Retired Pastor “Comes Out” Atheist – This Fall – in a Book

Editor’s Note: I first heard about “Dave” when I received a manuscript of his soon-to-be-released book about his deconversion. A member of the Clergy Project and an accomplished writer, he seemed ideal to be the moderator of a new feature coming soon on Rational Doubt.  It’s called “Ask an Atheist Ex-Pastor”and will be a forum where anyone (and particularly doubting clergy) can ask questions about their religious doubts.  Like any good pastor, Dave wants to continue to help people.  He’s anonymous for now, but will reveal his identity when his book comes out.  Stay tuned! 

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By “Dave” – Atheist ex-Pastor

I once led a mainline Protestant congregation in Canada.  Today I am an atheist.   In the fall of 2009 at age 57, to the surprise and, for the most part, disappointment of my congregation, I took early retirement.   Unbeknown to almost everyone, I was wrestling with classic cognitive dissonance, a preacher laden by the burden of incredulity.   I was asking myself questions, which only led to more and more questions.   Curiosity is an amazing accelerant.

I started to struggle with the hypocrisy of trying to convince others of a message of which I was increasingly unconvinced.   I began to understand that like the long line of deities in the history of our species, the Abrahamic God made manifest in Jesus was not only a projection of our need for a First Cause, our tendency to avoid looking fate in the face or our desire for an edge over our enemies, but also a reflection of our violent, jealous, misogynistic, intolerant image.   To put it simply, my mind had changed.   I had embarked on a new journey.

As I began to chronicle the signposts on this sojourn, the next question was whether I should “come out” and publish the testimony of how my reconversion has transformed my life in ways that are no less radical and joyful than conversion. I knew that I could not keep my doubts to myself.   Life Beyond Belief: A Preachers Deconversion will be released this Fall.

I have misgivings about this book.   For starters, autobiography is audaciously telling the world how you are before they have asked.   How could I be so presumptuous as to assume anyone would care what I think at this point in my life?

Second, a part of me would like to keep this story as my secret, lest people think less of me and tell me so.   But I also know how ugly and crippling secrets are and that it is important every once in awhile to tell the secret of who we are because otherwise, we can lose track of who we truly are.   We risk coming to believe the edited version of ourselves, which we hope the world will find acceptable.

I rigorously questioned my motives for writing this book.   Am I caught up in the reverse of the convert’s zeal?   Am I trying to disabuse believers?   Do I have some axe to grind?   If faith is merely personal benign belief, why upset someone else’s spiritual apple cart?   Why be less than sanguine towards religious conviction?

While there are many reasons for writing Life Beyond Belief, the overriding motive is pastoral. The heart that was once surrendered to Christ, that gave itself to others and that infused my vocation with kindness, still beats in me.   The book is not the angry rant of a disgruntled cleric.   It is, rather, the honest account of one person’s journey from faith to reason.

There’s an old saw that preaching should comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable.  I believe, and I hope, the story of my deconversion may comfort the afflicted.   Most non-believers keep their silence, not articulating their decision to eschew the dogma of faith so as not to offend and not feel isolated.   Today, those who are wrestling with the tenets of religion or the increasing insights of science may be comforted to know they are not alone.   There is life beyond belief.

At the same time my story may afflict the comfortable; urging committed believers to take their spiritual convictions seriously, examine evidence they may never have encountered before and determine if they can still believe with integrity.

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Bio:  “Dave” is a syndicated religion columnist, broadcaster and former preacher and author of Christian devotional material.

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About Linda LaScola

Linda LaScola is co-author, with Daniel C. Dennett, of Caught in the Pulpit: Leaving Belief Behind (2013) and “Preachers who are not Believers” (2010). She is an independent qualitative research consultant who works out of Washington, D.C. She holds a Master’s Degree in Social Work from the Catholic University of America and is a co-founder of the Clergy Project.

  • Mark Rutledge

    Dave. I applaud your honesty and motivations for writing this book, and i wish you and it well. May it contribute positively to the un-ending conversation that both religious and non-religious people should be having today. I’m a retired UCC campus minister, having happily served 6 campus over my 52 active years. I stopped “believing” in your image of God when i was in college, and in seminary I never really bought into the supernatural underpinnings of Christianity. I have been mostly “out” throughout my career, and have come to self-identify as a post-supernaturalist, non-theist, humanist who tries to follow the original (historical) Jesus. I can use Christian language where it is appropriate, and don’t feel hypocritical when i sometimes see it as metaphorical. I’ve had lots of talks with people who don’t share my views, but it rarely is framed in a win-lose kind of way. I honor my liberal Christian tradition but feel free to re-interpret it in the context of our scientific, post-enlightenment world view. I learn from the insights of all (and no) religions. I hope your post here generates some good discussion. I’d join in but am leaving on a road trip tomorrow and won’t have computer access for a few weeks. Maybe i’ll check back in when we get back. May the wind be always at your back.

    • David: Atheist Ex-Pastor

      Thanks for your posts Mark. I’ll be sure to look up Meslier. Enjoy the road trip.

  • Mark Rutledge

    PS — Dave, i forgot to mention that i have a good friend who is a Unitarian minister in Kingston, Ontario — a former Methodist who now is very happy in her current pastorate. Just wondered if you’ve ever run across her…

  • Andy

    I’m looking forward to your book! I particularly like your statement of purpose (to afflict the comfortable and comfort the afflicted). I’ve used that adage a lot in my ministry. As a Pastor you practiced this, and now you continue to do so from a de-converted standpoint. I agree. Are you familiar with Jean Meslier (1664-1729), a French Roman Catholic Priest who wrote a monumental testament to his atheism? It was hid from his parishioners during his lifetime, then published posthumously. I’ve wondered a time or two what his congregation thought after his testament was discovered and published; and I wonder how your former parishioners will react? Best wishes.

  • Rick McNeely

    How can I be notified when this book comes out?

    • Linda_LaScola

      Well, one way to find out is to check back here. Rational Doubt will definitely run a piece about it.

  • Rick McNeely

    Linda LaScola sent me a message. That’s one more checkbox checked on my bucket list! Thanks Linda. I will check back.

  • http://www.chighland.com/ Chris Highland

    Thanks for this Dave. Your book sounds somewhat parallel to my Life After Faith, so I look forward to reading it. Mine is much too long, but sometimes the story is a collection of stories and we can only hope some small part will nudge.

    Your lines could be taken to heart by all of us who are stumbling out of closets:

    “The book is not the angry rant of a disgruntled cleric. It is, rather, the honest account of one person’s journey from faith to reason.”

    I wish you very well!

    • David: Atheist Ex-Pastor

      Thanks Chris. Where can I find your Life After Faith?

      • Linda_LaScola

        It’s listed and linked to above under the “publications” tab, along with other books/articles written by clergy project members and founders. That’s where your book will be sometime soon, as well!

        • David: Atheist Ex-Pastor

          Thanks Linda.


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