Biggest Threat to Religion? Clergy People Coming Out as Atheists | Belief | AlterNet. (from a member – some clergy project members are Canadian Humanists, as well!)
What happens when a clergy person — a minister, a priest, a rabbi, an imam — realizes he doesn’t believe in God?
And what happens when he says it out loud? What happens when they find each other; when they support each other in coping with their crises, when they help each other with resources and job counseling and other practical assistance? What happens when they encourage each other to come out?…
That’s what the Clergy Project is finding out. In recent months and years, atheists have been all over the news. But over the last few weeks, a burst of media attention has been focused on atheists of an unexpected stripe: clergy members. And in particular, attention is going to the Clergy Project, an online meeting place and support group that exists specifically for these unexpected additions to the ranks of the godless
The project was inspired by the 2010 pilot study by Daniel C. Dennett and Linda LaScola, “Preachers Who Are Not Believers” (PDF), which exposed and explored the surprisingly common phenomenon of non-believing clergy. The need to give these people support — and if possible, an exit strategy — was immediately recognized in the atheist community, and starter funding for the Clergy Project was quickly provided by the Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science. Founded in March of 2011 with 52 members, the Clergy Project currently has over 270 members — and since recent news stories about it began appearing, in outlets from MSNBC to NPR to the Religious News Service to CNN, applications to join have been going up at an even more dramatic rate….
For most believers, religion isn’t something they think about very carefully. Most believers stay with whatever religion they were brought up with as children. Most believers are just trying to get on with their day-to-day lives, and if difficult or complicated questions about their faith occur to them, they often assume that their religious leaders know the answers… the way we assume that pilots know how to keep airplanes in the sky. As Lawrence Hunter said, many believers “are simply unable or unwilling to do the work to read and research their beliefs and other aspects of their lives. It’s easier to be told who to believe, vote for and buy from, etc. Religion is the balm that soothes difficult questions.”
But if religious authorities start acknowledging that they don’t know, either? If religious authorities start acknowledging that they have the exact same questions, and haven’t found any good answers? If religious authorities start acknowledging that they’ve just been making it up as they go along? If religious authorities begin to abandon the tacit agreement among themselves that these questions and doubts should be kept among themselves, and should not be shared with their followers? If religious authorities start saying, out loud, that the best answer they’ve found to these questions is, “God doesn’t exist”? If religious authorities start publicly abandoning their religion? And if they start doing this in significant numbers?
It’s going to be much, much harder for ordinary believers to hang on to their beliefs.
I was in the audience at the American Atheists convention when Teresa MacBain came out. It was one of the most dramatic, most powerful moments I’ve experienced. There aren’t that many people in the world who have that much courage, that much integrity, that much fierce passion for the truth. There aren’t that many people in the world who are willing to risk losing their families, their communities, their stature, the emotional and philosophical foundation of their lives, even their very livelihood… because they prioritize the truth over their personal well-being.
These people are an inspiration. Regardless of what you think of religion or atheism, they are an inspiration. And there is clearly a place in our society for them. Listen to Lawrence Hunter: “If I were a pastor, who had complete control over my church, I would take the title of ‘church’ [and change it] to ‘community center.’ I wouldn’t preach from the bible, I would quote from numerous sources of literature and wisdom. As an African American I would focus on neighborhood issues, such as poverty, lack of education and a host of other ills. Gone would be silly rituals of baptism and communion. There’s so much that churches can and should do to help their communities, but choose to ignore them.”
There is clearly a place in our society for these people. And the Clergy Project is trying to create it.
Could this affect more than just these clergy people and their followers? Could it change how society as a whole thinks and feels about religion?
That’s what the Clergy Project is finding out. In recent months and years, atheists have been all over the news. But over the last few weeks, a burst of media attention has been focused on atheists of an unexpected stripe: clergy members. And in particular, attention is going to the Clergy Project, an online meeting place and support group that exists specifically for these unexpected additions to the ranks of the godless. (read more online)