaries to be both offensive and a truly bizarre non-sequitor in the context for our conversation — a conversation I would rather not continue, because I have no idea what point you are trying to make, besides the absurd one that there is nothing wrong with clergy of a particular religion deceiving the adherents in their care by pretending to accept that religion’s foundational creeds while in fact not doing so and even in some cases seeking actively to undermine those creeds in the name of converting said adherents to other ideological points of view. I simply feel that such behavior is contemptible, despicable, indefensible, and ought to be criminal. If you disagree, well, ok, fine you disagree. What more do we need to say one another? Nothing, I think. So, with all due respect, goodbye. End of conversation. All the best.



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Elena Grell

posted May 29, 2010 at 9:06 pm


Helen,
I didn’t respond to or even read your post about Mother Theresa. I think you’re confusing me with someone else you meant to address. Best of luck finding him or her.



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Helen

posted May 29, 2010 at 9:22 pm


Elena –
My apologies. It was stephanie who commented on my post.



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hlvanburen

posted May 29, 2010 at 9:44 pm


Elena Grell: “But that kind of confusion or conflation is not the same thing as consciously and deliberately trying to destroy parishioners’ Christian faith in order to transform their former Christianity into wholly secular political ideology.
It’s not the same thing as trying to de-Christianize parishioners in order to “re-baptize” them as “born-again” secular liberals or secular humanists of either a left-wing or a right-wing sort.”
I would suggest that it is only different in terminology and methodology. The end result is identical…a follower who take their focus off the central tenets of the faith and is instead focused on less important things. For the atheistic liberal minister it may be social concerns, textual criticism, or another typically liberal concern. For the conservative it is Republican politics, anti-gay lobbying, or abortion protesting. The methodology and tools used differ. The end results are the same…a flock led astray.



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Peter

posted May 29, 2010 at 9:47 pm


the Catholic Church with all its scandals and celibacy requirements continues to grow here and around the world.
Only because of Latinos in the U.S. and the Third World. Catholicism in the U.S. is on the verge of becoming an ethnic church in the U.S. because of declining rates of churchgoing by white Catholics.



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rr

posted May 29, 2010 at 9:55 pm


Peter,
Doesn’t it depend on what you mean by an ethnic church? I thought the Catholic Church in the United States was always an ethnic church as most of its members were of Irish, Italian, German, and Slavic origin. It certainly has never been the church of Anglo-Saxons. I say this as a WASP. At any rate, perhaps you mean that the Catholic Church in America is on the verge of being a majority non-white church. If that is the case, then it will fit right in as if trends hold, whites will not be the majority in America in the coming years.
rr



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John T

posted May 29, 2010 at 10:35 pm


In reading these posts it has been interesting to see how some view what faith is. The Apostle Paul defines and talks about faith in his letter to the Hebrews Chapter 11
“Faith is the assured expectation of things hoped for, the evident demonstration of realities though not beheld. For by means of this the men of old times had witness borne to them.”
After relating the faith of men and women of old Paul continues at Hebrews 12:1-
“So, then, because we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also put off every weight and the sin that easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us.”
What is the sin that easily entangles us that Paul is referring to? Lack of faith. He just spent a considerable amount of time relating how “By faith” these men and women of old were approved by God and the world was not worthy of them.
Paul’s words below also show that lack of faith is the sin that easily entangles.
(Hebrews 3:12) . . .Beware, brothers, for fear there should ever develop in any one of you a wicked heart lacking faith by drawing away from the living God;
(Colossians 2:8) Look out: perhaps there may be someone who will carry you off as his prey through the philosophy and empty deception according to the tradition of men, according to the elementary things of the world and not according to Christ;



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Elena Grell

posted May 29, 2010 at 10:40 pm


hlvanburen,
If there were any significant number of politically right-wing Evangelical clergy who secretly …
(1) Disbelieve in God
(2) Disbelieve in the divinity of Jesus Christ as the Son of God
(3) Disbelieve in the fallen and sinful condition of the world that Jesus Christ came to redeem
(4) Disbelieve in the bodily, historical Resurrection of Jesus Christ as a means of redeeming the world
(5) Disbelieve in the bodily Resurrection of Christians following Jesus Christ’s promised Second Coming and the subsequent merger of heaven and earth.
If you can find any significant number — or even any insignificant number — of politically right-wing Evangelical clergy like that, then I’ll say “shame on them.”
But there is no reason to believe that any such significant number of that kind of clergy actually exists, other than to serve your imaginative and fictional projection of a false equivalence that doesn’t appear to exist between theological or political liberals and conservatives where clerical fraud, abuse, and molestation of this particular sort is concerned.
There is nothing inconsistent with orthodox Christianity — and in fact everything consistent — in defending the rights of children against abortionist assault, defending the rights of families against homosexualist assault, defending the rights of the poor against assault by the rich, and defending the earth itself against assault by an unstewardlike humanity.
What is inconsistent with orthodox Christianity is in picking and choosing from among those moral imperatives as to which to recognize and which to ignore.
Neither Evangelicals on the one hand nor mainline Protestants on the other hand do as good a job as they ought to do in being consistent in recognize the full spectrum of moral imperatives imposed by orthodox Christianity.
So, on that count, things are probably a wash.
But in terms of the basic and fundamental creedal tenets of orthodox Christianity and faithful belief therein and adherence thereto, there’s no question at all that, whatever other faults they may have, the Evangelical churches do an infinitely better job than the mainline Protestant churches do — in large part because the Evangelical churches have, by every indication, an infinitely smaller percentage of intellectually fraudulent, psychologically abusive, and spiritually molesting clergy than they mainline Protestant churches do, in large part because of their more lax and their increasingly lackadaisical doctrinal and dogmatic standards for both clergy and laity.
Why all of this should bother you so much, I really can’t see, since the collapse of Christian orthodoxy in the Protestant mainline presents a huge potential windfall to the Unitarian-Universalist denomination to which you yourself belong.
And, again, I don’t make that observation as any kind of insult to you or to Unitarian-Universalists in general — whom I commend for a refreshingly candid honesty, decency, and straight-forward dealing that contrasts very favorably with the dishonesty, the indecency, and the crooked two-timing and double-dealing that seems to be an epidemic in the Protestant mainline these days and for some time past.



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John M.

posted May 29, 2010 at 11:14 pm


Rod, you may have a point but I think your tone is cruel and snarky here. Are you demanding that no clergy person ever have any doubts? Sorry but few human beings can say that, and clergy are humans above all.
In addition, I would think you would approve of the pastor who understands that Christianity is the basis of liberal democracy (small ‘l’, small ‘d’.) It’s a point you have been making for years, isn’t it?
I serve a church where our self-description is a church for “people of all faiths and of uncertain faith,” and as their pastoral counselor, I fit in quite well because I can give voice to my doubts, as can the congregants, and we struggle with them together.
There may be a level of hypocrisy at work among those clergy who hide their doubts and unbelief. But perhaps the real problem is our unrealistic expectations of our spiritual leaders.



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Hector

posted May 29, 2010 at 11:33 pm


John M,
This unspeakable ‘Wes’ character doesn’t have ‘doubts’, he appears to be quite sure that his scandalous denials of Christian faith are correct.
And no, Christianity isn’t ‘the basis’ of liberal democracy. Christianity is too big a thing to be pigeonholed into any political system. It’s compatible with liberal democracy, it’s also compatible with socialism, with monarchy, and with many other forms of political organisation. The nature of political ideologies, even the best of them, is that they tend to run with one aspect of natural law at the expence of other aspects. Liberal democracy, for example, upholds the good of freedom at the expense of other goods; other ideologies do likewise.
This is probably inevitable in a fallen world, but it means that Christianity always needs to offer a critique of the prevailing political ideology. In a monarchic age it will appear counter-monarchic, in an aristocratic age it will appear as the champion of human equality, in a socialistic or communistic age it will stand up for individualism, in a liberal democratic age it will stand up for authority, in a modernistic age for tradition, and in a capitalistic age for the dignity of labour. Christianity can never be successfully dragooned into support for any one narrow political ideology, not liberal democracy and not any other ideology either.



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Elena Grell

posted May 30, 2010 at 12:10 am


Bravo, Hector! Very well-said! And all of it true and very much in need of being heard …



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Broken Yogi

posted May 30, 2010 at 12:34 am


I seem to recall two relevant teachings of Jesus:
“He who is without sin shall cast the first stone.”
And, when asked how others would recognize his true followers:
“You will know them by their love.”
Pretty much sums up the issues here.



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Hector

posted May 30, 2010 at 6:35 am


Broken Yogi,
Jesus also had some relevant teachings about ‘hirelings’, i.e. shepherds of the flock who don’t believe in the Faith, but stay in it for a paycheck.
“But he that is a hireling, and not the shepherd, whose own the sheep are not, seeth the wolf coming, and leaveth the sheep, and fleeth; and the wolf catcheth them, and scattereth the sheep.”



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Roger

posted May 30, 2010 at 10:34 am


There seems to be a real lack of charity here.
You yourself have movingly described the pain of being in a church in some of whose central tenets you no longer believe – its recommendations to look at those old posts of yours that brought me here in the first place.
Graham Greene, Peter de Vries, Georges Bernanos and others have written great books about pastors who lose some or all of their faith and yet in their own way continue to serve God and their congregations.
I think the problem you have with these examples are that they seem quite unable to present themselves as people in a cruel existential predicament – so decadent has our society become that to be a pastor without faith is no more problematic than being a marketing manager who no longer believes in his product.
In a culture where seriousness is profoundly suspect these poor lost souls can’t even see themselves as such.
And your very perceptive in identifying economics as a key part of the problem – although of course if we lived in a genuine welfare state where hanging on to your pension wasn’t such a matter of life and death (literally in the US where your health insurance disappears wit the job) there’d be no problem at all – they’d cheerfully admit they made the wrong career choice and go off and retrain to do something more useful with their lives without potentially ruining their and their families lives.



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Franklin Evans

posted May 30, 2010 at 11:44 am


Elena, I’m posting this only to serve as a balance for those who may read our exchange later.
I found your expressed lack of respect for and care about the fate of Christian missionaries to be both offensive and a truly bizarre non-sequitor in the context for our conversation…
That would be out of context. My original context was Christian missionaries essentially invading a country that has already shown direct and physical hostility towards them with laws and a history of previous Christians being arrested. That you ignore that distinction in your reaction and reply gives me more than enough to agree that you and I have nothing more to say to one another in this context. I hope we can interact on other topics and tangents in a more fruitful way.



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Elena Grell

posted May 30, 2010 at 1:20 pm


Franklin,
Shortly after Hitler being voted in, Germany had already shown direct and physical hostility toward Jews and toward friends of Jews and a history of Jews and friends of Jews being persecuted.
It would seem to follow from your logic that you have no respect for or regard for the fates of friends of Jews in the Nazi period in Germany, who knew what they were in for in acting as they did and got what was coming to them.
And I still don’t have a clue what your lack of respect and regard for the fates of certain Christian missionaries has to do with the matter at hand.
Nor do I have a clue what point you are trying to make to me, other than that you don’t like something or other that I’ve had to say or how I’ve said.
If you’ve point is just that you disagree with me, well, fine, ok, you’ve made your point.
Beyond that, I’m not sure what it is that you want from me.



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Franklin Evans

posted May 30, 2010 at 1:29 pm


Elena, I’m content to come to an agree-to-disagree point with you. There’s a basic breakdown in communication here, and I’m quite willing to own half of it.
I have a general problem with being taken out of context. That you still don’t follow my logic even in context is again something I’m willing to own.
Perhaps, since we both feel so strongly about the original topic, our feelings prevent us from expressing our thoughts well enough for the other to grasp. I’d rather move on than belabor the point. Maybe, with others posting here, one of us will find a new way to state our points that will work better for the other based on what others write.



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Broken Yogi

posted May 30, 2010 at 4:13 pm


“But he that is a hireling, and not the shepherd, whose own the sheep are not, seeth the wolf coming, and leaveth the sheep, and fleeth; and the wolf catcheth them, and scattereth the sheep.”
I think the analogy here is to Jesus himself as “shepherd”, and he “hireling” is to a false God, or anyone who tries to take Jesus’ place in a Christian’s life. It’s a warning to follow Jesus, and no one else. Priests and pastors are not substitutes for Jesus. All of them are merely pointers to him, and none should be followed in place of him. In that respect, even faithful priests and ministers are “hirelings” if we imbue them with any authority or power over us or use them as a refuge. It is only Jesus who is to be a genuine refuge and shepherd. And thus, priests who lack faith – which to a serious degree is all of them – do us no serious harm, since they are not our shepherds to begin with.



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Chris Schaefer

posted May 30, 2010 at 5:52 pm


A century ago, a Spanish philosopher wrote a novella describing this various phenomenon. Miguel Unamuno portrayed it in all its complexity and its irony and, of course, its tragedy.



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John M.

posted May 30, 2010 at 7:30 pm


Sorry, but this thread has devolved into a pile of crap, just one more reason to bash mainline Protestantism. Whatever. There is spiritual rot everywhere. Own it in your own tradition. This is just ugly.



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Hector

posted May 30, 2010 at 9:58 pm


Re: Sorry, but this thread has devolved into a pile of crap, just one more reason to bash mainline Protestantism.
Huh?
I’m Episcopalian, John M. As such my church is often included in the mainline Protestant label, although many Episcopalians including myself consider ourselves more in the broadly Catholic tradition then in the Protestant tradition. Regardless, I’d freely admit that the Episcopal church has far too many of these unbelieving priests. (I don’t believe that anything close to the majority or plurality of Episcopal priests are functionally post-Christian, as all the priests I’ve ever met were fairly orthodox or moderate in their beliefs, and some would rival your typical Catholic priest in terms of what they believe, but I’d also acknowledge that even a few unbelieving priests is too many). I’m more than happy to make these criticisms against my own church (though I wouldn’t really call Spong and Pike members of my own ‘tradition’ in anything more then a purely administrative sense). I’m very much launching these criticisms as an insider, which I think qualifies me to do so.



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Hector

posted May 30, 2010 at 10:03 pm


Re: I think the analogy here is to Jesus himself as “shepherd”, and he “hireling” is to a false God, or anyone who tries to take Jesus’ place in a Christian’s life. It’s a warning to follow Jesus, and no one else. Priests and pastors are not substitutes for Jesus. All of them are merely pointers to him, and none should be followed in place of him. In that respect, even faithful priests and ministers are “hirelings” if we imbue them with any authority or power over us or use them as a refuge. It is only Jesus who is to be a genuine refuge and shepherd. And thus, priests who lack faith – which to a serious degree is all of them – do us no serious harm, since they are not our shepherds to begin with.
Wrongo, Yogi. Ever heard the term ‘Alter Christus’? Ever done any exegesis of the instruction He gave to Peter, “Feed my sheep”? Ever reflected on the authority Jesus Christ explicitly gave to the apostles to hear confessions, confect the eucharist, conduct exorcisms, teach and preach the gospel, baptize, heal and anoint the sick, and so forth? Ever thought about what ‘pastor’ means? Hint, it means ‘shepherd’.
Priests and pastors are our temporary shepherds until Christ gets back; they have that authority direct from Christ himself, who gave it to them. And they have the obligations to be good shepherds of the sort that Christ was, not hirelings. Of course Christ is THE good shepherd, as he told us, but that doesn’t mean that clergymen should not be shepherds of a sort as well, and if they are going to be shepherds then they ought to be dedicated and faithful ones, not bloody hirelings.



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Broken Yogi

posted May 30, 2010 at 11:26 pm


Yes, Hector, I’ve heard of that. And I am not of the school that acknowledges apostolic succession or any authority that stands between any man and Christ. The problems you are concerned about are the creations of man, not Christ, and by that I mean specifically the creation of an elaborate network of self-affirming authorities and churches and scriptures that make men into sheep, rather than sons of God. I am not a sheep, so I am not “molested” by priests who have lost faith, because my faith is not dependent on them. I feel nothing but compassion for those who have fallen into the error of either assuming authority or falling prey to it. I don’t even feel resentful of the wolves, because they too are just poor sinners who have allowed their own desire to be authorities to come between themselves and Christ. We do not need temporary shepherd, because Christ has not left us. He is always with us. If you simply look, you will find this to be true. If you do not, but rely instead on someone else and make them your authority, you will not know that Christ is present among us, but it will still be true. This does not mean that we don’t need our fellow brothers and sisters in Christ. And that is all a priest or minister is, with all the faults that we have ourselves. If they think they are more than that, or we imagine them to be, at least one of us has fallen into a delusion. But even that is no grave sin, in that Christ remains present here to each of us even during that whole time. Recognizing his presence here is the only “second coming” we need.



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Fr. J

posted May 30, 2010 at 11:48 pm


I’m coming late to this discussion, so forgive me if I repeat anything that’s already been said. But this survey, and the responses of the people in, they don’t surprise me at all. And that saddens me, deeply.
It is sad but true how many pastors and priests lose their faith in God but then just keep on trucking. In some cases it’s because they value a kind of politics over any other consideration. But for most, it’s just a sense of ennui about what one is supposed to do.
Rod, you hit the nail on the head by highlighting that bit about the seminaries. Textual criticism will be the death of us. And I say this as someone who believes that historical criticism and form criticism and all the rest have great value and shouldn’t be abandoned. But the problem is that these are ALL THAT IS TAUGHT in biblical classes in many seminaries today. And when the only approach that one ever learns towards the Bible is criticism, then all you know how to do is be a critic. Is it any wonder you lose your faith in what the Bible teaches? Imagine going into a marriage with the only approach you know that of constantly criticizing your wife and questioning her motives and her honesty. It would be a short walk to divorce.
But what this sort of thing really does is re-emphasize for me that the primary calling for so many of us who are called to pastoral leadership in this generation is one of catechesis. This is a time when the faith needs be taught anew (as opposed to teaching a new faith). It’s going to take brave men and women to answer that call, but we have to pray that it will come to pass, because people are thirsty for truth and have no idea why. These sort of pastors are raised up out of congregations where they were never taught the truth, never taught that one can be thoughtful and intelligent and still hold to the faith once delivered to the saints. We have to reclaim that.



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hlvanburen

posted May 31, 2010 at 2:32 am


OK…help me understand this. Your complaint is that the seminaries today are TOO focused on the realities of how the Christian faith developed over the centuries and how the Bible came into existence. Your complaint is that when the seminaries teach current, credible, significant information on the origin and disposition of the various elements that make up the text base of the Bible, this somehow damages the “calling” of that individual.
Well, the choice seems clear. You should not choose ministers from graduates of seminaries. You should instead choose ministers from those people who have earnest callings and believe as you do. If sending these candidates to seminary and exposing them to the truth of textual criticism and history is unacceptable to you, then don’t do it.
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Charles Cosimano

posted May 31, 2010 at 4:54 am


I know I’m taking my life in my hands coming late into this, but I think that Rod is missing something very important. In mainline Protestant churches, the pastor is not regarded as a leader or an authority. That is not how the members of those churches think.
Ok, I know that is a generalization and no doubt there are any number of contrary examples, but the demographic of mainline Protestantism is not one that has much use for any authority, much less spiritual authority. The pastor is a master of ceremonies, a performer of the necessary functions of his job. But he is not viewed as being in any way superior to the members of his flock. The reason a sermon in one of those churches is likely to be more a series of questions rather than assertions is very simple. The congregation has no interest in assertions. Those are not followers in those pews. If they don’t agree with the sermon they are not going to be back, there are more interesting things to do on a Sunday morning.
For that reason the notion that the unbelieving pastor is leading his flock down the path to perdition is simply not true. The flock already knows that there is no such thing as perdition and the pastor being an atheist might be a bit of a suprise, but no reason not to invite him over for a few beers after church. On the contrary, they would probably view any serious concern about such things as a sign of base and vile superstition. After all, what the pastor believes really is not that important. What matters to the congregants is that they are free to follow their own beliefs in a social context that makes them comfortable, which is, of course, all that a church really is.
And as the captcha says, argots back, which is comforting to know that Argot is not missing.



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Jon

posted May 31, 2010 at 7:46 am


Re: I am not a sheep
Shall we assume you are equally offended by the parables Christ told likening the Faithful to sheep?



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Hector

posted May 31, 2010 at 8:05 am


Re: But the problem is that these are ALL THAT IS TAUGHT in biblical classes in many seminaries today. And when the only approach that one ever learns towards the Bible is criticism, then all you know how to do is be a critic. Is it any wonder you lose your faith in what the Bible teaches?
Good point, Fr. J. I also think part of the problem, that we shouldn’t lose sight of, is that intellectual and moral errors tend to propagate the equal and opposite error. For example, as yesterday reminds us, the excesses of Nestorianism (denying the unity of Christ) led to the excesses of Monophysitism in the other direction (denying the duality of Christ), which is why the Athanasian creed had to refute both errors: “Not by confusion of natures, but by unity of person”. In a similar vein, the errors of an evangelical Protestant understanding of scripture, which denies its historicity and sees it as a literal account straight from God, led to the opposite error of liberal modernism, which sees the Scripture ONLY as a historical document and denies that it’s also a product of the Divine. I briefly skimmed the Dennett article (though I avoid reading Dennett’s burblings except when I have no choice) and it’s striking that, for example, the unspeakable ‘Wes’ grew up in a literalist Southern Baptist household and then became an atheist. If you grow up believing that to deny the reality of, say, Noah’s Ark is to deny the whole of the Bible, then it’s not surprising that you would become an atheist when you realise that Noah’s Ark didn’t really happen.



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Elena Grell

posted May 31, 2010 at 10:53 am


Hector,
I think it would be truer to historical fact to say that the Evangelical protestant understanding of scripture is a reaction to and an over-compensation against the liberal modernist reading of scripture more than the other way around.
But you are right in noting that Evangelical protestant fundamentalism and liberal modernist fundamentalism cum atheist fundamentalism are flip-sides of one same coin.
The sibling rivalry between the two has tended to push each one toward more and more untenable extremes.
That being said, the Evangelical protestant extreme at least has the virtue of being the closer to the truth, as compared to the liberal modernist cum atheist extreme, which is hardly true at all.



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Mrs. Smitherlee

posted May 31, 2010 at 2:33 pm


I agree with the author. If there is no God, then those pastors aren’t doing anything wrong except deluding themselves for filthy lucre. BUT WHAT IF THERE IS A GOD?
I have learned to judge myself by God’s standards and I no longer point a condemning finger in anyone else’s direction. However, to sit idly by while sin is occurring under my nose is just as much a sin as if I were doing the sinning. Shame on those pastors and others in the study! There IS a God and He sees and knows their hearts. They WILL reap what they have SOWN.
Why not have a heart to heart talk with Him? He is still around! Plus, the Bible tells us that ALL know of God’s existence; many simply refuse to believe. Those people will be judged accordingly.



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Broken Yogi

posted May 31, 2010 at 2:59 pm


“Shall we assume you are equally offended by the parables Christ told likening the Faithful to sheep? ”
It’s definitely among the most misleading metaphors in the Bible, applied in any contemporary context to churches and their membership. What Christ asks us to do, to love one another as he loved us, simply cannot be done by sheep. Nor can it be done by a man who acts like a sheep. The parables are merely that, and they refer to Christ as the shepherd, not any priesthood. The idea is to follow Christ obediently and in faith, not to submit to the authority of any priesthood or intermediary. The whole problem here is to confuse Christ with human authorities and the notion that people should literally be treated like sheep by those human authorities. One submits one’s will to the living Christ, not to any human intermediary who tells you that Christ is dead and can’t lead you until he “returns”, so they will step in and take on his role for now. That’s a fraudulent claim by “false prophets”, and those who follow such people are only going to be misled. Unfortunately, this is all too often not only the case, but sanctioned as holy and necessary.
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Hector

posted May 31, 2010 at 4:25 pm


Broken Yogi,
St. John the Divine tells us that when Christ returns, there will be no more need for churches and priests since we will enjoy personal and direct connection with God. “And I saw no temple therein: for the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are the temple of it” Revelation 21:22. That clearly implies that in the here and now, before Christ returns, we DO need (in the main) churches, priests and intermediaries. If we could all enjoy direct experience of Christ right now, St. John would not have made a point of telling us that this was something we could expect in the afterlife.
Mind you, I don’t claim, as do some, that the ONLY way to come to Christ is through the apostolic church. Some people can and do have direct experience of God on their own, quite outside the church. I don’t believe that everyone, at every time in their lives, needs an intermediary. But the church does have an important role, most notably as the provider of the sacraments, and for a great many people, God reaches them through the church and its sacraments, not through personal experience.
Re: That being said, the Evangelical protestant extreme at least has the virtue of being the closer to the truth, as compared to the liberal modernist cum atheist extreme, which is hardly true at all.
Yes and no. With regard to the question, ‘Did Noah build a literal ark’, or ‘Did today’s animals evolve from simpler life forms’, the liberal modernist is closer to the truth then the Evangelical. With regard to the question, “Was the Mother of God a virgin when Jesus was conceived’, or ‘Did Jesus literally raise Lazarus to life four days after he died’, the Evangelical is closer to the truth then the modernist.
I’d also venture to suggest that on still other questions, like ‘Was the Mother of God a lifelong virgin’, both the evangelical and the modernist are wrong.



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Broken Yogi

posted May 31, 2010 at 6:42 pm


Hector,
St. John the Divine was not Jesus, and he doesn’t speak for him. Neither does Peter or John. I have respect for those people and the scriptures they and others wrote, but all of that is merely their own best recollections and also a fair amount of creativity and editing. If Christ had wanted to leave behind an authoritative version of his life and teachings, he’d have written one himself. That he did not I find both telling and instructive – that we are left to grapple with his presence first and foremost, and not his words or biography. Certainly we are not to take the interpretations and stories of others as authoritative, or at face value. That was not Christ’s message to us, it was an unfortunate turn that many churches took to one degree or another over time. We need remember the Grand Inquisitor, after all, and take that criticism seriously.
The modern scholarly approach in my view is a good thing, even if it upsets the applecart of tradition, authority, and belief. Those whose faith has been based on the authority of scripture and tradition need to have their faith upset and even lost for a time, so that they can find true faith in Christ’s enduring presence, and take their instruction from Him through love and devotion. That is of course a hard path, but not one which even the most ordinary of men is incapable of. It means living by direct faith rather than indirect authority. Those who argue that in the interim we need authority are simply weak in their faith, and leading others to remain weak in their faith as well. That is not Christ’s message to us. We are to love others as he loved us – unconditionally, not on the basis of authority, but in direct response to Christ’s unconditional love for us.
There is of course a place for human hierarchies of some kind in any organized endeavor, and I’m not against organized Christianity at all. Those hierarchies must simply understand that they are merely helpful servants, and not authoritative intermediaries, and that it is Christ who is our shepherd, and not anyone else. Much mischief has been wrought by those who preached otherwise, and those who followed them rather than Christ himself.
I see Christianity in a positive crisis at the moment, not a negative one. Casting reasonable doubts on the authority of both scripture and priests and ministers is a healthy thing, in that these were never supposed to be our guide. I see a the real possibility of a genuinely faithful Christianity not based on dogma, authority, or intermediaries, but a loving response to the living Christ. This will of course upset the traditional churches, but that is good also. They need to be upset and re-ordered based on the actual living of Christ’s teachings, so that we can recognize servants of Christ by their love, rather than by their claims of authority and power, all of which are inevitably abused.
So I’m not offended by these minsters who have fallen into doubt. They are probably going through something positive, not negative, and we need to forgive that, just as we need to forgive all the authorities who claim faith but have committed even more grave errors in usurping Christ’s role as our shepherd. The old ways of being a Christian are indeed threatened on many fronts, but that is not a bad thing at all, it is very good. I would not consider it a positive thing if they went remained or went back to the old mistakes of seeing themselves as Divine intermiaries or interim shepherds. Something radically different has to occur if Christianity is to grow and prosper spiritually in the modern age.



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Your Name

posted May 31, 2010 at 9:45 pm


Broken Yogi,
It seems the only person allowed to make value judgments is you (and Jesus of course ;=). I find it odd that your Jesus happens to reflect the individualistic, find the spark within, autonomous gnosticism mood of the age more than the God who saves in community and prefigures the Church through the Jewish people, the shepard who entrusts Peter to “tend His sheep” or the inspiration who dares St Paul to call the Church, the Body of Christ. But atlast I guess I need to grow.



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Broken Yogi

posted May 31, 2010 at 11:31 pm


I’m not against your making value judgments. What matters is the basis for those judgments. Is it based on authority, or the living relationship to Christ? Resorting to Christ is not “individualistic”, and submitting to secondary authority is not communitarianism. The basis for genuine Christian community is one’s devotion to Christ and one’s determination to love others as one’s self, not one’s willingness to be shepherded by authorities who claim to act on Christ’s behalf, and to scapegoat those who don’t obey those authorities. The spark is in Christ, and yes indeed, Christ is within us, as he himself said. Do you sincerely doubt that the Kingdom of Heaven is within? That is not new-ageist individualism, that is Jesus pointing the way to find him. Don’t let anyone get in the way, no matter how authoritative they sound.



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FellowTraveler

posted June 7, 2010 at 12:00 am


Broken Yogi,
As a sincere and deep believer with a passionate relationship with Christ, I enjoyed your remarks. I too believe living by faith and giving your life over completely to the will of God and loving others compassionately as Jesus did is the true foundation of ministry. It is the common thread woven through every major religion in the world.
Best,
FellowTraveler



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Rev. Edgar Welty

posted June 7, 2010 at 5:06 am


I don’t find hard to believe that many in the churches do not believe in many basics of the faith. Many people come to be with their friends and find ethical teaching about the golden rule more important affirming theological claims. But to lead worship, administer the sacraments and perform ceremonies such as weddings and funerals without belief is problematic. How does one call for a divine blessing for a couple if one does not believe in God? How does one comfort the family at a funeral if one does not believe in the afterlife?
But I find the notion that politically liberal pastors are more likely to teach a non-Christian agenda than political conservatives to be unlikely. Conservative see America as a shining city on a hill blessed with “Free Enterprise” But Acts 2:44-5 describes the first church as, “All who believed were together and had all things in common, they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need.” Right wing mega-churches celebrate personal wealth but Jesus said, in Matthew 19:23-24 “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for some one who is rich to enter into the kingdom of heaven.”
I don’t think these citations, which liberals favor, are the last word on what is to be Christian. I think Christian leaders should affirm the early creeds and then be modest about claims about which political agenda is Christian.



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Phillip Smith

posted June 23, 2010 at 8:23 am


As another of the best cotemprorary sholars at the moment, Walter Breugermann paraphrased Jesus in “Living the Questions 2″, in relation of the feeding of the five thousand to his companions(notice how I said companions, and not disciples, as disciples implies a one sided mission in which we don’t have to do anything, just leave it up to G-D) “You don’t get it, do you”. I’m sad to say, that that, with the greatest of respect, applies to Rob Dreher, and traditionalists,like him. These vitriolic attacks on Bishop John Shelby Spong can not go unchallenged. Contrary to what you think, we Progressive Christians, such as Spong, and even myself actually you’d be surprised to know that we DO believe in God, but not a G-D out there or up there, judging us from on high.



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Rod Dreher

posted June 23, 2010 at 8:35 am


Alas for you, Philip, you don’t believe in God, at least not in the God of the Bible. But He believes in you all — which is a very fortunate things for your sake, because fewer and fewer people do.



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anti_supernaturalist

posted June 30, 2010 at 12:22 pm


**if consistency is wanted, why talk to xians?
Doublethink: to hold simultaneously two opinions which cancelled out, knowing them to be contradictory and believing in both of them — Orwell (1984)
To know and not to know, to be conscious of complete truthfulness while telling carefully constructed lies, to hold simultaneously two opinions which cancelled out, knowing them to be contradictory and believing in both of them, to use logic against logic, to repudiate morality while laying claim to it, to believe that democracy was impossible and that the Party was the guardian of democracy, to forget whatever it was necessary to forget, then to draw it back into memory again at the moment when it was needed, and then promptly to forget it again: and above all, to apply the same process to the process itself. That was the ultimate subtlety: consciously to induce unconsciousness, and then, once again, to become unconscious of the act of hypnosis you had just performed. Even to understand the word ‘doublethink’ involved the use of doublethink.
http://www.newspeakdictionary.com/ns-dict.html



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