From the Sanctuary to the Dialogue

Welcome to Rational Doubt –  with Voices from The Clergy Project

This is the public conversation area of a very private* online-support group for clergy who no longer hold supernatural beliefs.  This public forum will allow people both to listen and participate; creating a dialogue between clergy and regular folks (“lay people” in church-talk) that is not easily available in real life.

Religion is a touchy subject.  What clergy really believe is an even touchier subject – and a fascinating one.

A lot has been written lately about clergy who move away from faith:

Hope After Faith

Toward the Light

The Rector Who Wouldn’t Pray for Rain

Godless

Out of God’s Closet

Preachers Who Are Not Believers

Caught in the Pulpit

Writing God’s Obituary

Rational Doubt is an opportunity for open dialogue about this and other changes in the religious landscape.   Whether your beliefs are firm or in transition, whether you are clergy, former clergy or non-clergy, please join the conversation.

Here on the blog, members and friends of The Clergy Project (TCP) will share their insights and experiences.  You’ll hear from clergy who are out of the closet and on to other careers and from non-believing clergy who are still preaching and still under cover.  You’ll also hear from TCP founders (e.g., Dan Barker, Richard Dawkins, Dan Dennett, “Adam” and “Chris”) and other writers.  While there is much dissent about what religion should be, no one denies that much is changing in religion today.  Come here to find out what’s going on with current and former religious leaders and to weigh in on the subject yourself.

We plan a variety of blog posts, presenting issues or posing questions to stimulate thought and conversation, and – who knows – perhaps to change the world!

*Please click here to learn more about the Clergy Project, to make press inquiries and to learn about or begin the application process to join the Project (if you are current or former non-believing clergy).

We’ll start off the conversation asking about non-believing clergy’s perspectives on doubt: In many religious denominations, doubts are accepted as part of the faith journey.  The expectation is that faith will return even stronger than before.  If you are a current or former pastor whose doubts led to ending your religious beliefs, what kinds of responses have you used with parishioners when they actively question their faith?

 

 

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  • cadunphy280

    Great post Linda! Looking forward to the engaging dialogue that this blog will inspire!

  • cadunphy280

    Great post Linda! Looking forward to the engaging dialogue that this blog will inspire!

  • Look forward to the exciting interactions to come.

  • Look forward to the exciting interactions to come.

  • lonbo

    Guess who?

    • momtarkle

      Who?

  • lonbo

    Guess who?

    • momtarkle

      Who?

  • Jason Eden

    Very excited about this project!

  • Jason Eden

    Very excited about this project!

  • It’s about time for this! I’m sure this will become a popular and meaningful forum for many of us to engage those who have a “reasonable doubt.” Thank you! Chris

  • It’s about time for this! I’m sure this will become a popular and meaningful forum for many of us to engage those who have a “reasonable doubt.” Thank you! Chris

  • Darryl

    I am Darryl from the pilot study. In college my fundamentalist para-church campus chaplain challenged me to pray through my doubts. Actually ask God to reveal “his truth” to me. So I did that. What honestly happened was that I was led away from fundamentalism into a more progressive, rational view of things simply because the openness that the prayer allowed. “God, direct my heart and I will follow it…” And so it was. And so my answer to those who still use that challenge is that I did the exercise, and the truth the Holy Spirit “led” me to is somewhere different than what you were hoping.
    So, while I am a Presbyterian still by official association, I ended up closer to a pantheist in belief. I feel that what we call “god” is in the whole of things. Its not a “personal being,” although relating to the universe as a creature of the universe can in fact be personal. The Jesus of history had a sense of what human wholeness and freedom should be, and was outspoken in pursuing that vision. He’s a person worth exploring, a person worth holding up as an example. What his early followers did with his memory inflated his humanity into something supernatural to fulfill their own need for a divine parental figure that matched their religious tradition.
    Since I have come to terms with any anxiety I had over this loss of innocence about the faith, I feel fine recommending to people the same process of discovery. Pray about the doubt. Be open to where God leads you, and don’t assume it will just be back to the pat answers you are unsatisfied with. Most people who express doubts do so for the same reasons I did… and I have no fear now in sharing other possible explanations than the ones in the Presbyterian Book of Confession. (for example, the Bible is culturally bound and needs to be understood in the context of the historical world views and religious context of the time…) Usually those possibilities are gratefully received and people are glad to shed the unnecessary aspects (virgin birth) of appreciating who Jesus might have been and what he was about. I don’t expect people join my current world view – but I try and give them the tools to think for themselves.

    • Graham

      Isn’t it contradictory to recommend prayer to doubters? Follow the voice in your head, when that head is heavily pre-programmed for guilt and fear, seems disingenuous to me. How can you ask someone to be “open to God” as a non-judgmental approach to doubt about god? Does the advice pre-suppose the doubt is wrong? And as such, how can advice to pray be a tool for someone to think for their self?

      • Not really, because the substance of his prayer was “God, direct my heart and I will follow it…” Ironically, while some fundamentalist forms of Christianity teach you deny all of your own ideas, others do not. Part of my year in “discipleship training” was about me learning to trust myself. They didn’t teach that I was a dirty sinner who should never think for himself; they taught be I was a beloved child of God. I was filled with the Holy Spirit. I didn’t have to believe everything I was told by other people; I could trust that God is powerful enough to speak to me. I can trust that I actually hear God, and not just assume I’m too sinful or not holy enough to hear him.

      • momtarkle

        I used to pray. I observed the results. That cured me and convinced me that prayer to, and belief in, an unknown power was absurd.

      • I’ve written a whole book on prayer, “Amen: What Prayer Can Mean in a World Beyond Belief” because that’s the first question I usually get asked when I speak publicly: “How do I pray if there is no God?” I love Darryl’s direction to pray into doubt because the only thing we are doing when we are praying is settling ourselves with our deepest thoughts. Prayer once focused us on a supernatural being toward whom we projected our awe, confession, thanksgiving, and supplication. When that supernatural being is no longer present, we still need to find an outlet for awe, grapple with those things we’ve made a mess of, express gratitude, and reach out for help; we just do it differently than before and, I might add, with much better results.
        BTW, I’m a member of The Clergy Project – an atheist minister who continues to lead a congregation. But I’m lucky. They know I’m an atheist and they haven’t run me out of town. Yet.

    • I suspect that what you’re calling “god” is human intuition and the famous “oceanic feeling”. I agree that the bare experience of one’s existence within a much larger whole isn’t at all restricted to a single religion. That experience has been duplicated by many cultures through many ways: spending quiet time in grandiose natural settings, showy rituals, long meditation sessions, psychoactive drugs, and so on. I’ve felt it too and I enjoy it, especially for relieving stress. I just don’t assume that the source is anything unnatural.

  • Darryl

    I am Darryl from the pilot study. In college my fundamentalist para-church campus chaplain challenged me to pray through my doubts. Actually ask God to reveal “his truth” to me. So I did that. What honestly happened was that I was led away from fundamentalism into a more progressive, rational view of things simply because the openness that the prayer allowed. “God, direct my heart and I will follow it…” And so it was. And so my answer to those who still use that challenge is that I did the exercise, and the truth the Holy Spirit “led” me to is somewhere different than what you were hoping.
    So, while I am a Presbyterian still by official association, I ended up closer to a pantheist in belief. I feel that what we call “god” is in the whole of things. Its not a “personal being,” although relating to the universe as a creature of the universe can in fact be personal. The Jesus of history had a sense of what human wholeness and freedom should be, and was outspoken in pursuing that vision. He’s a person worth exploring, a person worth holding up as an example. What his early followers did with his memory inflated his humanity into something supernatural to fulfill their own need for a divine parental figure that matched their religious tradition.
    Since I have come to terms with any anxiety I had over this loss of innocence about the faith, I feel fine recommending to people the same process of discovery. Pray about the doubt. Be open to where God leads you, and don’t assume it will just be back to the pat answers you are unsatisfied with. Most people who express doubts do so for the same reasons I did… and I have no fear now in sharing other possible explanations than the ones in the Presbyterian Book of Confession. (for example, the Bible is culturally bound and needs to be understood in the context of the historical world views and religious context of the time…) Usually those possibilities are gratefully received and people are glad to shed the unnecessary aspects (virgin birth) of appreciating who Jesus might have been and what he was about. I don’t expect people join my current world view – but I try and give them the tools to think for themselves.

    • Graham

      Isn’t it contradictory to recommend prayer to doubters? Follow the voice in your head, when that head is heavily pre-programmed for guilt and fear, seems disingenuous to me. How can you ask someone to be “open to God” as a non-judgmental approach to doubt about god? Does the advice pre-suppose the doubt is wrong? And as such, how can advice to pray be a tool for someone to think for their self?

      • Not really, because the substance of his prayer was “God, direct my heart and I will follow it…” Ironically, while some fundamentalist forms of Christianity teach you deny all of your own ideas, others do not. Part of my year in “discipleship training” was about me learning to trust myself. They didn’t teach that I was a dirty sinner who should never think for himself; they taught be I was a beloved child of God. I was filled with the Holy Spirit. I didn’t have to believe everything I was told by other people; I could trust that God is powerful enough to speak to me. I can trust that I actually hear God, and not just assume I’m too sinful or not holy enough to hear him.

      • momtarkle

        I used to pray. I observed the results. That cured me and convinced me that prayer to, and belief in, an unknown power was absurd.

      • I’ve written a whole book on prayer, “Amen: What Prayer Can Mean in a World Beyond Belief” because that’s the first question I usually get asked when I speak publicly: “How do I pray if there is no God?” I love Darryl’s direction to pray into doubt because the only thing we are doing when we are praying is settling ourselves with our deepest thoughts. Prayer once focused us on a supernatural being toward whom we projected our awe, confession, thanksgiving, and supplication. When that supernatural being is no longer present, we still need to find an outlet for awe, grapple with those things we’ve made a mess of, express gratitude, and reach out for help; we just do it differently than before and, I might add, with much better results.
        BTW, I’m a member of The Clergy Project – an atheist minister who continues to lead a congregation. But I’m lucky. They know I’m an atheist and they haven’t run me out of town. Yet.

        • Maine_Skeptic

          I could have used your book when I took part in the Atheist Prayer Experiment. The hardest part was knowing what constituted prayer when I couldnt even summon the pretense that anyone might be listening.

    • I suspect that what you’re calling “god” is human intuition and the famous “oceanic feeling”. I agree that the bare experience of one’s existence within a much larger whole isn’t at all restricted to a single religion. That experience has been duplicated by many cultures through many ways: spending quiet time in grandiose natural settings, showy rituals, long meditation sessions, psychoactive drugs, and so on. I’ve felt it too and I enjoy it, especially for relieving stress. I just don’t assume that the source is anything unnatural.

  • Andy

    In answer to the question posed by Linda . . .

    I have actually felt quite comfortable affirming religious doubt in others–and not just for the purpose of eventually fostering a stronger faith. In my current parish and denomination (UCC) I am on record as saying that “everyone makes it to heaven in the end anyway, so what difference does intellectual assent to theistic propositions make?” I am fortunate to serve a congregation that is ok with universalism. No beliefs about metaphysical entities are required.

    Since guilt often accompanies doubt, I also try to identify and affirm the worthy humanistic values that the doubter exhibits in his/her life. They seem comfortable with my ‘behavior trumps belief’ mantra. I try to make them feel good about themselves despite their intellectual misgivings.

    • Graham

      UCC is one of the odder ‘religions’ around…

      A question: why do you try to ‘compensate’ for intellectual misgivings by directing their attention elsewhere (“look at the good you do”) rather than directly address them? Do you actually believe that doubt is a bad thing, to feel guilty about? How would you distinguish for others doubt about what you know is wrong and doubt about what you know is right? It’s the same, surely? Would you tell someone it’s ok to leave the UCC ‘church’ if that is what they wanted to do, without judgment?

      • Andy

        I don’t think doubt is a bad thing, or something that one needs to feel guilty about, but in my own experience with laity, guilt seems to be a sort of pre-conditioned response to doubt, and my main concern at that point is to address emotional needs first, i.e., to accept the doubter’s premise (that I need to believe something at least), but deny the conclusion (that I am a bad person when I don’t). I like affirming the goodness of people. I had never thought that this is ‘compensation’, but I think you are probably right about that. Thanks for the insight.

        As to leaving church, I fully respect the supremacy of individual conscience, and yes, I would tell a person to follow their inclinations. I have done that on a number of occasions.

        As to the harder question you pose–about distinguishing doubt about what you know is wrong and doubt about what you know is right–I’m not sure I know what you are asking. Right or wrong behavior? Right or wrong propositions about God, salvation, heaven, et al? I am a non-cognitivist when it comes to religion. I believe all metaphysical propositions are ‘meaningless’, i.e., they don’t function descriptively to name realities beyond our senses, but dynamically, to transform the world of our experience in the direction of common humanistic values. I realize that this view of language is pretty old (The Vienna Circle of linguists), but it has made the most sense to me in my ministry. I rather dislike theological dispute. I don’t care about being right as much as I care about being loving. Just me.

  • Andy

    In answer to the question posed by Linda . . .

    I have actually felt quite comfortable affirming religious doubt in others–and not just for the purpose of eventually fostering a stronger faith. In my current parish and denomination (UCC) I am on record as saying that “everyone makes it to heaven in the end anyway, so what difference does intellectual assent to theistic propositions make?” I am fortunate to serve a congregation that is ok with universalism. No beliefs about metaphysical entities are required.

    Since guilt often accompanies doubt, I also try to identify and affirm the worthy humanistic values that the doubter exhibits in his/her life. They seem comfortable with my ‘behavior trumps belief’ mantra. I try to make them feel good about themselves despite their intellectual misgivings.

    • Graham

      UCC is one of the odder ‘religions’ around…

      A question: why do you try to ‘compensate’ for intellectual misgivings by directing their attention elsewhere (“look at the good you do”) rather than directly address them? Do you actually believe that doubt is a bad thing, to feel guilty about? How would you distinguish for others doubt about what you know is wrong and doubt about what you know is right? It’s the same, surely? Would you tell someone it’s ok to leave the UCC ‘church’ if that is what they wanted to do, without judgment?

      • Andy

        I don’t think doubt is a bad thing, or something that one needs to feel guilty about, but in my own experience with laity, guilt seems to be a sort of pre-conditioned response to doubt, and my main concern at that point is to address emotional needs first, i.e., to accept the doubter’s premise (that I need to believe something at least), but deny the conclusion (that I am a bad person when I don’t). I like affirming the goodness of people. I had never thought that this is ‘compensation’, but I think you are probably right about that. Thanks for the insight.

        As to leaving church, I fully respect the supremacy of individual conscience, and yes, I would tell a person to follow their inclinations. I have done that on a number of occasions.

        As to the harder question you pose–about distinguishing doubt about what you know is wrong and doubt about what you know is right–I’m not sure I know what you are asking. Right or wrong behavior? Right or wrong propositions about God, salvation, heaven, et al? I am a non-cognitivist when it comes to religion. I believe all metaphysical propositions are ‘meaningless’, i.e., they don’t function descriptively to name realities beyond our senses, but dynamically, to transform the world of our experience in the direction of common humanistic values. I realize that this view of language is pretty old (The Vienna Circle of linguists), but it has made the most sense to me in my ministry. I rather dislike theological dispute. I don’t care about being right as much as I care about being loving. Just me.

  • Guest

    Doubt is how I started the journey to rejection of theism, but it was doubt about myself. I couldn’t figure out why my ministry was not producing what the Bible promised concerning answers to prayer, healing, and multiple conversions. It wasn’t so much doubting the teachings as exploring where I might be off track and turning to exploring Christian mystical traditions which led to studying other mystical traditions. I came to the conclusion that they all came out of the experience of humans, not from the revelations of a deity. So, it was to stop doubting my own experience, rather than doubting the “revealed” truths that led to my rejection of theism.

  • Doubt is how I started the journey to rejection of theism, but it was doubt about myself. I couldn’t figure out why my ministry was not producing what the Bible promised concerning answers to prayer, healing, and multiple conversions. It wasn’t so much doubting the teachings as exploring where I might be off track and turning to exploring Christian mystical traditions which led to studying other mystical traditions. I came to the conclusion that they all came out of the experience of humans, not from the revelations of a deity. So, it was to stop doubting my own experience, rather than doubting the “revealed” truths that led to my rejection of theism.

    • Graham

      It’s interesting that you directed your doubt at yourself, not at your faith or the bible. Such is the power of religion: faith not working? YOU’RE the problem! Pray harder!! Well, I’m glad you ‘came full circle’ and found your way free 🙂

      • More rocket ride. I had no interest in God, went to church a couple of times as a kid when my parents took me and probably believed there was a God if asked. Then started going to church with my new wife who had been a Christian all her life. I’ve always be interested in changing society, trying for a better world & discovering a very fine community of people dedicated to that I bought into it all, eventually became an Elder, then got an M.Div. from Fuller Theological Seminary, then pastoring in 5 churches, before discovering that I didn’t believe in any gods. It’s kind of Agnostic to Theist to Atheist. Although my identification is more as a Humanist who on the god question is an atheist. On the philosophical side, it’s in the Humanist, Freethought, Skeptic communities that I turn for learning and study. My volunteering and activism is through serving on the Boards of TCP and the Humanist Society.

  • Doubt is how I started the journey to rejection of theism, but it was doubt about myself. I couldn’t figure out why my ministry was not producing what the Bible promised concerning answers to prayer, healing, and multiple conversions. It wasn’t so much doubting the teachings as exploring where I might be off track and turning to exploring Christian mystical traditions which led to studying other mystical traditions. I came to the conclusion that they all came out of the experience of humans, not from the revelations of a deity. So, it was to stop doubting my own experience, rather than doubting the “revealed” truths that led to my rejection of theism.

    • Graham

      It’s interesting that you directed your doubt at yourself, not at your faith or the bible. Such is the power of religion: faith not working? YOU’RE the problem! Pray harder!! Well, I’m glad you ‘came full circle’ and found your way free 🙂

      • More rocket ride. I had no interest in God, went to church a couple of times as a kid when my parents took me and probably believed there was a God if asked. Then started going to church with my new wife who had been a Christian all her life. I’ve always be interested in changing society, trying for a better world & discovering a very fine community of people dedicated to that I bought into it all, eventually became an Elder, then got an M.Div. from Fuller Theological Seminary, then pastoring in 5 churches, before discovering that I didn’t believe in any gods. It’s kind of Agnostic to Theist to Atheist. Although my identification is more as a Humanist who on the god question is an atheist. On the philosophical side, it’s in the Humanist, Freethought, Skeptic communities that I turn for learning and study. My volunteering and activism is through serving on the Boards of TCP and the Humanist Society.

    • Terry and Graham- Yes, I too first doubted myself for years before I allowed myself to doubt my religion. This is not strange at all! Self-doubt is encouraged by religion and to trust (even blind obedience) in your religious authorities is praised. Guilt, shame, and fear all are part of religion. I had to first pass through my own self-doubt to realize eventually that my “religion” itself needed to be doubted and that my fear of doubting was part of my religious indoctrination–very pernicious and difficult to escape from! I have respect and compassion for those who have, or yet still need to, go through a religious deconversion process and who chose to escape their indoctrination.

      • Marco

        Merci 🙂

  • Sherm

    I have actually been receiving these types of questions on a regular basis over the last six months from people in my community (I am not the community rabbi it is not MY community, rather the community of which I am a part). I simply respond that Jews simply believe and that we should not bother looking for proof because none exists. I used to feel this way as a believer. In terms of my own atheism, I feel that it was not exactly doubt that led me away rather a constant redefinition of what God is. Eventually this led to me coming to realize that God for me was a concept not a being. I guess one can call this doubt, but that is not how it felt for me.

    • Graham

      I would call it a realisation, not a doubt. Doubt is painted as a “bad thing” by the religious, but we don’t have to speak in the “language of doubt”, indeed part of the process of extricating yourself from religion is undoing all the subtle control mechanisms woven into the very language of religion, as well as all the emotional controls (fear!) that come with it. As has been said before, the beauty of atheism is realising there is no god to leave behind, or be afraid of. Atheism isn’t “rejecting God” it’s rejecting the very idea of a god, without the capital G or any other means of elevating the idea. Once you realise that not believing in gods is directly on a par with not believing in fire-breathing dragons you begin to realise how easy atheism is on the mind 🙂

      • Sherm

        Well put.

  • Sherm

    I have actually been receiving these types of questions on a regular basis over the last six months from people in my community (I am not the community rabbi it is not MY community, rather the community of which I am a part). I simply respond that Jews simply believe and that we should not bother looking for proof because none exists. I used to feel this way as a believer. In terms of my own atheism, I feel that it was not exactly doubt that led me away rather a constant redefinition of what God is. Eventually this led to me coming to realize that God for me was a concept not a being. I guess one can call this doubt, but that is not how it felt for me.

    • Graham

      I would call it a realisation, not a doubt. Doubt is painted as a “bad thing” by the religious, but we don’t have to speak in the “language of doubt”, indeed part of the process of extricating yourself from religion is undoing all the subtle control mechanisms woven into the very language of religion, as well as all the emotional controls (fear!) that come with it. As has been said before, the beauty of atheism is realising there is no god to leave behind, or be afraid of. Atheism isn’t “rejecting God” it’s rejecting the very idea of a god, without the capital G or any other means of elevating the idea. Once you realise that not believing in gods is directly on a par with not believing in fire-breathing dragons you begin to realise how easy atheism is on the mind 🙂

      • Sherm

        Well put.

  • Todd Stiefel

    Congrats on the new blog!

  • Todd Stiefel

    Congrats on the new blog!

  • Daniela Dea

    This is fantastic 🙂

  • Daniela Dea

    This is fantastic 🙂

  • Well, if there’s one thing society could certainly use more of, it’s ‘rational doubt’ –
    whether that means focusing a skeptical eye on the Keystone Pipeline, corporations as people, or faith-based systems of belief, which simply aren’t designed to align our understanding of the universe with reality as demonstrated by the scientific method. So congratulations on the launch, and I hope your work here leads to many fruitful conversations.

    • Robert, you are so right! And this is one of the losses, for me, resulting from the demise of liberal, mainline denominations. They mitigated the impact of the evangelical Christian agenda and often stood (and still do) against empire, supporting and nurturing strong civic discourse by engaging congregants in social, economic, ecological, and sexual justice issues. That they still do this is admirable; the problem is that no one is listening anymore. I believe church – as a community – is a very important element in neighborhoods and civic discourse and so, although an atheist, I continue to lead a congregation within the United Church of Canada. Fortunately, I’m able to be open and honest about my beliefs there and the congregation has now transitioned successfully beyond doctrine. It’s a great place to be and we’re able to do all that important work that the larger liberal denominations are to be lauded for continuing to do despite their shrinking numbers. The loss of those denominations will have a serious impact on justice issues in both our countries.

      • I agree that community is incredibly important, and I think one of our biggest challenges moving forward is how to get people to start seeing us as members of a global community bound together by humanist values rather than some of the theatrics, promises of wish fulfillment, and fantastical stories that have long drawn people to religion.

  • Well, if there’s one thing society could certainly use more of, it’s ‘rational doubt’ –
    whether that means focusing a skeptical eye on the Keystone Pipeline, corporations as people, or faith-based systems of belief, which simply aren’t designed to align our understanding of the universe with reality as demonstrated by the scientific method. So congratulations on the launch, and I hope your work here leads to many fruitful conversations.

    • Robert, you are so right! And this is one of the losses, for me, resulting from the demise of liberal, mainline denominations. They mitigated the impact of the evangelical Christian agenda and often stood (and still do) against empire, supporting and nurturing strong civic discourse by engaging congregants in social, economic, ecological, and sexual justice issues. That they still do this is admirable; the problem is that no one is listening anymore. I believe church – as a community – is a very important element in neighborhoods and civic discourse and so, although an atheist, I continue to lead a congregation within the United Church of Canada. Fortunately, I’m able to be open and honest about my beliefs there and the congregation has now transitioned successfully beyond doctrine. It’s a great place to be and we’re able to do all that important work that the larger liberal denominations are to be lauded for continuing to do despite their shrinking numbers. The loss of those denominations will have a serious impact on justice issues in both our countries.

      • I agree that community is incredibly important, and I think one of our biggest challenges moving forward is how to get people to start seeing us as members of a global community bound together by humanist values rather than some of the theatrics, promises of wish fulfillment, and fantastical stories that have long drawn people to religion.

  • Very excited about having a forum for discussion to take place between TCP members and those who wish to support them. And, of course, to build understanding between those whose beliefs remain within traditional religious doctrine and those whose do not.

  • Roger Truesdale

    I have enormous sympathy with doubt-plagued ministers, because they are human beings just like us after all, many no doubt with families, who have to carry on with feeding their families despite their doubts or even atheism. Many are also middle-aged career changers who don’t have viable alternatives.

  • Very excited about having a forum for discussion to take place between TCP members and those who wish to support them. And, of course, to build understanding between those whose beliefs remain within traditional religious doctrine and those whose do not.

  • Roger Truesdale

    I have enormous sympathy with doubt-plagued ministers, because they are human beings just like us after all, many no doubt with families, who have to carry on with feeding their families despite their doubts or even atheism. Many are also middle-aged career changers who don’t have viable alternatives.

  • Mark Rutledge

    Oh what tangled webs we weave, when first we practice to believe! I laud Linda LaScola for making this online conversational forum available, and will watch with eager anticipation as it evolves.

  • Mark Rutledge

    Oh what tangled webs we weave, when first we practice to believe! I laud Linda LaScola for making this online conversational forum available, and will watch with eager anticipation as it evolves.

  • John Lombard

    Christians certainly have no problem with the concept of “doubt” as it relates to people who have different beliefs to their own. They will quite openly criticize Muslims, or Buddhists, or atheists, or any other such people who refuse to listen to the Christian message, who refuse to entertain the possibility that they could be wrong. The entire evangelical message is based on getting people to “doubt” their own beliefs, and accept the Christian message instead.
    In fact, almost every Christian that I know has seen their own beliefs evolve and change with time, as they find new ways to interpret the Bible, or as they are convinced by other Christians of new perspectives on what the Bible teaches. This, again, requires first that the Christian “doubt” their initial beliefs.
    So I honestly cannot see how any Christian could rationally, consistently deny “doubt” as being both valid and beneficial; it’s a fundamental fact that none of us knows absolute truth, and that our own pursuit of truth inevitably involves “doubt”.
    Whatever the ultimate truth is, one cannot reach it without first being willing to doubt what we believe now.

    • “The entire evangelical message is based on getting people to ‘doubt’ their own beliefs, and accept the Christian message instead.”

      I recently heard someone complain that the new Cosmos show is pushing atheism too hard. While I could have responded that it isn’t pushing atheism at all, I instead pointed out that if so, it was only doing what Christians have done, and far more aggressively, for centuries through a host of proselytization practices. The subject was soon changed.

    • Maine_Skeptic

      “Whatever the ultimate truth is, one cannot reach it without first being willing to doubt what we believe now.”

      Preach, bro– er—, I mean, “I agree.”

    • That’s actually one of the things that got me to take my doubt seriously. I was a missionary in Africa, so I had to think a lot about how to present the Jesus message to unbelievers, and I encountered Muslims who were convinced they were right and ignored any flaws in reasoning I pointed out.

      It occurred to me at that point that anybody in a “false religion” could continue to believe it, in spite of better evidence, if they chose to just “have faith” and push all those questions aside. I wondered what would happen to me if I had been born into Islam or Mormonism, what it would take to make me give up false beliefs and adopt the true beliefs about Jesus. This of course led to the next question–what if the beliefs I do have are wrong? How would I back them up? If I expect others to question their beliefs I need to be willing to question mine as well. True beliefs should be well backed up.

    • Todd Heath

      One of the fundamental flaws of all religious practices is the notion that we can even know an “ultimate truth”. When logic and reason are properly applied, it becomes apparent there are many things we don’t know and can’t know. The notion of ultimate truth is frankly unattainable. The more we discover and understand opens up whole new questions to answer. We simply aren’t equipped intellectually or technologically to ascertain what ultimate truth means.

  • John Lombard

    Christians certainly have no problem with the concept of “doubt” as it relates to people who have different beliefs to their own. They will quite openly criticize Muslims, or Buddhists, or atheists, or any other such people who refuse to listen to the Christian message, who refuse to entertain the possibility that they could be wrong. The entire evangelical message is based on getting people to “doubt” their own beliefs, and accept the Christian message instead.
    In fact, almost every Christian that I know has seen their own beliefs evolve and change with time, as they find new ways to interpret the Bible, or as they are convinced by other Christians of new perspectives on what the Bible teaches. This, again, requires first that the Christian “doubt” their initial beliefs.
    So I honestly cannot see how any Christian could rationally, consistently deny “doubt” as being both valid and beneficial; it’s a fundamental fact that none of us knows absolute truth, and that our own pursuit of truth inevitably involves “doubt”.
    Whatever the ultimate truth is, one cannot reach it without first being willing to doubt what we believe now.

    • “The entire evangelical message is based on getting people to ‘doubt’ their own beliefs, and accept the Christian message instead.”

      I recently heard someone complain that the new Cosmos show is pushing atheism too hard. While I could have responded that it isn’t pushing atheism at all, I instead pointed out that if so, it was only doing what Christians have done, and far more aggressively, for centuries through a host of proselytization practices. The subject was soon changed.

    • Maine_Skeptic

      “Whatever the ultimate truth is, one cannot reach it without first being willing to doubt what we believe now.”

      Preach, bro– er—, I mean, “I agree.”

    • That’s actually one of the things that got me to take my doubt seriously. I was a missionary in Africa, so I had to think a lot about how to present the Jesus message to unbelievers, and I encountered Muslims who were convinced they were right and ignored any flaws in reasoning I pointed out.

      It occurred to me at that point that anybody in a “false religion” could continue to believe it, in spite of better evidence, if they chose to just “have faith” and push all those questions aside. I wondered what would happen to me if I had been born into Islam or Mormonism, what it would take to make me give up false beliefs and adopt the true beliefs about Jesus. This of course led to the next question–what if the beliefs I do have are wrong? How would I back them up? If I expect others to question their beliefs I need to be willing to question mine as well. True beliefs should be well backed up.

      • John Lombard

        I went through a very similar process. As I started actually talking with people from other religions, in an effort to understand them, I started realizing that many of their claims were exactly the same as mine as a Christian. Of course, at first, I simply dismissed this as “My experiences are real, where as theirs are illusions or deception by Satan.”

        But then, as with you, I realized that every other religion would think in a similar way, and that if one religion is actually right, there MUST be some way to objectively differentiate between ‘real’ and ‘counterfeit’ experiences. That is, if a neutral person were presented with the evidence for each, they’d be able to determine that one was real, and the others were not.

        As I examined this question more, I realized that such differentiation was, in fact, impossible. All the experiences, based on actual evidence, were equally valid (or invalid) were impossible to differentiate based on any objective criteria. The only differentiation was that of personal experience (ie. “I experienced it and it felt real, so my experience must be true”)…and by that criteria, every religion’s claims were equally valid.

        This was one of the more significant factors in ultimately rejecting my faith.

    • Todd Heath

      One of the fundamental flaws of all religious practices is the notion that we can even know an “ultimate truth”. When logic and reason are properly applied, it becomes apparent there are many things we don’t know and can’t know. The notion of ultimate truth is frankly unattainable. The more we discover and understand opens up whole new questions to answer. We simply aren’t equipped intellectually or technologically to ascertain what ultimate truth means.

      • John Lombard

        Todd…sorry, but I’d disagree with you. In fact, I think that the vast majority of leaders in pretty much every religion would tell you that you were wrong. They do believe that there is some kind of “absolute” or “ultimate” truth…but it is impossible for us as humans to understand or know that truth entirely. That’s the very reason for the concept of “divine mysteries”…that whenever a religious person poses a seemingly impossible question/contradiction, the leaders can simply reply, “Some things are beyond human understanding” or “We can’t know the mind of god”

        This willingness to abrogate personal responsibility — “Do it because God told you to, even if you don’t understand it” — is to me, one of the fundamental problems with religion…not the claim that they can know ultimate truth. It’s based on willful ignorance, not on claims of knowing everything.

        In both science and religion, there are things we don’t understand. The theist, faced with apparent contradictions, simply says “It’s beyond my understanding, I must just accept it.” The scientist says, “If there’s a contradiction, we need to understand it better.”

  • I only knew a few people who openly expressed strong doubt. Most Christians would be willing to admit to having struggled with doubt – typically keeping it brief and vague unless it was part of their testimony (the peculiar Christian practice of bragging about how bad you used to be).

    When I did talk with people about their doubts, I would start with the usual line that God is big enough for our doubts, he can take it. I would go on to try and address their specific doubts, offering answers from apologetics or some other field. Having been dealing with my own doubts for years, I was quite familiar with most of the usual responses. It seemed to help some people, not so much others.

    The question I’ve had since then is whether or not I have an obligation of sorts to go back and tell all those people I was wrong, the responses were words of wind, and the whole Christian enterprise is untrue. Pastors play their part in perpetuating this false foundation of faith. I’m only glad that I do it no more.

    • Graham

      You are right, clerics (of all religions) play a principal, central role in propagating faith – without the clerical class, there’d be no religion. Well, you know now that you were wrong before – I see no harm in going back and telling them how you’ve changed your mind. I can even see it being a moral imperative. What perhaps is holding you back is the desire to ‘respect’ others’ points of view, but if a point of view, a belief, is wrong then it is not worthy of respect, is it? My personal belief is that you have an obligation to those you formally councelled back into the faith. I think you might be surprised how many would appreciate your candour and honesty. In fact, you might not be surprised… 😉

      • Maine_Skeptic

        Graham, this is only my opinion, obviously, but I don’t think an ex-pastor should seek out former flock members to give them his or her new point of view. The relationship with a former pastor is too loaded for that, and unless the relationship was candid back in the day, it will only feel awkward for both sides. I say this as a man who sympathizes with former pastors, but the damage has been done and can’t be corrected from the pastor’s side. The only thing a pastor can really do with integrity is put the word out that the views have changed, that they recognize they may have done harm, and that they’d welcome the chance to talk to and listen to anyone who has questions, concerns, or just something to say.

        If former followers come to a pastor, though, obviously they’re initiating the contact and should not take the conversation as another attempt to assert spiritual authority, this time as an atheist, skeptic, or deist.

    • John Lombard

      That question of going back to the people you once ministered to as a Christian was one of the most difficult ones for me. At the time, I ended up just leaving, saying very little to them. I was both embarrassed and ashamed that after leading Chinese to become Christians (which, at that time, could get them in a lot of trouble), I had to turn around and tell them that, “Oops, sorry…guess I was wrong!”

      In retrospect, and with the hindsight of many years experience, I wish that I’d instead talked to them honestly, and told them what happened to me. I would stress to them that I am not seeking to de-convert any of them, and if they want to maintain contact with me, I will not seek to change their beliefs…but also, if any of them have questions and want to know why, I would be available to answer those questions, and talk honestly with them about it.

      I have no idea what their reaction would have been…quite possibly, they would simply have rejected me outright. But at least I would have made the effort.

      • Jim Blair

        You would not seek to change their beliefs? I don’t believe you.

        • John Lombard

          Nope. I am not at all interested in teaching people what to think…that’s the way that theists approach things. For those who are interested, I’m happy to answer their questions, and particularly to help them become more critical thinkers. But I didn’t reject my faith because of what someone else told me to do; I rejected it because of my own process of critical thinking. I’d certainly do what I can to encourage those who are interested to pursue a similar process, but I’m not going to dictate what conclusions I think they should reach.

    • mobathome

      Graham seems right that there is a moral imperative to let others know of your change of mind. On the other hand, it seems impractical, and also, many may be pushed away by what might appear to be a confrontation. However, your telling individuals of your changes will result in your being out of the closet (if you’re not yet out). So, is there a way for you to be more visibly out, and let those who want to know more come to you again, as they had done when their had doubts?

    • Maine_Skeptic

      Charles, I was never a minister or pastor, but I sympathize with ex-pastors because I think I did a lot of harm in the name of faith. I was also lied to and manipulated by ministers and pastors. IMO, no good can come from seeking out people whose lives have gone on without you. I don’t think I’d welcome it if any of the pastors in our “church” sought me out. I forgive them, but my first thought if they approached me would be that they were trying to recapture the “spiritual leader” role by asking for my forgiveness.

      It would be different if our lives overlapped again, and the right time presented itself, but unless we have to be around each other any way, there’s no point in trying to “heal” those relationships. Similarly, if I come across someone I knew back in the day, I ask if they have any questions for me, and I acknowledge anything I may have done that hurt them.

      I think we have an obligation to listen to those who seek us out. If someone was bothered enough about my past to come find me, I’d do anything I could to make myself available. Even if all they wanted to do was yell at me.

      Mostly, I think we have a debt to each other to have a positive influence now in our lives. I think the fact that you’re willing to share your perspective here is terrific.

    • An interesting conundrum and one that I think is likely approached very differently from evangelical and liberal perspectives. Evangelical clergy who come to question and discard their beliefs often come from a place of incredible integrity so it makes total sense that they would feel the need to speak truthfully once they have changed their perspective. Liberal clergy, on the other hand, have fabricated whole worlds of theological doublespeak and so operate differently, often holding very tightly to language that can be understood both literally and metaphorically. The very fact that they do that suggests that they would not see any reason to go back to former congregants and “come clean”.
      If you’re interested, Bob Seidensticker has written a charming book called “A Modern Christmas Carol” in which the evangelical pastor grows out of his beliefs after visits from, you guessed it, the spirits of Christmas past, present, and future. And what he does has integrity.

      • Gretta – wanted to highlight an excellent point you made here: In my admittedly brief experience as a secular activist, I would say Evangelicals (and Fundamentalists) tend to be absolutely sincere and fierce in their disbelief once they reject supernatural stories, and they don’t want others to be duped or sucked in the same way they were. On the other side, more progressive clergy (and liberal religious people in general), have already found ways (through ‘theological doublespeak’ or less sophisticated means) to make religion a positive force in their lives. Thus, paradoxically, the whole industry of religion probably strikes these more moderate people as less venomous, because in their experience, people simply ‘choose’ to follow ‘god’ in a way that enriches their lives, rather than seeing parishioners as casualties of a disingenuous machine that purposefully conscripts toddlers before their minds have gelled.

      • I admit I don’t get liberal Christianity. If you strip away every foundational aspect of a religion in order to reshape it in modern forms, how can it possibly have any credibility or authority? I have a kind of respect for conservative Christians who at least adhere to some form of external source of revelation (the Bible) but liberal Christianity essentially makes it up as they go. Why not just recognize religion and the supernatural for what they are and jump to the atheist side? I suppose there is still some comfort in religious views even when you know you’ve invented your own religion.

        • My first thought when I realized that Genesis was mythology was to wonder whether liberal Christianity could be valid, but I didn’t wonder for long. That the book begins with ancient mythology undermines everything that follows, makes it obvious that it’s the product of people trying to figure things out. I now like to describe the Bible as a book of myths, legends, and embellished history.

      • As for “coming clean”, I haven’t wrestled with whether or not to speak to former church members in general, but to those members who I know wrestled with doubt, particularly those who came to me for help with their doubt. For most Christians, the defense mechanisms are too strong. Coming clean would simply be evidence to them of the devil’s powerful work. For most of them, I move on in the knowledge that I did the job they paid me to do and I otherwise made no real difference in their spiritual thermostat. It’s the handful that could have escaped that bother me.

  • I only knew a few people who openly expressed strong doubt. Most Christians would be willing to admit to having struggled with doubt – typically keeping it brief and vague unless it was part of their testimony (the peculiar Christian practice of bragging about how bad you used to be).

    When I did talk with people about their doubts, I would start with the usual line that God is big enough for our doubts, he can take it. I would go on to try and address their specific doubts, offering answers from apologetics or some other field. Having been dealing with my own doubts for years, I was quite familiar with most of the usual responses. It seemed to help some people, not so much others.

    The question I’ve had since then is whether or not I have an obligation of sorts to go back and tell all those people I was wrong, the responses were words of wind, and the whole Christian enterprise is untrue. Pastors play their part in perpetuating this false foundation of faith. I’m only glad that I do it no more.

    • Graham

      You are right, clerics (of all religions) play a principal, central role in propagating faith – without the clerical class, there’d be no religion. Well, you know now that you were wrong before – I see no harm in going back and telling them how you’ve changed your mind. I can even see it being a moral imperative. What perhaps is holding you back is the desire to ‘respect’ others’ points of view, but if a point of view, a belief, is wrong then it is not worthy of respect, is it? My personal belief is that you have an obligation to those you formally councelled back into the faith. I think you might be surprised how many would appreciate your candour and honesty. In fact, you might not be surprised… 😉

      • Maine_Skeptic

        Graham, this is only my opinion, obviously, but I don’t think an ex-pastor should seek out former flock members to give them his or her new point of view. The relationship with a former pastor is too loaded for that, and unless the relationship was candid back in the day, it will only feel awkward for both sides. I say this as a man who sympathizes with former pastors, but the damage has been done and can’t be corrected from the pastor’s side. The only thing a pastor can really do with integrity is put the word out that the views have changed, that they recognize they may have done harm, and that they’d welcome the chance to talk to and listen to anyone who has questions, concerns, or just something to say.

        If former followers come to a pastor, though, obviously they’re initiating the contact and should not take the conversation as another attempt to assert spiritual authority, this time as an atheist, skeptic, or deist.

    • John Lombard

      That question of going back to the people you once ministered to as a Christian was one of the most difficult ones for me. At the time, I ended up just leaving, saying very little to them. I was both embarrassed and ashamed that after leading Chinese to become Christians (which, at that time, could get them in a lot of trouble), I had to turn around and tell them that, “Oops, sorry…guess I was wrong!”

      In retrospect, and with the hindsight of many years experience, I wish that I’d instead talked to them honestly, and told them what happened to me. I would stress to them that I am not seeking to de-convert any of them, and if they want to maintain contact with me, I will not seek to change their beliefs…but also, if any of them have questions and want to know why, I would be available to answer those questions, and talk honestly with them about it.

      I have no idea what their reaction would have been…quite possibly, they would simply have rejected me outright. But at least I would have made the effort.

      • Jim Blair

        You would not seek to change their beliefs? I don’t believe you.

        • John Lombard

          Nope. I am not at all interested in teaching people what to think…that’s the way that theists approach things. For those who are interested, I’m happy to answer their questions, and particularly to help them become more critical thinkers. But I didn’t reject my faith because of what someone else told me to do; I rejected it because of my own process of critical thinking. I’d certainly do what I can to encourage those who are interested to pursue a similar process, but I’m not going to dictate what conclusions I think they should reach.

    • mobathome

      Graham seems right that there is a moral imperative to let others know of your change of mind. On the other hand, it seems impractical, and also, many may be pushed away by what might appear to be a confrontation. However, your telling individuals of your changes will result in your being out of the closet (if you’re not yet out). So, is there a way for you to be more visibly out, and let those who want to know more come to you again, as they had done when their had doubts?

    • Maine_Skeptic

      Charles, I was never a minister or pastor, but I sympathize with ex-pastors because I think I did a lot of harm in the name of faith. I was also lied to and manipulated by ministers and pastors. IMO, no good can come from seeking out people whose lives have gone on without you. I don’t think I’d welcome it if any of the pastors in our “church” sought me out. I forgive them, but my first thought if they approached me would be that they were trying to recapture the “spiritual leader” role by asking for my forgiveness.

      It would be different if our lives overlapped again, and the right time presented itself, but unless we have to be around each other any way, there’s no point in trying to “heal” those relationships. Similarly, if I come across someone I knew back in the day, I ask if they have any questions for me, and I acknowledge anything I may have done that hurt them.

      I think we have an obligation to listen to those who seek us out. If someone was bothered enough about my past to come find me, I’d do anything I could to make myself available. Even if all they wanted to do was yell at me.

      Mostly, I think we have a debt to each other to have a positive influence now in our lives. I think the fact that you’re willing to share your perspective here is terrific.

    • An interesting conundrum and one that I think is likely approached very differently from evangelical and liberal perspectives. Evangelical clergy who come to question and discard their beliefs often come from a place of incredible integrity so it makes total sense that they would feel the need to speak truthfully once they have changed their perspective. Liberal clergy, on the other hand, have fabricated whole worlds of theological doublespeak and so operate differently, often holding very tightly to language that can be understood both literally and metaphorically. The very fact that they do that suggests that they would not see any reason to go back to former congregants and “come clean”.
      If you’re interested, Bob Seidensticker has written a charming book called “A Modern Christmas Carol” in which the evangelical pastor grows out of his beliefs after visits from, you guessed it, the spirits of Christmas past, present, and future. And what he does has integrity.

      • Gretta – wanted to highlight an excellent point you made here: In my admittedly brief experience as a secular activist, I would say Evangelicals (and Fundamentalists) tend to be absolutely sincere and fierce in their disbelief once they reject supernatural stories, and they don’t want others to be duped or sucked in the same way they were. On the other side, more progressive clergy (and liberal religious people in general), have already found ways (through ‘theological doublespeak’ or less sophisticated means) to make religion a positive force in their lives. Thus, paradoxically, the whole industry of religion probably strikes these more moderate people as less venomous, because in their experience, people simply ‘choose’ to follow ‘god’ in a way that enriches their lives, rather than seeing parishioners as casualties of a disingenuous machine that purposefully conscripts toddlers before their minds have gelled.

      • I admit I don’t get liberal Christianity. If you strip away every foundational aspect of a religion in order to reshape it in modern forms, how can it possibly have any credibility or authority? I have a kind of respect for conservative Christians who at least adhere to some form of external source of revelation (the Bible) but liberal Christianity essentially makes it up as they go. Why not just recognize religion and the supernatural for what they are and jump to the atheist side? I suppose there is still some comfort in religious views even when you know you’ve invented your own religion.

        • My first thought when I realized that Genesis was mythology was to wonder whether liberal Christianity could be valid, but I didn’t wonder for long. That the book begins with ancient mythology undermines everything that follows, makes it obvious that it’s the product of people trying to figure things out. I now like to describe the Bible as a book of myths, legends, and embellished history.

      • As for “coming clean”, I haven’t wrestled with whether or not to speak to former church members in general, but to those members who I know wrestled with doubt, particularly those who came to me for help with their doubt. For most Christians, the defense mechanisms are too strong. Coming clean would simply be evidence to them of the devil’s powerful work. For most of them, I move on in the knowledge that I did the job they paid me to do and I otherwise made no real difference in their spiritual thermostat. It’s the handful that could have escaped that bother me.

        • Jason Eden

          So two thoughts here:

          1) You’re not responsible for the decisions others make, even if you had a hand in guiding them. They came to you in your role as a spiritual leader because they *wanted* the perspective you were giving them. You did no harm.

          2) If they were really doubting, then they will doubt again. Maybe they will come to you again, and maybe not, but for those of us in whom the spark of reason reigns, there is no escaping the questions, nor the desire to find and burn in the right answers. Have some faith in them – they’ll find their way. 🙂

  • Great blog! I look forward to seeing how this develops and joining in.

    • Linda_LaScola

      Thank you, Robert — and please join in right now. Let’s hear your response to some of the comments made below.

      • momtarkle

        And above.

  • Great blog! I look forward to seeing how this develops and joining in.

    • Linda_LaScola

      Thank you, Robert — and please join in right now. Let’s hear your response to some of the comments made below.

      • momtarkle

        And above.

  • Graham

    Excited, and i hope I can follow it from my FB newsfeed as I do Patheos

    • Linda_LaScola

      Patheos tells me this will happen when there are a few more posts on the blog — coming soon!

  • Graham

    Excited, and i hope I can follow it from my FB newsfeed as I do Patheos

    • Linda_LaScola

      Patheos tells me this will happen when there are a few more posts on the blog — coming soon!

  • dsmith

    I’ll be praying for your website. Just kidding.

    • momtarkle

      I’ll be reasoning for it.

  • dsmith

    I’ll be praying for your website. Just kidding.

    • momtarkle

      I’ll be reasoning for it.

  • John Lombard

    A further comment: even as a Christian, I had real problems with those who taught me to “just believe”, that “some things are beyond human understanding”. This was particularly true in Bible college, when the most common answer to my questions about apparent problems and contradictions in what they were teaching me was, “If you have faith, you’ll understand”, or “God works in mysterious ways”, or variations thereof.

    When I later became a Christian leader myself, as a missionary to China, I was very careful to avoid doing this. I felt very strongly that God would value faith based on knowledge and understanding far more than he would faith based on ignorance. I encouraged other Christians to ask questions, and to express their doubts, as that was the best way to pursue a path towards greater understanding.

    Little did I realize at that time that my own path towards “greater understanding” would ultimately mean rejecting those beliefs altogether (and I’m sure is a conclusion that some theists would use to prove why doubt is bad).

    • Maine_Skeptic

      Are you going to be blogging, John?

      • John Lombard

        Indeed I am! And quite looking forward to it! Have already submitted my first article to Linda, just waiting until she gets things more organized and ready to go.

        • Maine_Skeptic

          I’m glad. Good luck with it, and I look forward to reading your posts.

    • Joseph Stricklin

      This is how it always happens…and for the ex-religious it is the greatest story ever told.

  • John Lombard

    A further comment: even as a Christian, I had real problems with those who taught me to “just believe”, that “some things are beyond human understanding”. This was particularly true in Bible college, when the most common answer to my questions about apparent problems and contradictions in what they were teaching me was, “If you have faith, you’ll understand”, or “God works in mysterious ways”, or variations thereof.

    When I later became a Christian leader myself, as a missionary to China, I was very careful to avoid doing this. I felt very strongly that God would value faith based on knowledge and understanding far more than he would faith based on ignorance. I encouraged other Christians to ask questions, and to express their doubts, as that was the best way to pursue a path towards greater understanding.

    Little did I realize at that time that my own path towards “greater understanding” would ultimately mean rejecting those beliefs altogether (and I’m sure is a conclusion that some theists would use to prove why doubt is bad).

    • Maine_Skeptic

      Are you going to be blogging, John?

      • John Lombard

        Indeed I am! And quite looking forward to it! Have already submitted my first article to Linda, just waiting until she gets things more organized and ready to go.

        • Maine_Skeptic

          I’m glad. Good luck with it, and I look forward to reading your posts.

    • Joseph Stricklin

      This is how it always happens…and for the ex-religious it is the greatest story ever told.

  • I don’t characterize my state as one of having doubts. Saying that one has doubts usually suggests that one believes much of it but has doubts about some things. It’s not even that I don’t believe any of the supernatural stories. It’s rather than I don’t separate the world into natural and supernatural. For me there is simply what is. If people are born of virgins, walk on water, turn water into wine, rise from the dead, then that’s part of what is and is subject to exploration by the only tools I know–reason and evidence. If there’s evidence of a being who controls the world, then let’s explore it. I simply don’t see any evidence for any of these things.

    • John Lombard

      Dale — you may not have doubts about the supernatural. But surely there are other areas of your life where you lack absolute certainty? To me, certainty equals lack of doubt, lack of certainty equals some degree of doubt. But absolute certainty also equals dogma — it means that one does not need to even examine or consider alternative arguments or evidence, because one already “knows” that one is right.

      In fact, scientific progress itself is entirely dependent on doubt. One person makes a particular discovery, then another scientist doubts it, and tests it for themselves…in the process, discovering a better theory than the previous one. If scientists lacked the capacity to doubt and question, there would be no real progress at all.

      I realize that your comments were within the context only of supernatural belief; but I think that the spirit of the OP intends a much broader perspective than that.

      • I agree with you entirely. I was saying only one thing–I don’t separate the world into natural and supernatural. To call something supernatural is to put it beyond scientific exploration, beyond the doubt of science. I never wish to do that.

  • I don’t characterize my state as one of having doubts. Saying that one has doubts usually suggests that one believes much of it but has doubts about some things. It’s not even that I don’t believe any of the supernatural stories. It’s rather than I don’t separate the world into natural and supernatural. For me there is simply what is. If people are born of virgins, walk on water, turn water into wine, rise from the dead, then that’s part of what is and is subject to exploration by the only tools I know–reason and evidence. If there’s evidence of a being who controls the world, then let’s explore it. I simply don’t see any evidence for any of these things.

    • John Lombard

      Dale — you may not have doubts about the supernatural. But surely there are other areas of your life where you lack absolute certainty? To me, certainty equals lack of doubt, lack of certainty equals some degree of doubt. But absolute certainty also equals dogma — it means that one does not need to even examine or consider alternative arguments or evidence, because one already “knows” that one is right.

      In fact, scientific progress itself is entirely dependent on doubt. One person makes a particular discovery, then another scientist doubts it, and tests it for themselves…in the process, discovering a better theory than the previous one. If scientists lacked the capacity to doubt and question, there would be no real progress at all.

      I realize that your comments were within the context only of supernatural belief; but I think that the spirit of the OP intends a much broader perspective than that.

      • I agree with you entirely. I was saying only one thing–I don’t separate the world into natural and supernatural. To call something supernatural is to put it beyond scientific exploration, beyond the doubt of science. I never wish to do that.

  • In a way, doubt has been an essential part of my approach to religious belief for most of my time of engaging with Christianity.

    When I came into the Methodist church
    and and started to explore the possibility of entering the ministry I
    had an interesting conversation with Bill Horton who was then general
    secretary of the division of ministries. Knowing of my unusual
    background, Bill asked why I had come the Methodist church.

    I had two main reasons. It seemed to me
    at that time that the Methodist church was more committed to the
    ideal of Christian unity than some others. But, more importantly,
    what I saw was a church with breadth. There was a wide range of
    viewpoints and all seemed to get along well together. I had grown up
    with the belief that there was only one “true” religion – the
    Jehovah’s Witnesses – and outside of that the only prospect was
    damnation. By the time I came to the Methodist church I had long
    given up the futile search for the one true faith.

    I had not given up on searching,
    reflecting,thinking, and studying the scriptures (not just those of
    my own tradition) and it was important to me always to be open to the
    possibility that I would, from time to time, to come to a different
    mind about things. It was important that if I were to decide at any
    time that I believed something rather different from what I had
    believed before, I would not have to leave this church and set off in
    search of another. Bill agreed warmly with my response and I think it
    probably reassured him that I was not a wild-eyed preacher of the one
    true way to which all must conform. (Whether he might have considered
    the possibility I could have taken the route which I have, in fact,
    taken is another matter.)

    I was fairly well over to the liberal
    end of the Christian spectrum back then. And from that starting point
    I have travelled even further in the same direction. There have been
    times when I have felt very uncomfortable in the pulpit but I have
    never preached anything that I did not believe. But neither have I
    ever felt it necessary or useful to confront the whole edifice of
    Christian doctrine from the sceptic’s viewpoint. One step at a time
    will do very nicely and if folk in the churches where I have been
    minister have taken anything from my ministry, I hope it will include
    the encouragement to read the Bible without thinking that they have
    to believe it or reinterpret it to mean something which they can
    believe. “I don’t believe that,” is a perfectly acceptable
    reaction to scripture and I hope that folk who know me will remember
    that very often my response would be, not to put them right about it,
    but to say, “No, neither do I.”

    I have been retired now for just over
    three years and in that time I have never preached or led any
    services in church. I have not even attended a church, except for a
    couple of funerals and a wedding. But I remain a Methodist minister.
    I have no intention of resigning because I believe that within the
    Christian community there ought to be a place for those of us who
    have moved so far along the spectrum of belief that we may appear to
    have stepped off the end altogether.

    The really interesting thing for me is
    that, as a liberal, I find the ancient documents that make up the
    Bible are more interesting and stimulating to read than ever they
    were when I was a fairly traditional believer. And the ancient figure
    of Jesus seems to me far more vibrant than ever he was before.

    • I know many clergy who also never preach anything they don’t believe because they have been taught or been able to create “metaphorical” understandings of the words they use – like “god”, “resurrection”, even “faith”. They have no problem preaching or singing about god because their definition is post-theistic. But their congregants too often believe they mean a theistic god and clergy rarely risk disabusing them of that notion. It is easy and far too common for to soothe their own dissonant beliefs while in the pulpit, but I believe it does no favors for those in the pews.

      • I briefly tried the metaphorical approach, but it felt dishonest. I tried increasingly never to say anything that I didn’t mean according to ordinary usage. But it is so much better to not have to play that game anymore!

        • Thank you for recognizing the problem! Many liberal clergy simply refuse to see that there is one! And they are, also, those most angry with my perspective as they have spent incalculable hours coming up with metaphors they can believe and I simply tell them it’s time to cut it out.

          • This quote (as well as your books, Gretta!) helped me to sort things out as I transitioned out of Evangelicalism over a dozen or more years:

            Collingwood: Religion as Metaphor (implicit critique of Marcus Borg?)
            “It is a commonplace that all religion expresses itself in mythological or metaphorical terms; it says one thing and means another; it uses imagery to convey truth. But the crucial fact about religion is not that it is metaphor, but that it is unconscious metaphor. No one can express any thought without using metaphors, but this does not reduce all philosophy and science to religion, because the scientist knows that his metaphors are merely metaphors and that the truth is something other than the imagery by which it is expressed, whereas in religion the truth and the imagery are identified. To repeat the Creed as a religious act it is necessary not to add “All this I believe in a symbolical or figurative sense”: to make that addition is to convert religion into philosophy. 
            R.G. Collingwood (1889-1943), British philosopher.
            “ Outlines of a Philosophy of Art, “ Essays in the Philosophy of Art, Indiana University Press (1964). 

  • In a way, doubt has been an essential part of my approach to religious belief for most of my time of engaging with Christianity.

    When I came into the Methodist church
    and and started to explore the possibility of entering the ministry I
    had an interesting conversation with Bill Horton who was then general
    secretary of the division of ministries. Knowing of my unusual
    background, Bill asked why I had come the Methodist church.

    I had two main reasons. It seemed to me
    at that time that the Methodist church was more committed to the
    ideal of Christian unity than some others. But, more importantly,
    what I saw was a church with breadth. There was a wide range of
    viewpoints and all seemed to get along well together. I had grown up
    with the belief that there was only one “true” religion – the
    Jehovah’s Witnesses – and outside of that the only prospect was
    damnation. By the time I came to the Methodist church I had long
    given up the futile search for the one true faith.

    I had not given up on searching,
    reflecting,thinking, and studying the scriptures (not just those of
    my own tradition) and it was important to me always to be open to the
    possibility that I would, from time to time, to come to a different
    mind about things. It was important that if I were to decide at any
    time that I believed something rather different from what I had
    believed before, I would not have to leave this church and set off in
    search of another. Bill agreed warmly with my response and I think it
    probably reassured him that I was not a wild-eyed preacher of the one
    true way to which all must conform. (Whether he might have considered
    the possibility I could have taken the route which I have, in fact,
    taken is another matter.)

    I was fairly well over to the liberal
    end of the Christian spectrum back then. And from that starting point
    I have travelled even further in the same direction. There have been
    times when I have felt very uncomfortable in the pulpit but I have
    never preached anything that I did not believe. But neither have I
    ever felt it necessary or useful to confront the whole edifice of
    Christian doctrine from the sceptic’s viewpoint. One step at a time
    will do very nicely and if folk in the churches where I have been
    minister have taken anything from my ministry, I hope it will include
    the encouragement to read the Bible without thinking that they have
    to believe it or reinterpret it to mean something which they can
    believe. “I don’t believe that,” is a perfectly acceptable
    reaction to scripture and I hope that folk who know me will remember
    that very often my response would be, not to put them right about it,
    but to say, “No, neither do I.”

    I have been retired now for just over
    three years and in that time I have never preached or led any
    services in church. I have not even attended a church, except for a
    couple of funerals and a wedding. But I remain a Methodist minister.
    I have no intention of resigning because I believe that within the
    Christian community there ought to be a place for those of us who
    have moved so far along the spectrum of belief that we may appear to
    have stepped off the end altogether.

    The really interesting thing for me is
    that, as a liberal, I find the ancient documents that make up the
    Bible are more interesting and stimulating to read than ever they
    were when I was a fairly traditional believer. And the ancient figure
    of Jesus seems to me far more vibrant than ever he was before.

    • I know many clergy who also never preach anything they don’t believe because they have been taught or been able to create “metaphorical” understandings of the words they use – like “god”, “resurrection”, even “faith”. They have no problem preaching or singing about god because their definition is post-theistic. But their congregants too often believe they mean a theistic god and clergy rarely risk disabusing them of that notion. It is easy and far too common for to soothe their own dissonant beliefs while in the pulpit, but I believe it does no favors for those in the pews.

      • I briefly tried the metaphorical approach, but it felt dishonest. I tried increasingly never to say anything that I didn’t mean according to ordinary usage. But it is so much better to not have to play that game anymore!

        • Thank you for recognizing the problem! Many liberal clergy simply refuse to see that there is one! And they are, also, those most angry with my perspective as they have spent incalculable hours coming up with metaphors they can believe and I simply tell them it’s time to cut it out.

          • This quote (as well as your books, Gretta!) helped me to sort things out as I transitioned out of Evangelicalism over a dozen or more years:

            Collingwood: Religion as Metaphor (implicit critique of Marcus Borg?)
            “It is a commonplace that all religion expresses itself in mythological or metaphorical terms; it says one thing and means another; it uses imagery to convey truth. But the crucial fact about religion is not that it is metaphor, but that it is unconscious metaphor. No one can express any thought without using metaphors, but this does not reduce all philosophy and science to religion, because the scientist knows that his metaphors are merely metaphors and that the truth is something other than the imagery by which it is expressed, whereas in religion the truth and the imagery are identified. To repeat the Creed as a religious act it is necessary not to add “All this I believe in a symbolical or figurative sense”: to make that addition is to convert religion into philosophy. 
            R.G. Collingwood (1889-1943), British philosopher.
            “ Outlines of a Philosophy of Art, “ Essays in the Philosophy of Art, Indiana University Press (1964). 

  • Sven2547

    I’ll be watching this blog with great interest

    • rdnaskela

      Ah yes! Finally, a blog written fubu (for us, by us). I really love my atheist friends, and I’m so happy to be a part of a family skeptics group, but so many of the atheist blogs I follow are poplulated with people baffled by the religious. I think similar to addiction, it’s almost impossible for those not afflicted to understand the mindset of those that are. Just perusing the comments here makes me feel very much at home. Thank you.

  • Sven2547

    I’ll be watching this blog with great interest

    • rdnaskela

      Ah yes! Finally, a blog written fubu (for us, by us). I really love my atheist friends, and I’m so happy to be a part of a family skeptics group, but so many of the atheist blogs I follow are poplulated with people baffled by the religious. I think similar to addiction, it’s almost impossible for those not afflicted to understand the mindset of those that are. Just perusing the comments here makes me feel very much at home. Thank you.

  • The expectation is that faith will return even stronger than before.

    Some of the social psychology literature these days actually seems to support that expectation, with the caveat of if it survives the trial. In particular, it would seem related to the “backfire effect”, where the process of encountering (and discounting) disconfirmatory information actually strengthens the initial belief (EG, doi:10.1007/s11109-010-9112-2).

    Of course, the catch is that sometimes, disconfirmatory viewpoints do cause someone to change their mind.

    • Maine_Skeptic

      I think cognitive scientists are doing some great work, and the new literature is great for understanding why people think as they do. Still, I wonder if the backfire effect is permanent, or if it’s just a temporary response to contrary evidence. If my experience is like that of others, contrary evidence may often start a “hidden program” running in the subconscious of the believer, even if they do initially gloss over the new information. A couple of years after I left my sect, an old journal showed me my serious doubts had begun long before I remembered.

      • There’s also this overview, which suggests a longer term effect, in so far as confusing fiction for fact tends to have long-term hazards.

        I suspect it ties to the reflexive-vs-reflective cognition model; the “hidden program” would appear to correspond to triggering an extended reflective consideration; the backfire, a short reflective consideration rapidly reverting to the reflexive.

        However, I’m merely a wide-reading dilettante, rather than an expert.

        • Maine_Skeptic

          I’m certainly not the expert, either. Obviously the solution is not to share less factual information, even if the backfire effect is permanent. I suspect that the context, medium, source, and conveyor of the fact-based information all play a role in how it is received initially and how it is processed over the long term. When I was an entrenched believer, there were observations made by in passing by old friends that shook me up more than anything an expert could have planned to say.

  • The expectation is that faith will return even stronger than before.

    Some of the social psychology literature these days actually seems to support that expectation, with the caveat of if it survives the trial. In particular, it would seem related to the “backfire effect”, where the process of encountering (and discounting) disconfirmatory information actually strengthens the initial belief (EG, doi:10.1007/s11109-010-9112-2).

    Of course, the catch is that sometimes, disconfirmatory viewpoints do cause someone to change their mind.

    • Maine_Skeptic

      I think cognitive scientists are doing some great work, and the new literature is great for understanding why people think as they do. Still, I wonder if the backfire effect is permanent, or if it’s just a temporary response to contrary evidence. If my experience is like that of others, contrary evidence may often start a “hidden program” running in the subconscious of the believer, even if they do initially gloss over the new information. A couple of years after I left my sect, an old journal showed me my serious doubts had begun long before I remembered.

      • There’s also this overview, which suggests a longer term effect, in so far as confusing fiction for fact tends to have long-term hazards.

        I suspect it ties to the reflexive-vs-reflective cognition model; the “hidden program” would appear to correspond to triggering an extended reflective consideration; the backfire, a short reflective consideration rapidly reverting to the reflexive.

        However, I’m merely a wide-reading dilettante, rather than an expert.

        • Maine_Skeptic

          I’m certainly not the expert, either. Obviously the solution is not to share less factual information, even if the backfire effect is permanent. I suspect that the context, medium, source, and conveyor of the fact-based information all play a role in how it is received initially and how it is processed over the long term. When I was an entrenched believer, there were observations made by in passing by old friends that shook me up more than anything an expert could have planned to say.

  • Jim Blair

    I think one reason the church has always had problems is that there were many preachers who did not really believe.

    Wolves in sheeps clothing as it were, often only concerned with their own advancement.

    When you have “preachers” like Loftus, Barker, DeWitt and others admitting that they continued to preach when they didn’t believe it, you have a problem with believing what they are saying now.

    They all say what good Christians they once were, but who knows what the truth is?

    Look at McBain…she lied to her congregation, and then later lied to her new employers.

    I think its best that they come out, because the Church needs to know who they are, and I am going to do my best to help out the one around here.

    • It’s tough enough for the average Christian who realizes in middle age that Christianity is a descendant of ancient mythology when your family and grown children are all believers, and having to decide how much you’re willing to have your life disrupted. I’ve only told my wife, but I avoid leading in prayer and such as much as possible. I cannot imagine what it would be like if my livelihood depended upon it. Like many people, when I was young I considered going into the ministry. Fortunately those thoughts didn’t continue beyond my mid-teens.

      But if your life is all about preaching the gospel and you realize it’s all bogus, you’ll find yourself homeless if you tell people immediately. Do you not think these people felt horribly guilty as they continued to preach? Do you not think that they found ways to express the parts of the Bible and Jesus’ teachings that were about being a good person, loving your neighbor, treating people with respect, and simply avoided telling lies about gods and spirits and such?

      The reason churches have problems is that there are selfish people there, just like there are everywhere else. Are there preachers who are concerned with their own advancement? You bet. But you can’t assume those people aren’t believers. I know one personally: He absolutely believes every word of what he’s preaching, but he definitely thinks he ought to be making as much money as if he had an engineering degree, and he wants his sermons to be videoed and put on the church website. He’s a believer, but he has an ego.

      Guys like Loftus, Barker, and DeWitt felt guilty about continuing, and starting looking for a way out. Who knows whether they were good Christians? The fact that they got out tells you that they were sincere when they first started. That it took some time tells you that it’s extremely difficult.

    • As I’ve noted in another response on this blog, liberal Christian leaders are almost always obfuscating though they may not believe that they are. As Don Cupitt has said, no one can get through a liberal theological education and not be a skeptic. None, however, believe they are lying; they have, for the most part, simply changed their understanding of what the words mean and so believe they are speaking with utmost integrity. It’s the other people who just don’t know what they should and if they did, they’d understand that nothing is meant literally. Katharine Jefferts Schori, Presiding Episcopal Bishop, in her Easter message said this, “How does the risen Body of Christ – what we often call the church – differ from the crucified one?” causing half her flock to become apoplectic. Was she suggesting there was no bodily resurrection? Of course she was saying there was no bodily resurrection! That so many Episcopalians don’t know their priests don’t believe in a literal bodily resurrection is the part that should be alarming! After tweeting an article on Schori’s statement, I got into a lively debate with a follower who had a very hard time coping with the possibility that Schori really didn’t believe in the literal, bodily resurrection of Jesus. It’s time we came clean. Squeaky clean.

  • Jim Blair

    I think one reason the church has always had problems is that there were many preachers who did not really believe.

    Wolves in sheeps clothing as it were, often only concerned with their own advancement.

    When you have “preachers” like Loftus, Barker, DeWitt and others admitting that they continued to preach when they didn’t believe it, you have a problem with believing what they are saying now.

    They all say what good Christians they once were, but who knows what the truth is?

    Look at McBain…she lied to her congregation, and then later lied to her new employers.

    I think its best that they come out, because the Church needs to know who they are, and I am going to do my best to help out the one around here.

    • It’s tough enough for the average Christian who realizes in middle age that Christianity is a descendant of ancient mythology when your family and grown children are all believers, and having to decide how much you’re willing to have your life disrupted. I’ve only told my wife, but I avoid leading in prayer and such as much as possible. I cannot imagine what it would be like if my livelihood depended upon it. Like many people, when I was young I considered going into the ministry. Fortunately those thoughts didn’t continue beyond my mid-teens.

      But if your life is all about preaching the gospel and you realize it’s all bogus, you’ll find yourself homeless if you tell people immediately. Do you not think these people felt horribly guilty as they continued to preach? Do you not think that they found ways to express the parts of the Bible and Jesus’ teachings that were about being a good person, loving your neighbor, treating people with respect, and simply avoided telling lies about gods and spirits and such?

      The reason churches have problems is that there are selfish people there, just like there are everywhere else. Are there preachers who are concerned with their own advancement? You bet. But you can’t assume those people aren’t believers. I know one personally: He absolutely believes every word of what he’s preaching, but he definitely thinks he ought to be making as much money as if he had an engineering degree, and he wants his sermons to be videoed and put on the church website. He’s a believer, but he has an ego.

      Guys like Loftus, Barker, and DeWitt felt guilty about continuing, and starting looking for a way out. Who knows whether they were good Christians? The fact that they got out tells you that they were sincere when they first started. That it took some time tells you that it’s extremely difficult.

      • Kyuna Juna

        Thank you, Mr. Two. It’s almost impossible to get out of the “trap” for me anyway. For over a year I’ve been seeking “other” employment, but my training and skills do not translate into the “real” world. And since I cannot afford to be unemployed, there’s no other choice. Integrity is difficult to keep….I’m thinking I should get the “best actor” Emmy. More and more it’s becoming incredibly isolating and difficult to trust people for fright of who will “out” me. Looking back, it was MUCH easier “coming out” of the gay closet – at least there was an LGBTQ community in the city where I lived.

    • As I’ve noted in another response on this blog, liberal Christian leaders are almost always obfuscating though they may not believe that they are. As Don Cupitt has said, no one can get through a liberal theological education and not be a skeptic. None, however, believe they are lying; they have, for the most part, simply changed their understanding of what the words mean and so believe they are speaking with utmost integrity. It’s the other people who just don’t know what they should and if they did, they’d understand that nothing is meant literally. Katharine Jefferts Schori, Presiding Episcopal Bishop, in her Easter message said this, “How does the risen Body of Christ – what we often call the church – differ from the crucified one?” causing half her flock to become apoplectic. Was she suggesting there was no bodily resurrection? Of course she was saying there was no bodily resurrection! That so many Episcopalians don’t know their priests don’t believe in a literal bodily resurrection is the part that should be alarming! After tweeting an article on Schori’s statement, I got into a lively debate with a follower who had a very hard time coping with the possibility that Schori really didn’t believe in the literal, bodily resurrection of Jesus. It’s time we came clean. Squeaky clean.

  • This public blog is a great idea! Thank you, Linda, and TCP team.

    I do not recall, in my evangelical congregations, a Christian coming to me to express struggles with doubt, despite my efforts to legitimize the asking of questions and and the reconsideration of received beliefs.

    I did not think in terms of “doubt” so much as in asking questions and digging to see where accepted beliefs came from. It was a necessary part of maturing in one’s faith along the lines of Fowler’s Stages of Faith.

  • This public blog is a great idea! Thank you, Linda, and TCP team.

    I do not recall, in my evangelical congregations, a Christian coming to me to express struggles with doubt, despite my efforts to legitimize the asking of questions and and the reconsideration of received beliefs.

    I did not think in terms of “doubt” so much as in asking questions and digging to see where accepted beliefs came from. It was a necessary part of maturing in one’s faith along the lines of Fowler’s Stages of Faith.

  • Cyanmoon1

    So excited to see what this blog has to bring to the conversation!

  • Cyanmoon1

    So excited to see what this blog has to bring to the conversation!

  • BradBuenov

    So, what about someone who has given up on “religion” but still thinks that love and compassion are deeply spiritual values, and that Jesus (not “Christianity” or “religious identity”) is worth following? Rather than frame the conversation as “religious” vs. “non-believer” — seems like there’s a vast continuum in between those extremes.

    • There certainly is a continuum and a reason for exploring it. The bridge between atheism and religious belief is only visible to a few. Most cannot see it at all. And that’s where my work with The Clergy Project begins as I seek to encourage leaders who no longer believe to remain within congregations that are capable of transition beyond belief. It’s not an easy path but it allows for inspiration, edification, celebration, and lament – all extremely important characteristics – to find a safe place to be encouraged and experienced. And we need that in our world today. We desperately need it.

      • Thanks for this. I’m an atheist attending a liberal Quaker meeting, for the reasons you cite.

        • Thanks, Ryan. If you’re comfortable doing so, perhaps you could message me where that meeting is so that when I receive requests for places people go, I could send them there.

          • Message sent via Facebook (I am assuming you’re the right person, as Ryan Bell is our common FB friend).

      • Maine_Skeptic

        “…my work with The Clergy Project begins as I seek to encourage leaders
        who no longer believe to remain within congregations that are capable of
        transition beyond belief..”

        But… wha… huh? I would never have guessed that anyone at Clergy Project was encouraging people to stay at a congregation. My assumption would be that if they were in a congregation that could handle an unbelieving minister, they wouldn’t need the Clergy Project.

        • Many of those who are still active in congregations – and about a quarter of our members are still active – love what they do. And they are good at it. You’ll note that I was careful to distinguish “congregations that are capable of transition.” Many in mainline denominational churches have read accessible contemporary theology and biblical studies – Spong, Borg, Pagels, Crossan. A lot of them are hungry for change and tired of translating everything they hear. There is lots of room for transformation to happen and, with support from denominational structures (yeah, that’s a tough one) and places like The Clergy Project, we can work on creating inspirational communities – humanist communities and ones like mine, around the world. My congregation is what we call “barrier-free” or “non-exclusive”. We refuse to promote supernatural beliefs from the pulpit. But that doesn’t mean that only people without supernatural beliefs are in the pews. We have people who remain believers but what I’m talking about – the challenges of living in right relationship with self, others, and the planet – is what they would have said the god called God challenged them to do. So it is a win, win. With or Without God – which just happens to be the name of my book on the topic! 🙂

          • Maine_Skeptic

            “There is lots of room for transformation to happen and… we can work on creating inspirational communities… living in right relationship with self, others, and the planet – …”

            I can’t decide whether to be inspired or to fear for your sanity. I’m not even sure that kind of nuanced, solution-oriented thinking is LEGAL in the United States.

            Joking aside, I salute you. I had no idea.

    • As a former monk of 14 years who is now atheist, to get here I myself had to progress, non-linearly, beyond labels and preconceptions of faith, religion, and spirituality to my present position of non-belief in the supernatural.

      My “continuum” started as a good Catholic, then in my teens I converted to Eastern-Mysticism, meditation, and joined a Church of all Religions, Self-Realization Fellowship.

      My motivation to being a monk was not religion at all, but to dive deeply, intensely, whole-heartedly into “spirituality”, compassion, and to seek the bliss that all religions and mystics claimed.

      Eventually, I discovered that “spirituality” has nothing to do with being religious or even required faith in the supernatural, but it is a deeply personal experience of wonder, beauty, and bliss available to everyone without need of faith.

      We have to be careful when framing the conversation “religious” vs. “non-believer”. Being religious may have little or nothing to do with faith in supernatural, and “non-believers” or atheists can be “spiritual”, compassionate, ethical, and moral without any supernatural beliefs. But each person, it seems, has to go through the rational/spiritual journey or continuum themselves, and not take anyone’s ideas on faith or authority.

  • BradBuenov

    So, what about someone who has given up on “religion” but still thinks that love and compassion are deeply spiritual values, and that Jesus (not “Christianity” or “religious identity”) is worth following? Rather than frame the conversation as “religious” vs. “non-believer” — seems like there’s a vast continuum in between those extremes.

    • There certainly is a continuum and a reason for exploring it. The bridge between atheism and religious belief is only visible to a few. Most cannot see it at all. And that’s where my work with The Clergy Project begins as I seek to encourage leaders who no longer believe to remain within congregations that are capable of transition beyond belief. It’s not an easy path but it allows for inspiration, edification, celebration, and lament – all extremely important characteristics – to find a safe place to be encouraged and experienced. And we need that in our world today. We desperately need it.

      • Thanks for this. I’m an atheist attending a liberal Quaker meeting, for the reasons you cite.

        • Thanks, Ryan. If you’re comfortable doing so, perhaps you could message me where that meeting is so that when I receive requests for places people go, I could send them there.

          • Message sent via Facebook (I am assuming you’re the right person, as Ryan Bell is our common FB friend).

          • Thanks!

      • Maine_Skeptic

        “…my work with The Clergy Project begins as I seek to encourage leaders
        who no longer believe to remain within congregations that are capable of
        transition beyond belief..”

        But… wha… huh? I would never have guessed that anyone at Clergy Project was encouraging people to stay at a congregation. My assumption would be that if they were in a congregation that could handle an unbelieving minister, they wouldn’t need the Clergy Project.

        • Many of those who are still active in congregations – and about a quarter of our members are still active – love what they do. And they are good at it. You’ll note that I was careful to distinguish “congregations that are capable of transition.” Many in mainline denominational churches have read accessible contemporary theology and biblical studies – Spong, Borg, Pagels, Crossan. A lot of them are hungry for change and tired of translating everything they hear. There is lots of room for transformation to happen and, with support from denominational structures (yeah, that’s a tough one) and places like The Clergy Project, we can work on creating inspirational communities – humanist communities and ones like mine, around the world. My congregation is what we call “barrier-free” or “non-exclusive”. We refuse to promote supernatural beliefs from the pulpit. But that doesn’t mean that only people without supernatural beliefs are in the pews. We have people who remain believers but what I’m talking about – the challenges of living in right relationship with self, others, and the planet – is what they would have said the god called God challenged them to do. So it is a win, win. With or Without God – which just happens to be the name of my book on the topic! 🙂

          • Maine_Skeptic

            “There is lots of room for transformation to happen and… we can work on creating inspirational communities… living in right relationship with self, others, and the planet – …”

            I can’t decide whether to be inspired or to fear for your sanity. I’m not even sure that kind of nuanced, solution-oriented thinking is LEGAL in the United States.

            Joking aside, I salute you. I had no idea.

      • BradBuenov

        Thanks Gretta. Good stuff. Alas, I see nothing BUT a continuum of symbol and metaphor (both helpful and harmful) in all camps, from the most fundy religious, to the militant atheist, or even the most disinterested observer. I no longer see religious or atheist metaphor or “belief system” as the defining elements of our collective humanity, and I think your work is important in refocusing our attention on what matters.

        As I’ve observed all the ideas and philosophies and experiences of life over these 50+ years, I’ve become more convinced that the universe is not neutral. I’m persuaded that woven into the very fabric of creation is intelligence. That the best action metaphors characterizing this intelligence are compassion and empathy. Or, in a word, love. And that we (all life and all creation) are reflections of this intelligence, who can chose to love more, or not. I’m not sure it’s any more complicated or difficult than this.

    • As a former monk of 14 years who is now atheist, to get here I myself had to progress, non-linearly, beyond labels and preconceptions of faith, religion, and spirituality to my present position of non-belief in the supernatural.

      My “continuum” started as a good Catholic, then in my teens I converted to Eastern-Mysticism, meditation, and joined a Church of all Religions, Self-Realization Fellowship.

      My motivation to being a monk was not religion at all, but to dive deeply, intensely, whole-heartedly into “spirituality”, compassion, and to seek the bliss that all religions and mystics claimed.

      Eventually, I discovered that “spirituality” has nothing to do with being religious or even required faith in the supernatural, but it is a deeply personal experience of wonder, beauty, and bliss available to everyone without need of faith.

      We have to be careful when framing the conversation “religious” vs. “non-believer”. Being religious may have little or nothing to do with faith in supernatural, and “non-believers” or atheists can be “spiritual”, compassionate, ethical, and moral without any supernatural beliefs. But each person, it seems, has to go through the rational/spiritual journey or continuum themselves, and not take anyone’s ideas on faith or authority.

      • BradBuenov

        Thanks Scott. Funny … I was deeply into SRF in my teens and 20’s. But I do remember a significant focus on the supernatural, from many stories in the AOAY (Babaji, etc.) to PY’s many personal experiences, and even his last few months on earth (I knew personally two people who were there for that period, and the supernatural played no small part).

        That said, I’m with you on this — the grandeur and mystery of the universe is all the “super natural” I need to be reminded of the miracle and infinite value of all life, in the here and now. Religion so often focuses on “eternal salvation” or “eternal damnation”. As we mature, I think we recognize the illusory and transient nature of ALL religious -and- atheist symbolism, and are increasingly attracted to the essential nature of reality and creation, which, I suggest, is love.

        • BradBuenov- Yes, small world that you also deeply were into Self-Realization Fellowship and their teachings! Are you a TCP (The Clergy Project) member?

      • JoAnne Braley

        Scott, I’m sure you are familiar with “our hearts are restless until they rest in Thee.” That’s all I have to say. You are looking for heaven on earth, it doesn’t work that way. Bless you.

  • I am very glad to see this blog. I’ve been enjoying your book, Caught in the Pulpit. I have been chronicling my journey here at Patheos at the Year Without God blog (www.yearwithoutgod.com).

    I’d be happy for collaboration when the time is right.

    • cadunphy280

      Thanks Ryan! We are glad to be here too! We’ve been reading your blog, and would love to talk!

    • Linda_LaScola

      Hi, Ryan.

      Nice to see you here and glad you’re enjoying the book Dan Dennett and I wrote. Your blog to some extent inspired this one. When your blog first started, I noticed several commenters suggesting that you should join the clergy project. When I came on to respond that the clergy project was not open to clergy who were still questioning their beliefs, I realized that there ought to be something for them, too. This is it.

  • I am very glad to see this blog. I’ve been enjoying your book, Caught in the Pulpit. I have been chronicling my journey here at Patheos at the Year Without God blog (www.yearwithoutgod.com).

    I’d be happy for collaboration when the time is right.

    • cadunphy280

      Thanks Ryan! We are glad to be here too! We’ve been reading your blog, and would love to talk!

    • Linda_LaScola

      Hi, Ryan.

      Nice to see you here and glad you’re enjoying the book Dan Dennett and I wrote. Your blog to some extent inspired this one. When your blog first started, I noticed several commenters suggesting that you should join the clergy project. When I came on to respond that the clergy project was not open to clergy who were still questioning their beliefs, I realized that there ought to be something for them, too. This is it.

      • I so desperately needed (and continue to need) something like the Clergy Project while in this in-between space. This process takes so many different forms. As you know better than anyone, one of the biggest challenges is converting years of pastoral experience into a new career in one’s mid-life. It’s been a very bumpy road.

        • I totally understand, Ryan, and regret that The Clergy Project is not able to accompany individuals as they explore beyond the traditional doctrinal tenets of their faith tradition. The angst of the journey is often incredibly painful and I hope the public exposure this blog offers may provide some support “along the way”. I recall the editor of a Christian journal critiquing the introduction of “journey” language into popular Christian songs in liberal hymnals, arguing that Christianity is not about a journey – there is a destination. One could say the same thing about the exploration of doubt. Once one starts ambling, no matter how naively, down the path, there is a destination point that, arrived at, can be quite a shock and deeply disturbing – especially if you never intended to arrive there.

  • Lonbo

    “A New Blog for Pastors Who Are Secretly Atheists”
    Hah! Love the headline! I have to believe that would be most of them.

    • Mary Johnson

      I think there are far more clergy with atheistic beliefs than people suspect. As a former nun who no longer holds religious faith, I’m so glad that this blog will go voice to unbelieving clergy’s insights and dilemmas. The more people can be honest about what each of us really think, the better for everyone. Being in the closet is rarely a good thing.

      • You’re not kidding, Mary. I think most liberal clergy would have a hard time coming up with an explanation for what they mean when they use the word “god” that had anything to do with a supernatural being or even a supernatural force.

  • Lonbo

    “A New Blog for Pastors Who Are Secretly Atheists”
    Hah! Love the headline! I have to believe that would be most of them.

    • Mary Johnson

      I think there are far more clergy with atheistic beliefs than people suspect. As a former nun who no longer holds religious faith, I’m so glad that this blog will go voice to unbelieving clergy’s insights and dilemmas. The more people can be honest about what each of us really think, the better for everyone. Being in the closet is rarely a good thing.

      • You’re not kidding, Mary. I think most liberal clergy would have a hard time coming up with an explanation for what they mean when they use the word “god” that had anything to do with a supernatural being or even a supernatural force.

        • Peggy Smith

          Gretta,
          When I first met you in Highlands, I envied you the ease that you had to not believe. I have found that ease and it is wonderful. Come back to Highlands and let’s celebrate my shedding the “scales on my eyes”.
          Peggy Smith

      • cadunphy280

        You’re right Mary! Glad you’re here!

  • Mary Johnson

    During the six years in which I was responsible for preparing nuns for religious vows, several of them admitted doubts about God’s existence or about certain tenets of faith. At the time, I was a believer myself, and accustomed to dealing with doubts through perseverance and prayer. We were taught that to value faith above intellectual honesty. I’m ashamed to admit now that I often encouraged sisters with doubts to try their best to ignore them and carry on, to be glad that their faith was strong enough to survive the trial of doubt. As if that were a real solution… or even possible….

  • Mary Johnson

    During the six years in which I was responsible for preparing nuns for religious vows, several of them admitted doubts about God’s existence or about certain tenets of faith. At the time, I was a believer myself, and accustomed to dealing with doubts through perseverance and prayer. We were taught that to value faith above intellectual honesty. I’m ashamed to admit now that I often encouraged sisters with doubts to try their best to ignore them and carry on, to be glad that their faith was strong enough to survive the trial of doubt. As if that were a real solution… or even possible….

    • Thin-ice

      I’m pretty sure the Apostle Paul had this in mind when he said in I Corinthians 1 that “the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom”. That’s the verse that was quoted numerous times to me when I expressed doubts as a believer. And of course it worked, until finally I ignored it and trusted my own reasoning power. Pretty smart guy, that Paul.

  • I’m on the therapist assessment team of the Secular Therapist Project, which is a branch of Recovering from Religion. I congratulate you on this blog and on the excellent work that you have been doing since the Clergy Project began. I look forward to the constructive and supportive dialogue.

  • I’m on the therapist assessment team of the Secular Therapist Project, which is a branch of Recovering from Religion. I congratulate you on this blog and on the excellent work that you have been doing since the Clergy Project began. I look forward to the constructive and supportive dialogue.

  • Kyuna Juna

    I welcome the conversation! As a current clergyperson who has no choice to stay in the closet (with the exception of VERY FEW TRUSTED people) because of my employment situation (and it appears there’s no other option at the moment), I have had private conversations with some people in my congregation, as well as with our Wednesday morning Bible study/conversation group. Several of the folk who come Wednesday mornings are having their eyes opened, and the majority appreciate as one says “You make us think”. However there are a very small minority in the community who call me to task on my reflections and viewpoints/comments….one in particular whom I suspect is feeling threatened (he’s in his mid 60’s and is a very staunch “old fashioned stuck in his ways of yore” man). I have told him many times that I “get” where he is at, because I’ve been through 15+ very painful years of what he’s experiencing.

    • Paul Zimmerle

      Good luck, neighbor. I hope you have a chance to come free soon.

  • Kyuna Juna

    I welcome the conversation! As a current clergyperson who has no choice to stay in the closet (with the exception of VERY FEW TRUSTED people) because of my employment situation (and it appears there’s no other option at the moment), I have had private conversations with some people in my congregation, as well as with our Wednesday morning Bible study/conversation group. Several of the folk who come Wednesday mornings are having their eyes opened, and the majority appreciate as one says “You make us think”. However there are a very small minority in the community who call me to task on my reflections and viewpoints/comments….one in particular whom I suspect is feeling threatened (he’s in his mid 60’s and is a very staunch “old fashioned stuck in his ways of yore” man). I have told him many times that I “get” where he is at, because I’ve been through 15+ very painful years of what he’s experiencing.

    • Paul Zimmerle

      Good luck, neighbor. I hope you have a chance to come free soon.

      • Kyuna Juna

        Thanks Paul…if only my training & skill set transferred into the REAL world.

        • Kyuna, have you checked out The Clergy Project yet? They have been a huge help as I build a bridge across that ravine to the real world.

          • Kyuna Juna

            Yes, Mark, I applied nearly a year ago and was declined as I was not able to answer the screener’a questions satisfactorily. Glad that you have found community and support there.

          • lonbo

            Kyuna, do you have any idea what the issue was?

    • cadunphy280

      I’m glad you are here and bravely engaging in this conversation!

      • Kyuna Juna

        Thank you. Hopefully this forum will help me find supportive community as I have not been able to find any thus far.

        • cadunphy280

          I am hoping your will find community here! And you can also apply to become a member of the clergy project.

          • Kyuna Juna

            I applied nearly a year ago. However, as I was unable to satisfactorily answer the screener’s questions, I was denied.

          • JoAnne Braley

            Well, then…sounds like a coven of witches. Anything SECRET is not good.

  • MN Atheist

    Thank you. This should be very interesting stuff to read and discuss. I am looking forward to hearing from your members!

  • MN Atheist

    Thank you. This should be very interesting stuff to read and discuss. I am looking forward to hearing from your members!

  • CA Secular Humanist

    “We’ll start off the conversation asking about non-believing clergy’s perspectives on doubt: In many religious denominations, doubts are accepted as part of the faith journey. The expectation is that faith will return even stronger than before. If you are a current or former pastor whose doubts led to ending your religious beliefs, what kinds of responses have you used with parishioners when they actively question their faith?”

    In preaching, teaching and counseling I have informed folk that the only way one can really own their beliefs is to question them. Until I/you ask and wrestle with the tough questions, all I/you can have is what was handed down to me/you. This is a hard, difficult, stressful task; however it’s okay. In fact it’s good. It’s a
    sign of growth. Growing pains are not always fun or comfortable. Many will not
    understand what you are doing. They will think you are just being a rebel, just
    being difficult. However if the questions really are part of the real you, pursue
    them. Truth has nothing to fear from investigation. If personal growth and
    maturity is something you desire, to be true to yourself you must take that
    journey. Find a trustworthy person who is also on that journey, and they can be
    a great help to you.

    Sometimes I’ve needed to say, “Such and such is the official statement of belief of our church, however others understand it differently. Some see it this way; or this
    way, etc. You need to find answers that make sense to you. And how you see
    things today may be different than your perspective tomorrow. It’s an on-going,
    never-ending journey. I commend you for being courageous and brave enough to
    pursue truth.”

  • sezit

    I am so excited by this project and am looking forward to hearing from the men and women coming out of hiding. This project is awakening a sleeping giant. I look forward to this giant tearing up the roots of this invasive poison vine that strangles people’s individuality, limits learning, and ruins relationships. Ex-clergy have an unimpeachable validity to their experiences that cannot be denied, and gives great power to their stories. Plus, media loves them. Can’t wait!!!

  • Kyuna Juna

    How does one even begin to rebuild a sense of identity after losing one that for over 50 years has been the foundation of life? I think all de-converted people, especially former/current clergypersons, can very well relate to Kermit’s song “It’s not easy being green.” At least, for me it isn’t…

    • cadunphy280

      I know exactly what you mean. When you give so much of yourself to your vocation it makes the loss of faith seem all the more painful. This is a grieving process for sure, but the good thing is you’re not alone!

      • Kyuna Juna

        I know you relate 100 percent. Thank you for your encouragement.

      • Peggy Smith

        I just became aware of this fantastic site, and I must already reply to your statement. I am not, never was a member of the clergy, but raised in the Baptist tradition – unhappily, all my life. Recently I have become acquainted with a group of Humanists and Atheists and relate wonderfully with them. It made me so very happy! I didn’t grieve at all – I was overjoyed to finally be able to throw off all the voodoo, fables and ridiculous beliefs I had been taught all my life but never accepted in my heart. I want to hear reasonable and scientific reasons and answers to my questions. I want to hear something that makes sense and is reasonable. I have no faith — faith in what? Not science, not reason.
        So thrill me with your learned conversations. I will soak it up like a sponge.
        Thank you, thank you, thank you!

    • Sounds a little like being “born again”. A refreshing opportunity.

      It seems though, that some will habitually build the same boxes and walls. Especially the more politically inclined.

      What I like about this bunch, is that many were attracted to the sacred, like musicians to music.

      It is only the dangers of latent conditioning that threatens their new imaginings.

    • Not identifying is freedom.

  • I’d like you to add the “subscribe by email” link.

    • Linda_LaScola

      Patheos says it’s coming soon

  • Logan G

    This was truly fascinating to discover, that there’s both a forum for clergy and a public blog for more open discussion. I’m truly thrilled to see this.

    While I never served as a full time clergy, I attended college with that intent and then later served in my local church and as a fill-in for the worship leader and preacher. When my oldest son declared he was an atheist, I was devastated and it started my own journey. http://lifeafter40.net/2014/04/20/my-son-told-me-hes-an-atheist/

  • Charles Lee

    I am very excited that the rich conversations that has characterized the Clergy Project has been provided with an outlet that will facilitate the sharing of the thoughts and writings of some of the most courageous men and women I have ever had the opportunity to interact with. Having had the personal opportunity to interact and communicate with many of the potential bloggers on this site, I will state without reservation that the readers and followers of this blog are in for a wonderful treat. I cannot thank Mrs. Linda LaScola enough for having the vision and passion necessary to facilitate this endeavor. I look forward to conversing and interacting with everyone as ideas and assumptions are treated to honest inquiry.

  • TabithaRaised

    To all those with a rational doubt, there is rational belief. I encourage you to keep searching. But faith is a gift of grace. Pray for the gift and you will get your freedom from stress back and you will be set free. There are many non-Catholic Christian clergy and former athiests coming into the Catholic Church. Visit the Coming Home Network for assistance:

    • John Lombard

      Tabitha — While I appreciate your invitation, a few comments:

      1) “Rational belief” pretty much by definition cannot be based on “faith”. “Rational belief” is based on evidence; “Faith” is belief in the absence of evidence. I won’t debate whether your beliefs are true or not; but it’s a fundamental contradiction to refer to “rational belief” and then follow that up immediately by telling people to “pray for the gift of faith”.

      2) You suffer from the same misconception that many theists do — that atheists are unhappy. You said, “you will get your freedom from stress back and you will be set free”. I’m sorry, but it’s rather condescending to assume that we are unhappy, or any other such thing. For myself, I find my life as an atheist LESS stressful than that I had as a Christian.

      3) I also advocate for the position that one’s beliefs shouldn’t be based on how they make you FEEL; they should be based on REALITY. For example (as I’ve argued elsewhere), I’d FEEL happier if I believed in a universe where, when I die, I will be surrounded by gorgeous women who will love me completely and do whatever I want…but no matter how much I’d LIKE that to be true, there’s nothing in reality to indicate it really IS true. Your appeal to us is, again, fundamentally flawed in that it seeks to appeal to making us “feel less stress”, or feel more happy…but has nothing to do with actual evidence, only an appeal to “faith”.

      4) I’m sure that you can point to people who previously had other beliefs, who then became Catholics, and felt happier, more complete, etc. I can likewise point to Catholics who later became prostestants/Buddhists/New Agers/atheists, who felt happier, more complete, etc. None of this proves anything as to the validity of your beliefs, or anyone else’s.

      5) For myself, I have told my Christian friends and family that my beliefs are based on my evaluation of the evidence I have at hand; and that if, some day, I were to be presented with actual evidence GREATER THAN THE EVIDENCE I CURRENTLY HAVE which indicates the reality of god, then I will consider that evidence accordingly, and be willing to change my perspective; however, questions of faith and how happy/comfortable a particular religion makes me feel have no place whatsoever in those considerations.

      If you’re here not just to spam advertisements for your own organization, if you’re here to learn about and understand other perspectives, I think you’ll find yourself welcome. If you’re here just to try to get people to come join you, and base your arguments on ideas as fallacious as confusing “rational belief” with “praying for faith”, then I rather suspect your welcome will be somewhat less warm.

      • JoAnne Braley

        “unless you become as little children, you shall not enter the Kingdom of Heaven.” It isn’t a debate. It’s a gift for those who believe. And, “believe it or not,” you can gain faith by prayer. Such as “OK, God, if you are there, please let me know, because I need to know the answer.” Something like that, with a sincere heart . And, your idea of heaven is more what some of the Muslims believe. Heaven is happiness to the ultimate, not of our earthly desires. We will have no need for sexual wants because we will not need to multiply. We will have a higher happiness. I had to look for religion, as no one told me what to do. I found it when I was 12 and went to the Catholic Church. We do not go strictly by the bible, and know it was written by men. Also, the New Testament was picked out from many writings. They were inspired. We go by tradition. And, our Church, founded by Jesus when he said “Thou art Peter (rock) and upon this rock I will build my Church). We constantly have to repair the Church as it can get corrupted. Not everyone in a Church is really “there.” I told my grandson, they are not all good people in a church, and he about fell over. There are many good people out of churches. It is for God with a capital G to decide. I am more firm in faith since I had the near death experience. I am wondering how does an atheist approach death? What inspiring words does he have for the dying? Or how do you bless a wedding? Just wondered since some humanists want to bless weddings I read. God Bless You…

        • John Lombard

          JoAnne, thank you for the detailed response. My reply:

          1) I don’t have an “idea of Heaven”, what I said previously was an illlustration, not a reflection of my own ideas about it. I’m quite conversant with the different Christian and Muslim ideas of Heaven. However, may I point out that YOUR “idea of Heaven” is not one shared by all Christians, either.
          2) Would you accept a Muslim making similar arguments…that praying to Allah gives them faith, that their scriptures are inspired, etc.? I doubt it. One of the big problems I have with such claims is that Christians will argue it’s somehow valid for them to make such claims, but invalid if other religions make exactly the same ones. What it really comes down to is “If the claims happen to support my beliefs, they’re valid; if the claims don’t support my beliefs, they’re invalid”.

          Essentially, this is a process where “evidence” is determined by “belief”…which is absolutely backwards. “Belief” should be based on “evidence”…not vice versa.

          3) You know, I actually find the atheist message about death much more comforting than the Christian one. First, the atheist values our current life far MORE, because it’s all we’ve got…there is no afterlife, no second chance, etc. Therefore, showing love to our loved ones while they’re still here, accomplishing as much with our lives as we can…these are far more important for us.

          But more than that, I find the Christian message rather oppressive. Because there’s a flip-side to the whole “go to Heaven” thing…there’s also the “go to Hell” thing. My parents, for example, believe that because I’ve rejected Christianity, and Jesus, that I am going to Hell.

          So…how “comforting” is the idea that someone you love is going to spend eternity suffering the worst torment imaginable? What do you say at my funeral service…”I loved him so much, and now he’s with the Devil suffering unimaginable pain and suffering”?

          I have no need for this magical afterlife, be it Heaven or Hell. When I die, that’s it. My life is finished. That does not in any manner, shape, or form diminish the value or quality of my life…in many ways, I’d argue that it enhances and increases both.

          • John Knepper

            John — like your reply.

      • “1) “Rational belief” pretty much by definition cannot be based on “faith”. “Rational belief” is based on evidence; “Faith” is belief in the absence of evidence. I won’t debate whether your beliefs are true or not; but it’s a fundamental contradiction to refer to “rational belief” and then follow that up immediately by telling people to “pray for the gift of faith”.”

        One might counter this by suggesting that faith, based on reasonable assessment of the existing evidence, is sufficient for an intuitive leap.

        And thus, “praying”, or let’s say articulating intention/desire, for a guiding paradigm/faith, is a reasonable way to lead ones life.

        No evidence is ever set in stone. And time has a habit of flying.

  • TabithaRaised

    The Coming Home Network http://chnetwork.org/

  • Charles Lee

    TabithaRaised

    In order for a belief to be defined as rational, it would have to be an acceptance of fact supported by reason and logic. In this sense, a belief would be a rational belief if the evidence supported the conclusion and what was asserted within the belief could be easily demonstrable. For instance, I hold the rational belief that the earth orbits the sun and not vice versa precisely due to the fact that we have a massive amount of evidence to support this fact. However, based on your verbiage I am certain that you were not referring to belief in this sense, but were using the term in a manner synonymous with religious faith. If I have understood you correctly, you seem to be asserting that faith in religious assertions is based on reason and logic, and I was wondering if you would be willing to present an argument based in reason and logic to support your hypothesis that religious faith is a rational belief? You further indicate that the manner in which to obtain faith is through prayer, but for many of us on this site, we do not view prayer as an effective or useful practice. I did go to the website you provided, but did not see any rational or logical evidence based arguments for the rationality of faith, but
    rather read multiple assertions that the Catholic perspective is the most scriptural.
    In order for this to be a foundation of a rational argument, one must first establish
    that the bible is an authority, an assumption that is not universally shared
    and certainly not shared by many on this site. So what is the rational and
    logical grounds that you would provide that would support the assumptions
    underlying your assertion that the bible is a valid authority, that prayer is
    effective and that religious faith is rational?

  • Kyuna Juna

    I am wondering if anyone can point me to non theistic resources for planning worship. Because of employment I have no choice other than staying in the closet, and it is becoming more and more difficult for me to find non-god language resources. I have resources from Gretta Vosper as well as the TCPC Sampler, and borrow from Rex A.E. Hunt as well. However these don’t always work for me, and I don’t want to keep re-using liturgies that may possibly lead to questioning by folks in the congregation. There is already underground rumbling by a small number of people over what I’m bringing in my weekly reflections. How do other clergy who are atheists manage to continue pretending with integrity?