Editor’s Note: “Dave,” our atheist ex-pastor has come out publicly as a non-believer in a newspaper column he’s been writing for 25 years for IFP (special to QMI Agency) in Ontario, Canada. He is really Bob Ripley, former pastor of Metropolitan United Church in London, Ontario. As he told us in his original Rational Doubt post on July 14th, he has written a book about his deconversion. It is coming out on October 1st (more on that later). Today, “Dave,” now Bob, answers a question posed by reader “Wilmer” to the atheist ex-pastor.
As I have gotten older, I realize that I can no longer affirm any of the following:
– Any spirit being that one would call God or Goddess
– Angels and demons
– Heaven and hell as literal places
– Miracles as recorded in the Bible
– Life after death
But there are two major reasons that I have not been able to fully embrace my unbelief. The first is that I am not completely certain that the God I have rejected is what God is, that maybe something like Tillich’s “Ground of Being” is what God is. And the second could be related to the first, and that is that even with my doubts, I still love the Church as institution. I love being in Church and relating with the folks there.
My question is this: Are these contradictory thoughts normal in the process of moving from Christianity to the full embrace of atheism?
Atheist ex-pastor answers:
Thanks for these great questions. I’m of the opinion that since an atheist does not believe in anything supernatural, then any deity separate from humanity would be outside the realm of possibility. This would include, I suppose, Paul Tillich’s “Ground of Being” although I always thought of Tillich’s theology as a reduction of God and his relationship to man into anthropocentric terms.
Your second question is one I too struggle with as one who was raised in the arms of the church. It may sound disingenuous to some, but as a former pastor there are parts of the life of the church that I miss. Take the music. I loved the choral music of our choir so I went out and bought CD’s of choral music (for example, Thomas Tallis’ Spem in Alium which is a 40-part Renaissance motet). You don’t have to believe the text to like the music. As for the folks there, I miss some of them too but I’ve also developed a group of new friends with whom I can socialize. Not every aspect of church life is bad but atheists are free to find secular parallels to fill the void.
All the best in your process from faith to reason,
Dave (aka Bob Ripley)
Bio: Bob Ripley, aka “The Atheist Ex-Pastor” is a syndicated religion columnist, broadcaster, former preacher and author of Christian devotional material. His new book coming out in October, 2014 is titled Life Beyond Belief: A Preacher’s Deconversion.