As many in the atheist community and even beyond us know, The Clergy Project is an organization for religious clergy who have lost their faith and are trying to figure out what to do about it, how to get out of the ministry, whether or how to come out of the closet as an atheist, and how to land on their post-faith feet in general. The Clergy Project protects such clergy’s privacy for so long as they want to remain private. I have a few friends who have been associated with The Clergy Project and are now out as atheists. One of them even took my online Philosophy for Atheists class with me as she tried to work out her post-faith views on philosophical matters. (You can do the same–see this page for details and write me at email@example.com to sign up.) I have seen a couple of live moving sermons by another, Hope after Faith: An Ex-Pastor’s Journey from Belief to Atheism‘s author Jerry DeWitt. We have become friends and I had the honor of interviewing him here on Camels With Hammers.
Well now one of the founders of The Clergy Project, Linda LaScola, has revealed a new Patheos Atheism Channel blog for The Clergy Project called Rational Doubt where members will contribute posts and comments. I am ecstatic to have yet another wonderful, thought provoking blog on Patheos Atheism from people I’m dying to hear from. Today’s post there is a review of the most popular subject on my blog of late-the movie God’s Not Dead. The review is written by Mary Johnson, who spent 20 years as a nun in Mother Theresa’s order. She talks about this in her memoir An Unquenchable Thirst: A Memoir.
Rational Doubt’s inaugural post invites a dialogue about doubt, between the closeted clergy and the public. Her opening discussion prompt was this:
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?
The question raises the issue I dealt with a while back–praise for doubt by the defenders of faith is fundamentally disingenuous since it is only acceptable as an oscillation within faith, not as a means to actually changing your mind like real doubt is open to. These clergy who wound up with real doubt are not going to be praised for their doubt by their congregations when all is said and done, unfortunately.
And reading through the comments on that Rational Doubt post, I was struck with great empathy for so many doubters who never see that there’s a way out and felt impelled to repost something I wrote almost a year ago for those who wrongly doubt themselves all because they doubt their faith, while internalizing its emotional hold on them:
I don’t want you to wind up a forever wannabe Christian hanger-on, or an ashamed, despairing atheist. I don’t want you to wind up the kind of beaten apostate who apologizes profusely for her disbelief and endlessly assures the believers that she wishes with all her heart she could be one of them but her mind just won’t let her.
You deserve so much better. Be proud of your mind’s ruthless honesty that defiantly says a conscientious no to your heart and to the community of people you love when they’re justwrong. You have been culturally conditioned using every exploitative and manipulative technique your religion could think of and get away with in modern times into thinking that your religion is the arbiter of good and evil in the world and that being a good person means gaining approval from its members. Even if you do not fully acknowledge this intellectually anymore, and even if you outright reject it when thinking abstractly, you have to weed this lie out of your heart.
You are a magnificently strong and self-sacrificing camel. You are a revering, obedient, beast of spiritual burden who has put yourself through incredible mental and emotional rigors for the sake of your faith, your God, the good, and, now finally, for the sake of honesty. You have made your “yes” and “no” matters of conscience and risked losing your identity and your community and your entire sense of the world by doing so. You have more intellectual integrity than the vast majority of cradle to grave believers and non-believers will ever know. And don’t for a second doubt that this is a matter of impressive moral integrity too.
You are not a traitor. You are not the betrayer. You are the one true to the true and the good. You are the increasingly honest and courageous and strong one. You are not confused. You are not weak. You are not in need of more faith. You do not doubt too much. You do not need to keep hoping you’re the one who’s wrong. And you certainly do not need to keep idealizing the value of the falsehoods that you racked yourself for years over, trying to believe in and to be true to.
You are standing athwart everything your heart has always thought to be True and Good because in your scrupulously conscientious pursuit of them you have learnedhow to be truerto the good and discovered that precisely this means toppling your religions’ false idols, repudiating its false teachers, and unshackling yourself from its misconceived, regressive, and outdated false moral constraints.My fellow apostates and conscientiously deconverting agnostics, if you are anything like me you are a doubter for all the best of reasons and your disbelief is due to your greatest virtues.
Your burgeoning atheism is the fruit of your most profound acts of self-liberation and self-definition against enormous intellectual, emotional, social, and spiritual pressure to conform and self-deceive. So stop trying to deny it. Stop trying to “hope” it away. Stop groveling to believers that you really wish you could be one of them. Stop carrying the weight of existence for your former faith. It’s time to stop being the camel and start being a proud and defiant lion. Get off your knees. Unburden yourself. Own your virtues and reassess your alleged vices. Take your hammer and strike the idols, listen to the sounds they make. What kind of resonance do they have? Do they still have a good ring or are they hollow? Smash the hollow ones. And use that same hammer to build new things to replace them.
Start asserting your right to live intellectually, emotionally, socially, and spirituallyfree of what has bound you unjustifiably. Start reclaiming your right to believe in yourself and affirm yourself as fundamentally good and increasingly perfectible despite your flaws. Stop judging yourself and choosing your actions according to bogus Christian standards. Start truly claiming the right to think for yourself far beyond the bounds the church insists on. Be proud of yourself and your atheism, goddammit.
You’ve earned the right to be a proud atheist.
And even now, before you are willing to own this and willing to identify with me, as an atheist, I’m proud of you. I love you. I feel a special kinship with you that I only feel with those who know what it’s like to tear themselves away from their faith as a matter of principle and to learn, to their astonishment, that faithlessness can be a virtue. I look forward to being fully reunited as your spiritual brother again when this dark night of your soul is over and you’re ready for the new dawn, the high noon, and the whole rest of the new day ahead.
June 1, 2014 will be the second annual International Day of Doubt. It’s a day to make known to whoever wants to talk that you are a safe person for them to confidentially come to with their doubts. Last year, I publicized this and invited people to reach out to me. One of those people is now in the Clergy Project. If you’re one of those who has escaped the backwards stigma on doubting, be a beacon for others. Help them to safe harbor. And spread the word to all the doubters you know to support the International Day of Doubt.
If you are struggling with coping with your own doubts or outright loss of faith, Recovering From Religion can help you with various resources, including understanding secular therapists and local groups. And if you think talking to a professional philosopher would help, I have been in a place similar to where you probably are myself and I offer philosophical advice services in which I can talk to you about both your practical problems and help you work through your philosophical struggles. Again, write me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Finally, you can learn more about The Clergy Project in the book Caught in The Pulpit: Leaving Belief Behind
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