What Should Pastors Do When They Don’t Believe What They Preach? March 17, 2010

What Should Pastors Do When They Don’t Believe What They Preach?

It’s a question that you have to ask anytime you hear pastors say something ridiculous: Do they really believe that? Sadly, the answer is usually yes… but it’s not always the case.

Author Daniel Dennett and clinical social worker Linda LaScola have interviewed several current pastors (current!) who have doubts about what they preach:

With the help of a grant from a small foundation, administered through Tufts University, we set out to find some closeted nonbelievers who would agree to be intensively — and, of course, confidentially–interviewed… For this pilot study we managed to identify five brave pastors, all still actively engaged with parishes, who were prepared to trust us with their stories. All five are Protestants, with master’s level seminary education. Three represented liberal denominations (the liberals) and two came from more conservative, evangelical traditions (the literals)

They admit this is a self-selected survey, but what is amazing is the fact that any — in fact, several — pastors don’t believe what they have made their living preaching.

I wanted to know where they found these pastors:

Ultimately, the five participants came from two sources: two from a list of clergy who had originally contacted the Center for Progressive Christianity (TCPC) for general information, and three from people who had personally contacted Dan Barker, co-director of the Freedom from Religion Foundation.

You can read what the pastors had to say here (PDF).

The quotations from the pastors are heartbreaking. In some cases, they’ve been entrenched in their faith for so long that they don’t know what else to do. As one pastor puts it, it’s like trying to switch your major when you’re so close to graduating: Why not just finish up what you started?

Once you’re locked into the role, it’s very difficult to leave.

Here’s what one pastor said:

“Here’s how I’m handling my job on Sunday mornings: I see it as play acting. I kind of see myself as taking on a role of a believer in a worship service, and performing. Because I know what to say. I know how to pray publicly. I can lead singing. I love singing. I don’t believe what I’m saying anymore in some of these songs. But I see it as taking on the role and performing. Maybe that’s what it takes for me to get myself through this, but that’s what I’m doing.”

He calls it acting. I call it being a hypocrite. He’s lying to himself and everyone in his church.

I know this isn’t the same thing, but I entered college planning on becoming a doctor. I was accepted into a special program that gave me a “free seat” in medical school right out of high school. If I maintained a certain undergrad GPA and earned a certain score on my MCATs, they’d retain my med school seat and I wouldn’t have to go through all the trouble of applying everywhere.

I did all that. And I went to med school. I honestly never even considered any other careers.

During that first year, my grades were fine, but the passion and interest I had just went away. I had been teaching MCAT classes full-time and I loved it.

Teaching made me really happy. Medicine stressed me out.

I couldn’t imagine leaving med school, though. How would I break that to my family? Everyone who knew me in high school knew I had wanted to become a doctor… hell, even if I wanted to become a teacher, I didn’t know how to go about making that happen.

Oh, and try telling your girlfriend that you’re thinking about leaving med school to become a teacher. Woo! That’s fun.

Anyway, I knew I had to do it or I’d regret it. I probably could’ve been a good doctor, but I’d always wonder about the alternatives.

I took a year off of school to explore teaching. I got certified. I moved home for a bit. I started working with atheist groups more. The eBay thing happened during that time off.

It took two (emotionally tough) years in all, but I eventually started teaching. It’s been three years now. I’m *so* glad I made the change.

I understand what it’s like to be in a position you feel trapped in… you have a lot of time and effort (and money) invested in your current life, and changing it is a big risk.

But if these pastors don’t believe what they’re preaching, they owe it to themselves and their congregations to step away and try something else.

Here’s what another pastor said:

He is planning to leave the ministry as soon he finds another way to support his family. He would leave sooner, if he had enough money to pay off his debts.

“If somebody said, ‘Here’s $200,000,’ I’d be turning my notice in this week, saying, ‘A month from now is my last Sunday.’ Because then I can pay off everything.”

In the meantime, he is quietly pursuing another career. His wife is aware of his plan to switch careers, but he hasn’t told her yet of his reason for the change. He thinks she will be both upset and supportive of whatever he wants to do. Mutual support has been the pattern in their marriage.

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if an atheist group could offer a program for current pastors who wanted to leave their faith to get back on their feet in another line of work?

What do all these pastors have in common? The authors write:

The loneliness of non-believing pastors is extreme. They have no trusted confidantes to reassure them, to reflect their own musings back to them, to provide reality checks. As their profiles reveal, even their spouses are often unaware of their turmoil. Why don’t they resign their posts and find a new life? They are caught in a trap, cunningly designed to harness both their best intentions and their basest fears to the task of immobilizing them in their predicament. Their salaries are modest and the economic incentive is to stay in place, to hang on by their fingernails and wait for retirement when they get their pension.

They need help. They need to know it’s ok to leave the church. It may take a while to get back up on their feet, but there are other places out there that need their skills — communication, counseling, teaching, leading.

If you have some time, read this document.

And you can read what other commenters have to say about this general situation at On Faith.

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  • I wrote an Examiner article addressing this very topic. If anyone is interested in checking it out.

    On Faith: Disbelief in the pulpit

  • Reminds me of Jean Meslier, a Catholic priest who lived in the 17th and 18th centuries, and was too (legitimately) afraid to come out as an atheist. He wrote the Testament, explaining his true beliefs, and made sure it was not discovered until after his death in 1729.

    Luke at Common Sense Atheism is blogging an ongoing review of Meslier’s Testament. (Only one instalment so far.) It breaks my heart to think of how lonely he must have been. What can we do to make sure modern Mesliers don’t suffer the same isolation?

    I agree that a fund to help them out of their predicament would be a worthwhile endeavour. Are there career resources out there for ex-pastors to find a new path?

  • GSW

    What if you had discovered that the medical school you were going to had been training you up to sell coloured water and horoscopes?

    Would you have found leaving easier?

    Once a shaman realises he is selling coloured water – he should leave. Immediately!
    Anything else is unethical.

  • Ron in Houston

    Well another factor is that it’s not uncommon for a head pastor to be making 6 figures. Plus, it’s not like a degree in theology has much marketability outside of church or academia.

    I’ve seen a number of fairly agnostic pastors. A lot of them didn’t worry too much about it and simply focused on the human side of the equation. Instead of focusing on whatever doubts they may have had they focused their energy on giving comfort to folks in distress.

  • As we recently discovered after her death, Mother Teresa admitted in her diaries that she had come to doubt religious dogma, and possibly even god’s existence. I bet this sort of thing is quite common.

  • vespo

    I think it’s really sad…

  • One possible profession is business marketing. Both preaching and marketing are in the business of getting people to do something that they might otherwise not do — believe in something without evidence or buy something they might not need.

    Some of the “tricks of the trade” of preaching are probably transferable to marketing.

  • Carlie

    Ron – four days ago Hemant posted a salary listing that had the average clergy at 39k. In general only pastors of megachurches make enough for it to be a real money proposition rather than just sustainability. The real problem is the second one you mentioned – that they aren’t well trained for anything else.

  • There must be many alternative careers for pastors. Their on the job skill set (public speaking, singing, dressing up in gowns, humour, etc (I’m guessing because I’ve not been to church)) must be useful for a number of things. If they can dance as well….

    To be fair I hope that all pastors eventually lose their jobs because the job ceases to have any purpose. Like blacksmiths you might find them at historical fairs or some corner of the country plying their trade but they won’t be in every village and town. Why would people need pastors when they don’t believe in gods.

    Sigh, one can dream…

    On a more serious notes retraining is the key. If you are in a job that you hate then find another job or retrain in a different career.

    Finally, let this be a lesson to people who are considering a career in pastoring (pasturing? preaching? god bothering? I dunno).

    This may seem unsympathetic but I feel more sympathy for the people that they are lying to every week.

  • Tim Carroll

    Well, I don’t know too much about it, but I wonder if they could get a gig with the Unitarians.

  • Christophe Thill

    “Wouldn’t it be wonderful if an atheist group could offer a program for current pastors who wanted to leave their faith to get back on their feet in another line of work?”

    You mean, like a rehabilitation program ?

  • Sam

    They could teach. I know a professor who became an atheist while studying in seminary to be a pastor. He took his degree and now teaches World Religions, Biblical Criticism, Critical Thinking and Bible as Literature. And also has a pretty cool podcast and blog: http://www.doubtreligion.blogspot.com

  • Jagyr

    Or in the case of nuns, a dehabitation program.

  • What I see as being the most beneficial to society is continuing in their job, but not giving religious sermons anymore. Give humanist sermons. Guide the congregation into rational thinking. It would have to be a slow gradual change but, it could work (at least for some of them). My uncle has been a minister for decades, and most of this sermons are entirely secular. Of course, depending on the church, they may demand another preacher. But, it’s worth a try.

  • Ron in Houston


    Actually it’s like drowning in the lake that average 3 feet deep.

    In my former life I was a church treasurer. I’ve also designed compensation packages for clergy. Yeah, the average for all clergy could be 39K but the head guys at a lot of churches usually make over 70K. It doesn’t take a very large church for the head guy to make over 100K.

    The salaries in the “mega” churches are actually even more obscene. 200 to 300 K or more is quite common.

    Somewhere buried in some of my old records I’ve got a cross denomination salary survey for clergy. If I have some time, maybe I’ll try to find it, scan it and forward it to Hemant for comment or posting.

  • Ron in Houston

    @ Tim Carroll

    The pay at Unitarian churches tends to be crappy. However, maybe resolving the cognitive dissonance could be worth it.

  • Delphine

    It’s harsh to say they’re hypocrites. I don’t think I can hold it against them for wanting a secure life or to hang on until they get their pension. If you’re 50 and you’ve been counting on your pension all these years for retirement, do you start your savings from scratch and hope you have enough when you’re 65 (you won’t have enough)? Or do you stay put for your pension?

    It’s a sad situation they’re in and I imagine they’re terribly depressed. It would be nice if an atheist group can offer anonymous consultation for these pastors so they can have someone to confide in in safety.

  • Guy G

    Or in the case of nuns, a dehabitation program.


  • odc

    yeah, I wouldn’t think it’s all that uncommon. I have talked with a couple pastors who were at least agnostic, if not full non-believers. And in reality, I’d much rather have them preaching sermons to the churches than the ones that truly believe.

  • Canadiannalberta

    I’m glad I’m not in their situations – I had it in my head when I was younger (I’m only 23, though) to be a nun, but when I started studying to be one, well….I’m glad I actually never had the chance since my parents were too lazy to bring me into town. (I was eighteen) Otherwise I would be trapped too, since my family is Roman Catholic. I think a help program would be wonderful, get them back on their feet, help them identify what they want to do.

  • Angie

    Let’s refrain from calling clergy in this position “hypocrites”. Many of these people entered the church in good faith as believers, and are now reexamining their beliefs. Are we to condemn them for having doubts about past decisions? Are we to criticize them for wanting to keep a roof over their heads and have something to live on when they retire?

    Atheist and agnostic clergy are in a difficult position. Let’s show them some empathy.

  • Killer_Bee

    They’ve got plenty of options which commenters on this thread have already elucidated. There’s no reason to stand up every Sunday and put on a show. The least drastic and most immediately actionable route is to focus the sermons on what they do still believe which can be made into sermon material; undoubtedly more relevant and beneficial than the supernatural aspects of Christianity.
    Church is not useless outside of its underlying mythology. It fulfills a genuine social need for most people as well as providing a platform whence to admonish listeners to persevere in the daily practice of the habits of the social contract that make for a functional society.
    Some people need reminding.

  • I agree that a very viable option is to remain on the job and slowly and subtlety make your sermons more and more secular.

    Although, depending on the congregation, there may be limits on how far one can go. Ask “Naked Pastor” about this. I also personally know one Baptist pastor who confided in me that his sermons are quite a bit more fundamentalist than he really is because he has to give them that way to placate the congregation. Although, he said that he is working on the congregation to drop some of their more extreme views. I’m pretty sure this particular pastor, though, is a believer. He just isn’t quite as vested in all the platitudes of the Religious Right as many of the others in his pews.

  • Another way that the pastor might be able to continue until he builds up either a new skill set, finds a new career or returns to a place of faith would be to host visiting pastors, speakers, etc. that would take the focus off of his own doubt and provide a chance to not have to stand up front and lie if he no longer believes in God.

    In most people’s lives there is a varying degree of faith, doubt and hope in God of any kind. Unfortunately, the surrounding world brings up many doubts, challenges and wonder if it is worth believing in God.

  • I was lucky, in many ways. I was only two years out of seminary when I realized that my faith had no foundation. After a year of study, prayer, reinterpreting the events of my life, and “love your neighbour” sermons (the one thing I still felt confident to preach on), I finally had to admit that I had no way to know anything about any gods, including their existence. The last half of that year was filled with near-suicidal depression, which I eventually confided to a fellow pastor. She insisted I tell the bishop. He got me a Christian councellor to meet with. The Christian councellor was someone with conservative beliefs who I could debate and discuss and doubt without anyone else finding out. I Stumbled across de-Conversion.com and found many others who had left the faith. I even had a back-up career, as I had worked in various libraries while getting an education (not wanting to get into debt). My spouse is a very liberal Christian, and we had no kids to uproot. The church let me stay in the rectory (pastor house) for three full months after resigning (it took me two and a half to find a library job and an apartment). I was so lucky, that it felt like there really was a god, and He was easing my path to deconvert- like His will for me was to not believe in Him. Yeah. Habits of thought can take a long time to die.

  • Hemant: Thank you for sharing your story about med school. Good for you for following your heart. I wish I had done the same (now that I’ve said that I suppose it means I have to pull my finger out and follow my dream).

  • Hemant,

    Thanks for sharing your story about leaving medical school and following your bliss.

    As it so happens, I was also in medical school for a while, dropped out, and ended up getting a Ph.D. in physiology. I then decided not to pursue a career in academia and instead now work as a biomedical engineer in the private sector. Incidentally, I also have a masters degree in biomedical engineering and a BS in Electrical engineering. Being somewhat “over-educated” gives one options in life.

    I would advise anyone considering going in the seminary to have a back-up career (or training). Admittedly, it’s easier to take life-changing chances before you have kids. In my case, I met my future wife in the week after I decided to drop out of medical school… Sometimes interesting things happen during moments of great personal flux.

  • Tom B

    Leaving aside for now the concerns about regularly preaching things you don’t believe, I am very struck by the terrible sense of loneliness and isolation these preachers face. Is this not a perfect example of why the “Don’t believe in God? You are not Alone.” campaign drives are so important? That is a very crucial message to give to those who, for whatever reasons, are not connected to other disbelievers like we are. And it makes it all the more tragic when what should be a message of hope for them is sometimes defaced in such aggressive fashion.

    These stories have certainly convinced me of the value of such outreach messages. It might not be as strident a message as some of us might endorse, but I’m becoming more convinced that it might be the most important message to get out, from a humanitarian standpoint.

    -Tom B

  • Do insurance salesmen believe in insurance. I mean really, how about the used car salesman who has to clear the lot for the boss in order to make his quota. What about Madison Avenue selling almost anything to make a buck. Why should we hold a person, preaching something neither we or they believe in, to a higher standard than the average salesman, excuse me, person. Do you find that knowingly selling defective merchandise or toxic drugs is any more forgivable? The basic thing I see here is that people are people and they do whatever they need to in order to survive. What would I do faced with loss of my only income over an ideal which would impoverish my family, outrage my family and possibly leave my family with not enough to survive on? Am I that noble? Am I that committed? Am I that confident in an economy where it is taking many people three years on unemployment to find any job? Pastors and Priests are people just like the rest of us. How many in their congregations really believe what they preach or live it? I’m not ready to cast the first stone here.

  • I am one of those former pastors. I had a Ph.D. in Theology from Bob Jones Univ. and taught in a Bible college for 9 years and then was a Pastor for 2 more years. I struggled with doubts for the last 3 or 4 years of that life. It was very hard to admit that you had been wrong about something that you had invested your life in and now here I was 36 years old with a wife, two children, a mortgage and no marketable skills. Nevertheless, I had to be intellectually honest. I could not live a lie. My story is recounted on Luke’s Common Sense Atheism site. I am so glad that I got out and quite honestly I have made far more money in secular employment than I ever could have in the ministry (unless I had gone into TV evangelism 🙂

  • Neon Genesis

    I have an idea. Why don’t the churches pay for the pastor until he finds a new job? Didn’t Jesus say they’re supposed to feed the poor or does that only apply to fellow Christians?

  • As a minister, this study doesn’t shock me very much. It’s pretty common. There are a number of different reasons, but I think the big one is that everyone expects you to carry their faith. When you turn out to be human like everyone else, they turn on you pretty quickly. I have always said, the biggest cause of doubts aren’t really science or history, it’s the church itself.

    Having said all that, shameless novel plug. My novel, The Faithful, is going to be exactly about that struggle. Hopefully, Hemant won’t mind me linking here: http://www.amazon.com/Faithful-Jonathan-Weyer/dp/0982668708/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1268865049&sr=8-1

  • Neon,

    When you leave the faith, at least the conservative evangelical faith that I was part of, you are ostracized. You are considered an apostate which is the worst thing you can be in their mind. I think its because of their insecurity. When someone who knows their religion better than they do, says its all a sham, it causes them to circle the wagons.

  • muggle

    I’m sorry but I’m having trouble having any trouble sympathy with the bastards. They make their money conning people specifically by fucking with their heads and I’m supposed to feel sorry for them!? I think not.

    This is rather like feeling sorry for the crack dealer on the corner who is suddenly stricken with guilt because he witnesses some 12 year old o.d.’ing or some such. Should he be excused for continuing to hurt others because he doesn’t know how else to make a living? Not if we are moral.

    And fuck them. Let them find their own out. I struggle. Why would I want to help them get out financially? Don’t forget they’re expert leeches.

    I’m already pissed off that some of my hard-earned money goes to “rehabilitating” the crack dealer. Damned if I’m also giving it to the preacher. He’s an asshole, let him take care of himself. Assholes do have a way of being able to.

  • Jen

    I absolutely feel for these people. How many of us totally believe in our jobs? You work for an ad agency, you are probably indirectly supporting teens buying beer. You work retail, and someone along the way is getting paid $.06 an hour to make t-shirts. You work in medicine, and someone is dying because of hospital policy. It never ends. One cannot always line up morals and actions. We’d never have time to sleep.

  • xpastor

    As my handle indicates I was a pastor, briefly, in a conservative denomination. My full story is on the Friendly Atheist Forum. I went into the ministry in midlife, age 40 when I was ordained, and rapidly burned out. My main religious problem was with the barbaric OT passages I had previously skimmed over, stuff about God ordering the Israelites to murder women and children. I dropped out. For maybe 5 or 6 years I thought about transferring to a more liberal denomination and made some exploratory moves, but ultimately there seemed no point to it as I was becoming a complete agnostic—eventually years later I moved on to atheism. Leaving the ministry was a disastrous career move. With 10 years of post-secondary education in such fields as theology and English lit, I never found another professional job, couldn’t afford to spend another couple of years getting a high school teaching certificate, especially not since just then there was a surplus of teachers. I supported myself by working as a construction worker, forklift driver, truck driver and gas fitter. It was a tough life in some ways but better than the cognitive dissonance of staying in the ministry. I am retired now.

  • xpastor

    Just read muggle’s comment. Anyone want to vote on who’s the asshole?

  • Mark

    Being a life longer I’m largely guessing, but I’d bet that most ministers have a lot of administrative duties that would transfer, such as.

    Balancing the competing demands of different demographics in their churches, young/old, single/married, child free or not,

    Allocating a budget.

    Dealing with contractors. God don’t do roofs.

    Counselling, It’s not always about religion.

    Event planning.

    There are lots of non profits that have paid administrative staff positions that an ex-minister would be good at.

  • While every non-believing preacher has their own story and rationalizations for why they do (or don’t do ) things, they are all just as responsible for whatever issues from their lips as they were before their deconversion. To say that because they are now secretly one of us, or that they need the money, therefore it is okay for them to carry on with this charade, is irrational and it is nothing less than the validation of evil and that is madness.
    They accept (at least internally) a reality based world, but they do not have the moral or physical courage to live their convictions. To accept this type of hypocrisy is wrong for many reasons, but most of all it is wrong because it trivializes the self-sacrifice, pain, isolation, scorn and general inconvenience that so many of YOU have had to endure because you chose the right and courageous path. Do not cheapen or minimize what you have done by supporting the weakness and cowardice of these people. These are not our brothers and sisters until they break with their pasts, stand by our side and stare into the abyss along with us.

  • Ron in Houston

    I wanted to add this to the discussion. I don’t think most of the people that go into “ministry” are motivated by dogma. It’s called “ministry” for a reason. They go into the field because they care about people.

    The problem for them becomes despite all their compassion for the suffering of those they minister to, they are left offering something that they begin to doubt is of any real benefit.

    I applaud them for at least having the awareness of the suffering around them and trying to do something about it.

    If only a bunch of the people on this board had half that compassion.

  • Ron in Houston

    I also wanted to add this. I don’t have any peer reviewed scientific articles, but there is a part of me that’s beginning to wonder if there is not a high correlation between being an atheist and having a distinct lack of compassion.

    Some of you folks simply make me cringe.

  • @ xpastor,
    No, I don’t want to vote on that. I’ve read some of Muggle’s other comments in the past, and not all are this inflammatory. Hot headed? Maybe. Emotional? You bet. Asshole? I don’t believe it one bit. She’s “good people”.

  • @Ron,
    I think that there are many people who do go into preaching for “the right reasons”. There are also those who go into it with the goal of controlling others. Whatever their original intentions were, it does not excuse their behavior if they choose to stay on in a job which they know can be damaging to others as well as themselves. Perhaps the difference between your perception and some others is that you see religion as being silly while others see it as being dangerous. I see it as both.
    P.S. The vodka and oj was great last night…

  • @Ron,
    Actually there are studies which indicate the most atheists are liberals and that most liberals tend to care about others, including strangers, while conservatives in general, do not.
    Being a conservative, I take exception to the stereotype.

  • Ron in Houston


    I don’t think there is any correlation between liberalism, conservatism, and compassion. It’s actually interesting, in some ways true compassion means that you don’t step in and try to “fix” the problem which is exactly what liberals try to do.

    Now I do disagree with you on the concept of harm and danger. A placebo does have a positive effect even if it doesn’t cure the problem. So, the pastor who at least gives the placebo in hopes that it will be of some help is better in my mind that the person that just turns a blind eye and does nothing.

    In my mind the harm occurs when you try to apply a prescription where none is needed.

    Am I making sense here?

  • @ Ron,
    Sure, that makes sense from a certain perspective, but I’m way beyond “dug in” in regards to my position on religion being both silly and a danger.
    As far as liberals and social engineering, I agree. As with all groups, there are those in their membership whose motives are not always pure.In general I think that most liberals have a different type of compassion than conservatives. Not MORE…just different.
    Also, we have to be careful about speaking in absolutes…something I’m often tempted to do. Placebos can produce positive effects, but not always. Also, giving a placebo to a man dying of cancer is just plain evil if there are other options out there. You are writing as if religion is better than nothing, which implies that no other alternatives are available. I’m arguing that reality is an available alternative to religion. Therefore, even when dispensed with good intentions, religion is harmful and evil.

  • Ron in Houston


    Consider this – sometimes reality is simply too painful or too difficult for people to swallow.

    In my mind, that is not always the best solution.

  • @Ron,
    I have considered that, and I cannot empathize. Perhaps that is my limitation, but I am who I am.

  • Ron in Houston


    Honestly – that makes a lot of sense. Given your background you want pure unadulterated reality.

    However, I’m sure you’re aware that your approach to life is but one of many.

    The understanding of just how limited our perceptions are is the beginning of compassion.

  • Ron,
    Yes, I know I have many limitations, one of them being able to empathize with people who cannot handle reality.
    Overseas I had an opportunity to comfort another man in a bad situation in which he asked me if there was a god and I could only respond, “I don’t know.” It’s not what he wanted to hear while he was crying from loneliness, but I couldn’t react any other way. Fuck, we were ALL lonely! I didn’t push him away, I did place my hand on his shoulder, but I couldn’t lie to make him happy. I’m not always thrilled with the way I handle things, but I’m wired the way I’m wired. Maybe a lame excuse for being an asshole, but it’s the only one I’ve got.:-)

  • Richard Wade

    Hemant, as others have said, thank you for your candid story. Teachers are underrated and doctors are overrated. Far better a happy, and therefore excellent math teacher than an unhappy, and therefore mediocre doctor.

    And what did going through that crisis give you besides happiness?


    So precious and rare a gift, and so helpful in any walk of life. You can offer people in similar predicaments your honest opinion without a heavy condemnation, which is, after all, one of the main things that keeps them stuck. Let us set aside our own self righteousness and help these people in whatever way we can. Let us not resemble the worst of their flock.

    I hope that all these tormented preachers, and all other kinds of people who are caught up in someone else’s dream, someone else’s status, someone else’s beliefs can find a way out. It cannot be an entirely painless escape, but certainly it can be better than the endless-self loathing of hypocrisy.

  • Richard Wade

    Godless Monster and Ron in Houston,

    I like you two so much. I’d love to have that drink with both of you, but alas, alcohol is lethal to me.

    Please consider my metaphorical glass raised to both of you.

  • Ben

    The problem that these clerics have is all in their heads. What they have to offer is still valuable, and they still have potentially vibrant careers; they just needn’t bother draping their services in gratuitous mysticism any longer. Learning their respective religious rites and traditions is only a part of their education. If they can strip away their unfounded reverence for the divinations of illiterate, bronze-age, nomadic goat herders, there’s a whole world of honest, ethical, compassionate humanists out there that might welcome the insights they have to offer from a lifetime of considering issues of ethics and morality. I guess what I’m saying is, you don’t necessarily have to be a Protestant preacher to do good. You could be be a humanist preacher and do even MORE good.

  • @Richard Wade,
    Na zdorovye (cheers!)

  • Gary

    I can see the headline in The Onion now:

    God Doubts Own Existence
    Plans to Remain Deity Because of Lack of Training Puts Other Careers Out of Reach

  • Neon Genesis


    When you leave the faith, at least the conservative evangelical faith that I was part of, you are ostracized. You are considered an apostate which is the worst thing you can be in their mind. I think its because of their insecurity. When someone who knows their religion better than they do, says its all a sham, it causes them to circle the wagons.”

    But churches are always bragging about their humanitarian efforts and Jesus had dinner with tax collectors and prostitutes, but the church can’t support their former pastor in a time of struggle because they might be contaminated by those evil untouchables?

  • Gary- nice Onion headline. Sounds very appropriate.

  • muggle

    Thank you, Godless. And your thoughtful words are keeping me from an angry retort to xpastor. One so glaringly obvious at a crack like that, that it’s not easy to do so.

    If he’s so enlightened, perhaps, he can consider how very deeply harmed I’ve been by religion. I’m very lucky it didn’t kill me. So, yeah, I get rather defensive around hypocrites.

    I stand by my analogy and everything I said above. They kill, both literally and figuratively — exactly as the crack dealer does.

  • muggle

    Gary, loved the Onion headline!

  • @muggle,
    no problemo!
    I’ve got no love for any of the Abrahamic cults, but I’m dong my best to change my outlook a little and frame it in my mind more as a war of ideas and not necessarily people. The key word is trying. So far, I’m still struggling with the overwhelming urge to….oh, never mind. I think you know what I mean 🙂

  • I have read this article and the comments that are tracking with it. Some are helpful thoughts but many lack the nuancing of real insight. I am a pastor and find much about many traditional doctrines that are untenable but do not find that my personal sense of faith in God is shaken by this. My biggest issues come from HOW to function in a church where many of the doctrines are in need of change among people who find such change difficult. While there are a certain percentage of pastors who have lost their faith (as the sample mentioned here attests) there are many, many pastors who do believe and wrestle more with how to teach a progressive and meaningful faith that is rationally connected – one that many atheists have not been introduced to and many church-goers have not seen either.

  • While there are a certain percentage of pastors who have lost their faith (as the sample mentioned here attests) there are many, many pastors who do believe and wrestle more with how to teach a progressive and meaningful faith that is rationally connected – one that many atheists have not been introduced to and many church-goers have not seen either.

    Dave, I think you’ll find that atheists are perfectly aware of progressive faith; it’s just that we do not find it any more rational than the other kind. As for it being meaningful, it only has meaning to the people who believe in it. If you belong to a progressive and enlightened church, that’s great, but it does nothing to address my problem with Christianity, which is the same as my problem with all other forms of theism. In short, my problem is the utter lack of evidence supporting supernatural assertions.

  • Laura Lee

    Belief is a tricky word. I suspect that there are many preachers who value the cultural tradition, and the emotional and spiritual lessons in the history and artistry of the sacred texts. They may have a deep appreciation for much of what it represents. They may also feel that their job requires them to interpret that text in a specific way– giving the public what it wants. So it may not be as clear cut as “believing” or “not believing” but a question of what one feels he has to say he believes in order to be involved with the other, deep, thought provoking aspects of immersion in philosophy, history, culture and community. These ministers must “believe” quite a bit, just not what they think they are expected to.

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