This is a guest post by Catherine D. She is a former liberal Catholic theologian with a masters degree from a well respected school of theology It was during her studies that Catherine had the epiphany that she was not a believer.
The last place you might think to find an atheist or agnostic would be in the pulpit leading a congregation, but you’d be wrong.
Unbelieving clergy exist. In fact, we are even organized.
Through the efforts of Dan Barker, Linda LaScola, Dan Dennett and The Richard Dawkins Foundation, The Clergy Project was launched with the goal of supporting clergy as they transition from a life dominated by religion to one that is wholly secular.
The Clergy Project is made up of alumni and active members who no longer hold the supernatural beliefs of their religious traditions and choose instead to identify as agnostic, Secular Humanist, freethinker, atheist, or some other kind of non-theist.
We are a confidential online community with 94 members (and growing), who use the forum to network and discuss issues regarding what it is like to be an unbelieving leader in a religious community.
As you might expect, privacy is a crucial component of membership, so we do not disclose the location or names of our members.
You might be asking yourself: given our privacy concerns why we are “coming out”? We suspect that there are other current and former pastors, priests, monks, nuns, rabbis, imams and theologians who are closeted non-believers and we want them to know that they are not alone.
As an alum member of The Clergy Project, I am also a graduate of a master’s program in theology. I now identify as an atheist. My education played a pivotal part in my abandonment of religion.
It took a number of years, but I can delineate three major transitions that transformed me from religious to atheist.
First, my study of liberation theology and philosophy informed my concept of god to include feminist, pluralistic and humanist perspectives of religion.
Second, Biblical Scholarship and the cumulating knowledge of the origins of the Torah and the Christian Bible made it impossible to conclude that religious texts are more than human works of fiction.
Third, the most challenging aspect of this process was letting go of my “history” with god.
Despite the vast amount of information available, the chasm that still had to be crossed was one of pride. Not only had I devoted years of university education to studying theology, but on a personal level, I had come to think that I was important to “god” and this feeling of belonging gave my life purpose and meaning.
When I first accepted that I was an atheist I was shaken by the realization that I had been deceived by theism. Over time, however, I had to accept that I was a willing accomplice in my own deception.
Having the opportunity to speak with other people who know what it is like to go through the process from believing clergy to unbeliever, I can say that I have found not only a community of like-minded people, but also a fraternity of friends who epitomize these words of Robert Green Ingersoll, “Happiness is the only good. The time to be happy is now. The place to be happy is here. The way to be happy is to make others so.”