The Atheist Monk

The Atheist Monk August 6, 2019

I’ve written a lot about the emails and messages I get from atheists in other countries who are in danger. You know, the ones who face death if it ever comes out that they no longer believe in god. There are heathens who I eventually stop hearing from and who may have suffered the ultimate punishment for their apostasy. I’ve written a lot about these sorts of emails that haunt me and hang over me like a dark cloud. They all have something in common, though, all of these brave apostates facing violence and extreme discrimination; they are all from somewhere far, far away.

Often, when I talk about hardships facing atheists, I am met with a chorus of people insisting that apostasy is only tricky in these foreign theocratic lands. They assure me that no atheists struggle here in the developed world simply because they’re godless. That’s an “over there” problem. It’s not our problem.

Of course, this is BS. Among the many messages from people in other countries and on different continents, are hundreds of emails from Canadian and American atheists. As soon as I requested you send me your stories, they flooded in from everywhere. The vast majority of the notes I got from my fellow North American heathens were stories of extreme torment and grief. These troubles they wrote to me about were a direct result of their loss of faith.

Recently, I received a note like this from a reader that completely winded me. It’s from a man in the US who has lost his belief in god. I’m just going to let him tell you in his own words what’s going on:

Dear Courtney,

I have read a few posts from your blog recently, and I wanted to say I have enjoyed your work very, very much. You write with a clarity that eludes many atheists. I want to share just a little of my struggle with you since you do not come from a religious background. Because I have not officially “came out” as it were, I will avoid minute details that may give my identity away.

I was not raised in a Christian home. My parents are still unbelievers as far as I know. I joined the church when I was 17 years old.

I am currently a monk, an Oblate in a monastery in Virginia, and now I am no longer a believer in Christianity. Before someone dismisses me as an uneducated follower of that faith who came from a broken home let me say that I have been to college, also a bible college, a graduate school and a seminary and I hold two advanced degrees in theology. Yet, I never tell anyone that I have a doctorate, never did for some strange reason. My wife is still a die-hard believer, however, and one of my two children currently attends a Christian school (it is a good school, religion aside).

The seeds of my departure began back in 2001 when I was condemned as a heretic – yes, you read that correctly. I was condemned to hell for insisting on teaching the Bible from the original languages and not from the KJV Bible alone by a Landmark fundamentalist Baptist church. (Landmarkers believe their church is part of an unbroken chain through church succession beginning with the Apostles though I did not embrace this) Because of my condemnation, my community of baptist believers shunned me. I was a modern-day leper…after all I challenged the KJV bible.

Despite leaving fundamentalist circles for others who weren’t so narrow-minded in recent years including joining a monastery that sought to embrace a more modern approach, I have chosen to abandon my faith because it is a fraud. I have yet to meet anyone who actually believes that the god of the Bible actually exists – no one lives out the faith they profess. There are hundreds of Bible versions, 33K denominations each with their unique “twist” on doctrine and theology. Who could possibly know who is right? Over the years, I have come to know many published authors, speakers, pastors, missionaries. I mean this with all sincerity, no one lives like they believe the truth they profess. I have been hit on by pastors wives, gone drinking with pastors and Christians, witnessed some watch pornography, heard them lie to church members, known some to have affairs on their wives, watched them indulge in gluttony and theft all in a sanctimonious manner that makes one want to vomit. When I could not win my own arguments for the validity of the faith, I was done. I destroyed my own apologetic model – it was epoch-making, and I broke inside. Christianity is a lie.

I am now reeling with the fact I have spent thousands of dollars on an education that I cannot use in a practical way to make a living. I have spent (wasted) hundreds of hours in a classroom, teaching and preaching in a church sanctuary, witnessing to some and condemning others with great joy at the time I might add, and for what? For what? Madness.

I cannot breathe sometimes Courtney. It is overwhelming. Breaking my vows that I swore for eternity at the monastery condemns me to hell, (there it is again) and sharing this news with my wife will absolutely crush her, I mean it will wreck her, after all she is a still believer though thankfully a kind and decent person despite being a Christian. If and when I do, I will share how that goes.

I can’t imagine what this man is going through. His wife and kids, his job, his education, all of his skills, tied up in a belief he no longer has. What will happen when and if he reveals his lost faith to his family, colleagues and friends?

In response, I urged him to check out the Clergy Project. The mission of the Clergy Project, from their website, is:

To provide support, community, and hope to current and former religious professionals who no longer hold supernatural beliefs.

The Clergy Project is a truly safe place for religious professionals who have lost their faith to talk to others in the same situation while remaining anonymous. There is no pressure to come out. In fact, a member of the Clergy Project may keep their atheism a secret for the rest of their lives. This is just a place to be who you are without the fear of having your identity revealed. On top of that, The Clergy Project works to provide resources for when you do decide to “come out”. If you choose to take this path, TCP can help you find a new career, a new place to live and can offer grants in situations where your livelihood has been jeopardized.

Check out the Clergy Project here.

There is also Recovering from Religion. RFR is an organization that offers resources to those who were once religious but who are no longer believers. Their services include a hotline that apostates can call for support. Check out RFR here.

If you are struggling with a lack of faith as a religious leader, reaching out to these two organizations can make a huge difference. If for no other reason than to realize you are not alone. I would also urge all my readers to donate to them if you can.

As far as our new friend goes, I will keep you posted as I hear from him, providing he is okay with me sharing.

If you’ve got a story to tell about losing your belief in god, let me know. I’m here to listen and learn:

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What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • Martin Penwald

    He said that he has never seen someone living up to their faith and believing the abrahamic deity exists, and I can really see what he means (Kenneth Copland was unfortunately unavailable to comment). However, I have a question : what about his wife? Does he really think she doesn’t believe and that she is just putting a façade?

    I suspect he is tormented by this aspect of what he discovered (that christianity, like other abrahamic religions, are a fraud) and have trouble to reconciliate it with his wife’s faith. It’s an aspect he will probably need to address at some point and I agree it’s scary.

  • Jim Jones

    > What will happen when and if he reveals his lost faith to his family, colleagues and friends?

    Suggest he checks out his local library for these:

    Also eBay, Amazon, Barnes & Noble etc.

    At least he is (?) used to talking to large groups.

  • Jim Jones

    I recall a judge commenting that he was certain there are police officers who never lie under oath in court.

    But he’s never seen one of those.

  • Max

    What happened to the post I presented here? Where is it?

  • wannabe

    My question is, if he realizes he’s wasted years of his life learning and teaching useless false theology, why hasn’t he made sure his children at least know his opinion before they, too, waste so much of their lives? If one of his children followed his path then learned that their father could have saved them earlier, wouldn’t they resent him? Part of being a parent is making hard choices like this, even (possibly) at the cost of a marriage.

  • Sophotroph

    Disqus probably ate it. It happens from time to time.

  • Max

    Thanks. Stephanie found it. Below:

  • Jim Baerg

    This group is a bit far away from the man who wrote the letter to you, but someone in a similar situation in Alberta might want to check them out.

  • persephone

    It sounds like he really loves his wife and children. I can see why he wouldn’t want to wreck his family over his beliefs. Divorce is not simple or easy, and no one comes out unscathed.

  • John

    Monk, monastery, wife, kids… ??

  • persephone

    Oblate monk.

    “Oblates are individuals, either laypersons or clergy, normally living in general society, who, while not professed monks or nuns, have individually affiliated themselves with a monastic community of their choice. They make a formal, private promise (annually renewable or for life, depending on the monastery with which they are affiliated) to follow the Rule of the Order in their private life as closely as their individual circumstances and prior commitments permit. Such oblates are considered an extended part of the monastic community”


  • NikkiofAmystika

    Courtney, I don’t have any advice regarding this man’s spiritual struggles or if/when/how he’s going to tell his family (although I feel deeply sorry for him), but I was able to think of a possible career path for him. I hit Google and found out that Virginia’s minimum requirements for substitute teachers are that they have a high school diploma or GED and attend a school-run substitute-teaching orientation (however, individual school districts can attach additional requirements if they wish).

  • carolyntclark

    As V.P., Thank you for providing info. But some clarification on The Clergy Project…Your first 4 sentences are correct. After a screening interview, the Monk may or may not qualify for TCP. interpretation of “religious leaded” status. Being a lay oblate and teacher does not automatically translate to being a “religious leader”….”preaching in church” sanctuaries may make him qualified. As to TCP resources, participants may apply for 12 free counseling sessions if needed in transition. Unfortunately, there is not a program to find new housing nor financial aid. You correctly quoted The Clergy Project mission statement “To provide support, community, and hope to current and former religious professionals who no longer hold supernatural beliefs.”

  • billwald

    I was a police officer for 30 years and never lied under oath or in writing. If my inquisitors never asked the right questions, that’s their problem.

  • Jim Jones

    Thy can certainly be very unobservant if that helps the case.

  • David Cromie

    As far as I know, it is not pleasant for a JW who ‘falls away’, and the same goes with some Brethren sects.

  • John Purssey

    What is related may be a mythical story, like many narratives in sacred texts; and like many narratives it may help some (but not all) in understanding their own spiritual journey or the journey of others. That doesn’t mean it will stand out and become a celebrated narrative.