Minister Announces on Internet What Many Ministers Secretly Believe

Minister Announces on Internet What Many Ministers Secretly Believe March 22, 2015

3/24/15 **Update**  John Shuck wrote a response to the Friendly Atheist blog on his own blog

By Linda LaScola

John Shuck picPeople over at the Friendly Atheist blog have gone crazy over the post written by Clergy Project member and Presbyterian minister, John Shuck.  As I write this, there are almost 900 comments. Maybe it’s because the post is titled, “I’m a Presbyterian Minister who doesn’t believe in God.”

I notice that many atheists and Christians are mad at him for the same reason: He’s not living up to their concept of what a Christian ought to be.   Many Christians and atheists feel the same about what a Christian must believe; that is, the literal words of the creed: belief in a supernatural god in heaven, a son born of a virgin who died for our sins, who actually came back from the dead and promises eternal life to those who believe in him. They don’t seem to know that a lot of sincere, practicing Christians, some of whom are clergy, don’t take those assertions at face value.

While many of the comments are mocking and disapproving, a few are positive and somewhat in awe of Rev. Shuck. For instance, every now and then a Christian will come on and say something like —

“Cool, I wish my pastor was like that!”

Or an atheist will comment along the lines of —

“I may have continued attending church if my pastor had been like that.”

Some of the comments are from me.   For instance:

Mainline Protestant clergy as well as Catholic clergy do not teach or think that the Bible is the inerrant word of god. They don’t think of it as being either factual or lies. It’s stories and metaphor.

[In response to a commenter who suggested that Shuck should study the Bible] Of course Shuck has studied the Bible. Like every seminary-trained minister, he has taken graduate-level courses in the Old and New Testament taught by theologians with PhDs in their field of study. Clergy have a much deeper understanding of the Bible than most of the people in the pews.

Perhaps they [clergy in mainline protestant denominations] don’t see their beliefs as being “in contrast” to church doctrine but rather as an acceptable interpretation of it that many in their denomination share and endorse – although they may not discuss it very openly.

I wish more churches would be open to this type of pastor. Some liberal churches already have pastors with beliefs similar to Shuck’s, but they don’t realize it because their pastors are not as outspoken as Shuck is.

I felt like I was doing a public service by informing people that his views are not out of the ordinary among liberal clergy.   What is extraordinary about John Shuck is that he is so vocal about his position and that he gets away with it. His new parish in Portland, OR hired him knowing his views. How could they not? His views are spelled out on his personal website and evident in an NPR show he hosted called “Religion for Life” in which he interviewed people like me, Dan Dennett and Jerry DeWitt. He also wrote for this blog and gave me permission to post his statement of beliefs, which is also part of his recent Friendly Atheist post.

I do think he’s gone out on a limb.

pastor on a limb

But he’s been doing it for a while and the limb is holding – thanks in great measure to PCUSA, his very progressive denomination that just voted to endorse gay marriage.

I would love it if more liberal clergy could be as open as John Shuck has been, but I would never personally encourage anyone to do that. I wouldn’t want to see harm come to anyone for taking such brazen advice. The social worker and social researcher in me wants to protect them and ultimately wants society to change to the point where these clergy will be safe in proclaiming their perfectly legitimate and logical beliefs – based in large part on the academic approach to religious studies taken in seminary.

But I have to admit that another part of me – my inner instigator, the social change agent, the seeker of justice – would like to see what would happen if a lot of liberal clergy publicly clarified their views, as John Shuck has done, to their superiors and their congregants.

What do you think would happen?

==========================

3/24/15 **Update**  John Shuck wrote a response to the Friendly Atheist blog on his own blog

photo credits:

Arthur Siebens on a limb, by Linda LaScola

John Shuck, from his Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/religionforlife

"This is interesting textual analysis. In practice what matters is the prejudices institutional Christianity finds ..."

Homosexuality and the New Testament -Guest ..."
"And of course Christians tend to ignore all the other vices mentioned in that 1 ..."

Homosexuality and the New Testament -Guest ..."
"You haven't addressed the central point: you have no robust theory as to why the ..."

Pontius Pilate: A Sensitive Guy…. 
"I have to confess that I’ve never heard of Otto Berchert but a little google ..."

Pontius Pilate: A Sensitive Guy…. 

Browse Our Archives

Follow Us!


TRENDING AT PATHEOS Nonreligious
What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • Pofarmer

    If my wife’s fundamentalist Catholicism hadn’t challenged me, and continues to, I probably could have stayed indefinitely in a belief like that. I always believed religion was more about teaching morality, anyway. But when you encounter people who believe that crackers and wine really do turn into blood and flesh, when God blesses the tires on you RV, then I just can’t condone that level of belief with my presence.

    • ctcss

      It sounds like you would’ve preferred Christianity to be approached in a kindly, humble, and deeply considered manner, which is an approach that I would hope that most people would approve of. There are lots of people quietly grappling with what it means to follow God, as well as with the various texts they read in the Bible. It’s only when some religious leaders (and some followers) seek to dictate to others what their conclusions should be (rather than helping them to search and to arrive at useful conclusions of their own) that problems occur.

      Thoughtfulness, graciousness, humility, honesty, and caring for others are qualities that very much should be part of every religious practice.

      • beyond partisan

        Excuse me, but believing in the power of God to change bread and wine into flesh and blood does not make you thoughtless or stupid. Nor does following the teachings of the Catholic church (BTW I am not Catholic). Such arrogant assumptions on the part of so many here!

        • The_Wretched

          “thoughtless or stupid.”
          How about credulous or counter-factual?

        • Without Malice

          Of course believing that the power of God can change bread and wine into the flesh and blood of a 2,000 years dead Jew doesn’t make your thoughtless and stupid. Not anymore than believing in a 6,000 year old earth, or in talking snakes and talking donkeys, or men walking on water, or people coming out of their graves and walking around town makes you thoughtless or stupid. It just makes you a person who believes in really stupid stuff.

        • ObscurelyAgnostic

          YES, it is most certainly arrogant — and arrogance always shuts down dialogue and discussion …

        • WeldonScott

          It just makes you a cannibal.

          http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=m-Mw80oKGC4

  • ctcss

    Linda, your husband must really love you.

    • Linda_LaScola

      He’s quite a ham!

  • johnshuck

    Thanks, Linda. A more accurate title might have been, “A Presbyterian Minister Who Doesn’t Believe in the Supernatural.” If people read past the title, that is really my beef.

    • Linda_LaScola

      Meanwhile, I can just imagine the comments from people saying “What does he mean, he doesn’t believe in a supernatural god? What other kind of god IS there?”

      Which might be another conversation worth having.

    • carolyntclark

      I agree with Carl Sagan on the topic. Strive for clarity.
      Words matter and redefining a well understood word , like “God”, to mean something other than the long established accepted meaning, just muddies the water.

      • ObscurelyAgnostic

        Freedom of speech and thought, especially in our post-modern culture, will always muddy the waters!

        • beyond partisan

          Clarity is fundamentalist? Do you realize what a parody of post-modernism you are portraying here?

          • ObscurelyAgnostic

            Too much clarity gets people killed, sometimes on a mass scale …

      • Elizabeth.

        Wow, Carolyn, seems to me there are zillions of meanings for the word “God.” Does it mean someOne personal? a force? does it refer to something or someOne in “process” of becoming? does it include the stuff we call evil or is there a dualism of some sort? Is God something or someOne who intervenes in what we understand as the natural order? is God something or someOne engaged in a mighty struggle against destructive forces and the outcome is truly uncertain? Does the word refer to Nature? etc etc. And these are just the meanings this single person has run across that come to mind just now. I think if we define with clarity, that is going to be something new! — If Rational Doubt tackles it, that will be interesting reading — and thinking!!

  • ObscurelyAgnostic

    Linda, a million thanks for helping others understand that liberal clergy are Christians too — even Godless ones! As a (closeted) agnostic minister myself, I’ve also experienced hostility from both atheists and Christians, even in an online community that’s dedicated to supporting faithless clergy in their impossible situations. I’ve often thought that in a way losing your faith can make you a better minister because you don’t have any skin in the game, so to speak — some people can be more open and honest with you about doubts and questions they know you share, which I think is what those few positive comments you quoted above were getting at? Religious faith is just as varied (and variable) as the human person — the liberal church gets that, and maybe John Shuck is just what our post-modern age of “your truth is not my truth” (and vice versa) needs …

    • beyond partisan

      No, it doesn’t make you a better minister because you’ve lost your connection with God and cannot serve Him as well when you are deaf to what He is trying to tell you. Get down on your knees and PRAY for guidance, pray for a sign, pray for faith. If you do it sincerely then you will get an answer. However, if you are too caught up in your identity as “liberal” you are going to shut yourself off. You need to be radically open to where God sends you, and I hate to break it to you, but the more I’ve connected with God the more “traditional” I’ve become. So you need to be willing to let go of your identity as the “enlightened liberal” if you really want to hear God. Maybe that’s just too much of a trade off.

      • Without Malice

        “I hate to break it to you, beyond, but you sound very much like the ever so proud of their own righteousness jerks that Jesus said he would shun. You are no more connected to God than my little dog.

      • ObscurelyAgnostic

        Respectfully, in my anthropological opinion, God is usually saying exactly what we need him to be saying …

      • WeldonScott

        Are you actually an atheist trying hard to be an asshole Christian, so others are driven away from orthodoxy?

  • I commented on the Friendly Atheist. One side of me admires John for remaining on the inside, the other side of me wonders why. I fully understand the need for community and the desire to be a leader (and financial considerations). But having been a Presby insider for a long time, I now think the labels just aren’t worth it. I have friends who are still insiders who hold on and hope for change. In a church that calls itself Christian there will always be bibles and creeds, endless polity and theology squabbles. With all the needs in our communities, our cities, our nation and our world, is there really any time for that? I don’t see it. I wish him well in the re-definitions of the labels. But labels they remain.

    In my mind, the Interfaith Community Sanctuary where I spoke a few years back, makes a LOT more sense (http://interfaithcommunitysanctuary.org). We can do much better, and be more relevant, than re-packaging the old.

    • carolyntclark

      here, here, Chris !

      • ObscurelyAgnostic

        yes they keep the mind from degenerating LOL

    • Elizabeth.

      Wow, Chris, this Interfaith Community Sanctuary is hugely appealing to me — thank you so much for the link! Imam Jamal Rahman (one of the ministers) sounds like Thich Nhat Hanh’s advice, as Rahman “remains rooted in his Islamic tradition but cultivates ‘spaciousness’ by being open to the beauty and wisdom of other faiths.” Thich Nhat Hanh urges people to stay with their roots, discover the beauties there, and branch out from there. He acknowledges that people are suffering because of the distortions and dissonances and want to leave everything far behind. His beautiful book “Going Home: Jesus and Buddha as Brothers” was significant for me when I was trying to figure out what to do as I realized there was so much of what is considered to be Christianity that I can not affirm.

      Linda, you ask what might happen… I have been thinking that maybe at some point we will have a super-saturated solution, such that a post like John’s will precipitate a sudden crystallization across the whole spectrum. I think (sadly) it’s too early for that to happen yet — but likely it’s a part of that Fourth Awakening — whatever that is!!

      John, thank you. For me, it makes me feel less like a total outlier and maybe part of something good on the way — deep gratitude. I hope all the challenges will be helpful opportunities for dialogue and all of us to grow. As a certain radio host says — Be well

      • Linda_LaScola

        maybe at some point we will have a super-saturated solution, such that a post like John’s will precipitate a sudden crystallization across the whole spectrum.

        A tipping point? like the effect Stonewall riots had on the gay liberation movement?
        http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stonewall_riots

        • Elizabeth.

          yes… hopefully without the riots!! I’ve been so surprised by all the innovative iterations of Christianity I’m seeing lately along the lines of atheistic Christianity, Fourth Awakening, NEXT Church…. Probably the speed at which it’s increasing is made possible by the internet. And Yes, I have been telling my friends about R.D.! ….hurrying up that tipping point?

          Stonewall — it’s so discouraging to read that wiki and think about all that people who’re gay have endured and been required to fix. Yet inspiring to read the personal stories of heroism.With thanks for the great work,

    • beyond partisan

      As a more “conservative” Christian who used to be a lot more liberal and new age, let me applaud you on building something new instead of trying to destroy the existing church traditions that still mean so much to so many. I am so tired of people trying to take over or change existing church institutions when creating something new like what you are doing is so much more positive – and RESPECTFUL.

  • I appreciate John’s article, as well as yours, and I appreciate the path he is making for himself, although I long for the time when I can get AWAY from the church. I’ll probably write about the reasons soon, but suffice to to say, after a lifelong long lover’s quarrel with “God’s People,” I’m ready to get away from them. I’ve worked to bring about change but they’re driving themselves to destruction, and I’m content to let them go their way. I’ve thought about fading away from them, assuring them that I don’t want to be their enemy, and I don’t. Each of the individuals in church, even the angry, bullying ones are affected by the superstitious pathology of a mind controlling institutional structure. The people need healing, but the institution? I’d like to see it come down.

    • carolyntclark

      and the healing may occur more quickly once the institution comes down.
      They may be surprised at how much real substance there is in life once the imagined elements are gone.

      • beyond partisan

        You might be surprised at how much depth and meaning there is in orthodoxy, but I doubt you’ve read much Lewis, Chesterton, or other books on theology or the deep church.

    • ObscurelyAgnostic

      Stan, I’m all for the institutional structures coming down — Christianity needs to get back its pre-Constantine counter-cultural humanist roots, the sooner the better.

    • beyond partisan

      You’re getting your wish – the institution is coming down. But did you ever stop to consider that maybe you aren’t always right? Did you get on your knees and humble yourself to God – and ask God how HE wants you to serve? The upshot is that folks like you have chased people like me away from the churches we grew up in. I don’t want to be in a leftist political organization. I go to church to connect with God. So I left the Episcopal church and now go to an orthodox Anglican church that is thriving and part of the growing orthodox Anglican movement in America. All you’ve done is basically helped destroy the mainline churches but you aren’t taking down orthodoxy whatsoever. Orthodoxy is thriving. I’m sorry you are blind to how beautiful and meaningful it is.

      • Linda_LaScola

        Beyond Partisan: If you’re interested in knowing more about Stan’s struggle to believe, read this post that he recently wrote: http://www.patheos.com/blogs/rationaldoubt/2015/03/1801/

      • Beyond partisan, I’m glad that presently you are having good experiences with the church you attend. Please know that your clergy are paying a much higher price than you can realize to make sure you have those good experiences. And not just them, but their spouses and children, as well. And when they are completely exhausted from years of effort, I hope you will have enough compassion to refrain from telling them to humble themselves before god, and listing what you think their mistakes have been.

  • David Chapman

    Hi Linda. I am curious as to whether you intended to state there are “almost eight hundred and ninety”, rather than “8,900” comments to John’s post? I checked just now, and I see nine hundred and six comments. Thank you in advance for clarification.

    • Linda_LaScola

      Oops! thanks for catching it – I screwed up when changing the number from 890 something to “almost 900.”

      FYI – it’s now surpassed 900

      • Linda_LaScola

        The comment count is now at 1148

  • Bill Spivey

    I welcome the readiness of some Christian pastors and theologians and congregations to get beyond literal word, Sunday School stories and acknowledge more subtle nuances of “sophisticated” Christian thought. If they seriously mean what they’re saying, why do they want to cling to the “Christian” label at all? 2000 years of excuse-making and coverups and placations and happy talk and fear-mongering and clerical privilege and nonsensical preoccupations and resistance to science and death-cult fascination with Armageddon and insisting we’re all sinners who must obey or be tortured forever have, to me anyway, hopelessly contaminated any clarity and value the term “Christian” may still have. I’d like to see Christians acknowledge that the utterly ancient Golden Rule is the self-evident basis of human morality, that supernatural thinking is a dead-end, and that evidence-based thinking is the route to everything that’s true, and then have a big “going out of business” sale.

    LaScola asked “What do YOU think would happen” (if pastors came clean)? I think it would take many years for the believers and non-believers to sort themselves out, that there might be some sad periods for the human race, but we would ultimately devise humane and revitalized institutions for helping people live together without superstition. I’m a Humanist, so I’m rooting for mankind to have a glorious future that DOESN’T first require the apocalyptic destruction and death of the world.

    • carolyntclark

      Well said, Bill. My thoughts, exactly.

    • Elizabeth.

      Well, here’s another perspective, too…. when I was starting to look for a different denomination, one affirming of people who’re glbtq, a minister who shares my beliefs said that he felt he had to stay “in” because there were still so many members who were glbtq — “we can’t leave before they do,” he said — and so I stayed, too, to help defend, open doors, remove stigma, and help clear away the debris around “the clobber passages,” where tradition is strong but the plain sense of the text does not support the tradition. I think people can make their contributions in different locations — “in” and “out” — each searches for the best possible way for them….

      • ObscurelyAgnostic

        “To help defend [the oppressed], open doors, remove stigma, and clear away debris” — what a great mission statement for the modern liberal church!

        • Elizabeth.

          O.A., my mission statement as a Christian is something like the gospel of Luke’s account of Jesus’ inaugural sermon, where he quotes Isaiah 61 and then is threatened to be thrown off a cliff for pointing out how God has answered the needs of unholy Gentiles when there were Israelites who also were needy.

          “The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me, because the Lord has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor.
          He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted,
          to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor and the day of vengeance of our God,
          to comfort all who mourn, and provide for those who grieve in Zion — to bestow on them a crown of beauty
          instead of ashes, the oil of joy instead of mourning,
          and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair.” [Is.61]

          I do not affirm the “vengeance” idea [ Mtt. & Luke’s Jesus says pray for enemies] but would not mind justice in some cases! “Binding up the brokenhearted” is a lot of what happens in long-term care and hospice, best you can….

          Thanks for all your posts… looking forward to reading the Carroll review!

          • ObscurelyAgnostic

            YES! the Isaiah text (minus the vengeance) is a great example of the common humanist agenda Christians can share with atheists …

      • Linda_LaScola

        I think people can make their contributions in different locations — “in” and “out” — each searches for the best possible way for them

        I do too! and am glad you found a way that works for you

        • Elizabeth.

          it’s a work in progress, for sure. I still wonder whether I should stay “in.” This is such a wonderful forum for exploring these issues… Thoughtful and interesting comments (great humor), and excellent moderating. I really can’t thank you enough

          • Linda_LaScola

            You’re welcome, Elizabeth. Thanks so much for adding to the conversation. Tell your friends!

      • slowe11

        My oft repeated question is: Why would any gay (LGBTQ) person still be a member of a Christian Church that does not fully accept them, completely, as natural and as not a sinner or damaged? Just WHY? As a gay may I why should I demean myself by associating with such an organization? such a text, which has so harmed us? Relgion is THE main reason for and justification for homophobia. Religion has harmed and still harms us. We should just abandon it and choose Humanism, which is by its nature accepting of and champions homosexuals. Its like Blacks joining (as if they could) the KKK.

        • ObscurelyAgnostic

          Here we go with the straw men again 😉

        • Elizabeth.

          Thanks, slowe. Some of my heroes and heroines did leave the denomination. I was shocked by what was said to them in a liberal part of the country, and angry and sad. Each person who has stayed will have their own complicated story. Tragically, some are too young to leave and if they are in a hurtful environment they are in desperate need of someone to be speaking up for them and reading the Bible in ways that include them. Worship professor emeritus Arlo Duba’s mind was changed as he studied baptism in the bible and says “I concluded that gender equality has been in the Bible for well over two thousand years. [Jeremiah 38 & 39, Isaiah 56, etc.] The surrounding culture has kept us from seeing it.” [google ] Sometimes staying in does “make things better,” as Presbyterians just last week defined marriage as between “two people, traditionally a man and a woman.” Straight and gay have struggled for decades for this… so that can be one reason for staying in. (I know many are distressed, but I can’t help being deeply happy to see this day. I am curious to wonder how long it will take for the inclusive readings to become the ordinary sense of the passage….)

          • slowe11

            I am not talking about leaving the denomination. I mean leave the entire theology because it is false, and harmful even if it feels good. Also, it seems that the Bible can be used to say whatever the speaker wants it to say, like statistics. It can be “interpreted” into all sorts of conclusions or messages which change with the speaker and with cultural norms over time. This flexibility, conflicting, and inconsistent messaging makes it, for me, a failure as a guide to morality. If it is God’s word, why does it need to be repeatedly re-interpreted? Shouldn’t it be perfect and perfectly clear? The price paid for the time for a religion or a denomination to “come around is too high. Staying on the inside of such a system is an admission of weakness, of voluntary oppression, of hypocrisy and self degradation. The organization (All three Abraham religions) and its foundational documents are flawed and cannot be corrected without admitting to their imperfectness and therefore their un-godliness and un-divine origins or inspiration. The sacred texts and organizations have pre-modern merely human origins. Trying to continually adhere to them merely prevents our social evolution, progress, and advancement. To adapt them via new “interpretations” is like talking about the Emperor’s New Cloths. But, The Emperor is naked!

          • Elizabeth.

            slowe, rather than self-degradation what I observe is heroic characters who describe themselves as glbtq claiming the beloved character of every individual and their place in the stories of all of us. And an institution that has been harmful is changing. ….Has it been worth the toll? On the one hand, I think we have a Pogo problem — so far, human beings haven’t seemed to figure out a way to live together, religiously or otherwise — “we have met the enemy and he is us.” I sort of think we would make good and bad in whatever scenario we come up with, like the wildly different interpretations of the U.S. Constitution. But I totally agree that religion can make people more impervious to reason. Even the PC(USA) which states it is “reformed and always to be reformed according to the word of God in the power of the Spirit” struggles with the idea of re-forming. I still keep wondering! Thanks so much for the comment

          • slowe11

            I don’t know of : “like the wildly different interpretations of the U.S. Constitution.” There are new laws and new situations that the Constitution is applied to and SCOTUS works out these applications but I would hardly call these interpretations wildly different. ANd certainly not as wildly different, and even contradictory, as those of the Bible. Besides the US Constitution is much better written and edited than the Bible. AND, we have no Supreme Court to make a decision for us, which results in everyone one and every denomination and priest coming up with their own. Which is why I reject it as a guide and relegate it to the library shelf with other human myths. My struggle with the Bible is over.

          • Elizabeth.

            The Bible has been used in horrible ways. About the issue I was mentioning, Hal Porter used to say ‘The Church must repent of its Sodom-like inhospitality to its gay members.’ Tragically, there is no way to do adequate reparations. Constitution-wise, I was thinking of ‘Is Whoopie Goldberg 3/5 of a person,’ and ‘Do I as a female get to vote.’ But it sounds like the shelf is a good option! Thanks again… still wondering!

          • slowe11

            “still wondering! ” about what?

          • Elizabeth.

            Wondering about “life, the universe, and everything”…. which is why I really appreciate this blog. Puzzledly yours, : )

  • SocraticGadfly

    Had I not grown up in the conservative wing of Lutheranism, my M.Div. might actually be getting use, but I had no chance where I was.

  • Well I’d be fired, instantly. As a closeted atheist behind the pulpit, I’m too busy trying to find another job than even think about being an open atheist who still is a religious leader. But the whole thing seems weird to me. I’ve thought, “gee wouldn’t it be nice to still do this job as an atheist?” but why stay attached to a Christian church, with Christian beliefs? If feels like a weird open lie. I don’t know, I’m sill trying to figure myself out.

    • carolyntclark

      John, as many others in your boat, you probably can masquerade for as long as it takes to “figure yourself out”, and make plans for an alternate livelihood. But once the light floods in, it takes a toll to live the lie.

      • SocraticGadfly

        Indeed; and I wasn’t ready to do that. Fortunately, I didn’t have a family, but I wasn’t ready to go down that road. That said, I wasn’t ready to go down other roads either, and no Clergy Project existed back then. I inquired of the Ethical Society, but they wanted me to do another full internship year with a Unitarian church and possibly some other additional classes. I said forget it.

        That said, I’d love to lead a Sunday Session or Ethical Society or similar today. Anybody out there listening?

        • carolyntclark

          Gadfly, there are some scattered congregations of “Sunday Assemblies”, Greta Vosper in Canada is ministering in “West Hills” a godless church. You may be a candidate for The Clergy Project where there is some discussion.

    • beyond partisan

      Good for you for looking for another job. Why not become a Unitarian minister? But I have a better idea: Get down on your knees and beg God to show himself to you. He’s there – you are just blind right now.

      • WeldonScott

        Real men don’t beg make-believe beings.

      • Right, because I wasn’t doing that for last 3 years? Fuck off, you don’t know me.

        • ObscurelyAgnostic

          Nice language, a-hole — would you say that to a lady if you weren’t anonymous? Linda, can’t you delete this kind of obscene and offensive posting?

          • I’m surprised that my language is more offensive than being told I just need to get on my needs and pray. A whole bag of assumptions that are very insulting. Perhaps I should have said “get lost”?

          • ObscurelyAgnostic

            How about … even if you’re now Godless, act like the pastor and professional you are? Again, you would never have used such language with a stranger if you weren’t anonymous …

          • Actually I might have. I would have regretted it, but I still would have acted the same… probably. I’ve done a few things like this, yes in person, before. So I’d thank you to stop assuming things about me. Yes, I’m an “a-hole”. No, I don’t really care what you think about it.

          • ObscurelyAgnostic

            I don’t have to know or make assumptions about you to have the right to ask you to help keep our discourse civil here — and you’re still a pastor, for Christ’s sake! 😉

          • Yes I am, and I have absolutely no desire to be one. In process of finding an escape route.

          • I also assume this means you did see my posted apology.

          • ObscurelyAgnostic

            Yes, it was great to see your apology to beyond partisan, and your cleansing of the offensive language — it just sounded like maybe then you were backing off it in your post to me? but I could be wrong …

          • If by post you mean my personal blog, then you are correct. As you say, the comment section of this blog should be about “civil discourse”. I amended and apologized to aid in that direction. My personal blog is about how I feel. And that was how I felt. My initial reaction to which you blustered at, was and is how I feel emotionally. The “just get on your knees and beg” has got to be one of the most insensitive and painful things I’ve ever had someone say to me online.

          • Elizabeth.

            I have to apologize too. The comment to you and the similar one to ‘Stan’ were shocking in their assumptions and tone and possible impact, but I couldn’t figure out how to comment without being censorious myself. O.A., I thought your reply was great, encouraging a mirroring of one’s God’s grace rather than condemnation; and I was so impressed (and surprised!) when Linda posted her standard “welcome to the blog” to commenters who arrived with sharply negative things to say about and to her. I wanted to speak up but couldn’t figure out how, so I apologize too. If more than O.A. had spoken well and immediately, it’s possible that you would not have needed to reply (which I did not see) in a way that you regretted. The only way I can even begin to understand the comments to you and ‘Stan’ is to realize that evidently many have a horrible stereotype of people who are not theists. As you well say, “You don’t know me.” I hope the next steps for you and ‘Stan’ will become clear soon and be full of healing good times

          • I’ve resolved to not have many friends being in the awkward position as I am. Christians will surely despise me and I’ve already heard plenty of “just get another job already” from atheists, to know that I don’t warrant much sympathy from anyone. I am a liar and a fake. But I’m also a husband and a father, so I continue on doing what I do until something else can provide for them. If at all you feel compelled to defend me or someone like, please do! I and people like me don’t have many friends.

          • Elizabeth.

            I have assumed that I need to be able to do it in a constructive way, but I am thinking that if an unfortunate situation like that would occur again anywhere (tragically) I should just go ahead and sound condemnatory. I am remembering how our Hebrew class was intrigued when an exchange student told us that in their language, the Isaiah 6 translation reads, “Woe is me, for I was silent” — and of course we all thought of Niemoller. If there’s blame for where you are right now, I say it’s for how complex life is. How can a person know everything ahead of time? We all just try to work it through as honestly as we can, given all the givens. I am sure you are doing good things while in transition. Bet there are a lot of them

          • ObscurelyAgnostic

            How is insisting on civility here “blustering”?

          • Well calling someone an a**hole and saying they are only acting in a certain manner due to anonymity… Could be considered blustering.

          • ObscurelyAgnostic

            Wrong answer, pastor! … ok, I think I’m finally getting what’s going on here really — you have to get your A**HOLE on HERE with a lady like Beyond and gentleman like me so u can COOL it in real time/space right? … I guess we could call this my ministry to your needs? 😀

          • No, not really. Again, had I’d been insulted and belittle as such in the “real world”, I probably would have reacted the same. I would have regretted it, yes. But done the same…probably. I dropped the “pastor need to act perfectly all time” bs several years ago, while I still believed. But I think you’re missing the point where the original reply from Beyond was literally the harshest and most hurtful thing I’ve been personally told in decades. It may not seem that harsh to you, but that’s you. I literally haven’t been that personally offended in a very, very long time. This doesn’t excuse my reaction, but the idea that I only am a jerk here so I can be normal elsewhere, kind of misses what actually went on.

          • ObscurelyAgnostic

            OK, I can accept that. I guess in my own way of coping with making my living as a fraudulent minister I cling (perversely?) to the ‘professional’ aspects of the job — e.g., that you hold yourself to a higher ‘trigger’ for angry outbursts, etc. And even my private unguarded reaction to Beyond’s comments would have been to accept them as the ‘koolaid’ she needs to drink to get through life? Because “God knows” I’m chugging my own koolaid of agnosticism just to get out of bed in the morning …

          • Forgive me for not realizing you are a current minister. I had assumed you were not because you didn’t appear to understand the insulting nature of Beyond’s comments. Perhaps because you are in my shoes, your criticism actually bears more weight and veracity.

          • ObscurelyAgnostic

            YES, I think it should too brother! (*grin*)

          • charlesburchfield

            I am enjoying your references in multiple posts to the ‘koolaid’! grokking you buddy!

          • @beyondpartisan:disqus Forgive me for my harsh reaction and foul language. Your suggestion to “get down on your knees and beg God to show himself to you” was deeply hurtful. You do not know the amount of emotional pain it was for the last 3 years feeling completely ignored by God. No one to answer my prayers, no one to guide me, no one to let me know that I was serving something/someone greater than myself. I literally cried myself to sleep for YEARS. And it wasn’t just because of being a Christian, but I also staked my families welfare on being a pastor. I would come home everyday and look at my children and my wife and be tourmented that there was nothing I could do to support them because God was not with me. I prayed and begged. God never showed up.

  • Otto

    I applaud his honesty.

    Personally it makes me a bit conflicted… but I can see where his beliefs in an active Christian culture can be a bridge for people who can’t bring themselves to just leave.

  • mason

    What do I think would happen?

    It would be like getting the heroin addict on methadone, then tapering off to sobriety, and slowly discovering living the joys and sorrows of life sober.

    If you’re not a racist why would you want to be in the KKK? If you don’t believe in the supernatural why would you want to be in a group that does? That’s why it’s called “trapped in the pulpit.” $$$$$ So if a clergy decides to announce after the choir sings that, “Hey, I’m an atheist, and we’re going un-theist & secular” the clergy really needs to know the congregation in order to keep the job.

    • Linda_LaScola

      Mason — you can always be counted on for interesting imagery.

      So, are you saying that mainline Christianity is a manifestation of the methadone era that is a remedial step up the heroin days of fundamentalism – and the next step is humanism? i.e. straight and sober?

  • beyond partisan

    Being an atheist and a Christian is an oxymoron. So why don’t these fakers just become Unitarian ministers? We have a clue here in the last paragraph – this isn’t about being a new type of “Christian.” It is about being an “instigator” or Social Justice Warrior (SJW). It’s about not leaving well enough alone – these SJW radicals need to infiltrate and destroy every traditional church they can get their hands on. In doing so, they completely rewrite history and make Jesus out to be something he was not (newsflash: Jesus clearly said marriage was between a man and a woman, see Mark 10).

    If they were truly consistent and sincere, they’d call out Jesus for being a “heterosexist” and “homophobe.” But instead, they cherry pick scripture and try to pretend Jesus was for radical leftist transformation when he was focused on preaching about God.

    This is all ego on the part of the Social Justice Warriors. The funny thing is, they honestly believe they are winning even as people leave their congregations in droves. They don’t realize that most people don’t want obsessive, hateful, crazy far left politics preached at them from the pulpit.

    • beyond partisan

      BTW, the author of this article has been commenting on that other article for days. She has not come off as reasonable or offering much of anything to the discussion. She’s mostly offered lame one-liners and snark. For all her claims on compassion as a social worker she has been hardly a light over there.

      • Linda_LaScola

        Welcome to the Rational Doubt blog, Beyond Partisan.

        I assume you found it as a result of the link I posted on one of my comments there in which I said that other clergy shared Shuck’s views. I’ve also copied some of my comments in the post above to give readers here a flavor of what I was saying there and my reasons for commenting.

      • The_Wretched

        “She has not come off as reasonable”
        You must not get out much or have a strange idea of what’s reasonable. I find her comments on the verge of frustratingly milquetoast. They are that restrained.

    • slowe11

      I agree that an “atheist Christian” is an osymoron. I think we need to use more adjectives before the word Christian. LIke the Jews do: Reformed Jew, Orthodox Jew, Secular Jew, Cultural Jew, non-observant Jew, etc. There is more than one type of Christian, yet we fail to distinguish them in discussions.

  • ObscurelyAgnostic

    GAWD, I love it when I find a book that gives a brilliant and long answer to questions I’m too dumb to answer! Linda’s question was, “What do YOU think would happen [if liberal clergy were able to be more open about their UNbelief]? The best response I’ve ever seen (or could conceive of) — and that’s saying something LOL 😉 — is “Christ Actually: The Son of God for the Secular Age”, by James Carroll. Here’s a link to an EXCELLENT Globe review of the book, which will serve as the short version of the book-length answer to Linda.

    http://www.bostonglobe.com/arts/books/2014/12/27/book-review-christ-actually-the-son-god-for-secular-age-james-carroll/Lhev8mHqa3rqstu88VvWxN/story.html

  • Nullifidian

    I notice that many atheists and Christians are mad at him for the same reason: He’s not living up to their concept of what a Christian ought to be.

    Unfortunately, stuff like this simply adds fuel to the fire for those who claim that atheists have an unsophisticated and ignorant approach to the whole subject. There’s a marked tendency to assume that every professing Christian has to be a Bible-thumping fanatic that is a mixed up version of Evangelicalism, Fundamentalism, and whatever sect the atheist in question happened to once be, if they’re an ex-Christian. Then, bizarrely, they get upset with the religious person if he or she fails to live up to the straw man version they’ve constructed, which is akin to how creationists get upset when presented with what evolutionary biologists actually think.

    It’s not as if similar ways of thinking haven’t been with us for decades, or even centuries. The “Death of God” movement in theology, Christian existentialism, and various mystical strains running through the history of Christianity all the way back to Pseudo-Dionysius the Aeropagite (for whom nothing could be said about God, not even that He exists) show that there’s hardly anything outré about Shuck’s approach.

    While it arguably should not be necessary to investigate detailed theological disputes (especially ones that simply assume God’s existence) in order to criticize theism, I sincerely wish that more atheists would at least make a token attempt to familiarize themselves with a little of the breadth of theology and philosophy of religion, especially if they’re going to try to tell a trained minister that he’s professing the wrong kind of view of Christianity. And I would apply the same thought to the subject of Islam. Hoo boy, does it ever apply to contemporary atheist discourse about Islam.

    • Linda_LaScola

      I think both the media and the bible-thumping type of christian bear a lot of responsibility for the image you describe. And too often, the non-bible-thumpers don’t speak up very much. John Shuck is different in this way.

    • ObscurelyAgnostic

      Nullifidian … you are preaching to the choir, brother! The fundamentalist atheists who try to dominate boards and forums like this lose MUCH credibility with their caricatures of religion. The most telling symptom of their irrational bias is the refusal to explore or even discuss the common humanist agenda that theism and atheism so obviously and broadly share. They have every right to their orthodoxy and paranoia, but wheeling out the usual straw men simply shuts down any real debate.

      • Nullifidian

        Depending on how you construe the notion of broad, shared agreement between atheism and theism on the subject of humanism, we may have something to disagree about. While humanism did arise in a Christian context, the very fact that it is identifiably a strain within Christian thought implies that there are many non-humanist traditions within Christianity, to say nothing of non-Christian theisms. Plus, nothing about atheism in itself requires one to adopt humanist values. I wouldn’t call Schopenhauer a humanist, for example. If you’re just saying that humanist values are often shared by today’s theists and atheists, I’d concede that, but would say that this doesn’t reflect any worldview inherent to either theism or atheism, but merely reflects the success with which Enlightenment values became embedded in Western culture. The fact that the dominant cultural values are adopted by people in a society proves nothing more about theism or atheism than that they are consistent with these values. But atheism qua atheism is consistent with everything except the actual existence of the Divine. As this very article shows, it can even be consistent with Christianity. 😉

        So, to sum up, I’m not sure that denying a common “humanist agenda” is necessarily irrational. It all depends on what you mean by it and who is included and who omitted (and, of course, you can manufacture all sorts of commonalities simply by leaving out those who don’t fit in).

        • Elizabeth.

          Nullifidian, somehow I never examined humanism closely… are you saying that essentially it consists of Enlightenment values? Thanks!

          • Nullifidian

            Essentially, yes. It’s complicated by the fact that there are two forms of humanism. First is the humanism of the Renaissance, which survives in the way we talk about “the humanities” at university, but this isn’t necessarily anti-religious or anti-clerical. Indeed, prime examples of Renaissance humanism are Poggio Bracciolini, who was eventually a papal secretary and who served seven popes in his long career, and Erasmus, who prepared the Greek text of the Bible that would be the primary source of the KJV. However, we get a hint of what was to come in cases like Lorenzo Valla proving that the Donation of Constantine was a forgery. While Valla himself was a priest, what he did demonstrated a commitment to the truth over and above the claims of even his own religion, as the Donation was supposed to be the authority by which the Pope was granted the right to choose the Holy Roman Emperor. In Valla’s analysis, truth was granted a higher priority than what was convenient for the Church.

            Now, dealing with humanism as we know it today, there are several major points that derive from Enlightenment values: seeking truth through reason rather than authority; an ethics that makes logic (as in Kant) or ordinary human beings (as in Mill’s utilitarianism) the standard for good, and not deriving ideas of the good from whatever God or the monarch says it is; a de-emphasizing of miracles, both among nonbelievers (e.g. Hume) and believers (e.g. Strauss’ Life of Jesus); reason rather than revelation as the basis for government and its corollary of secularism in public affairs; etc, In broad terms, these are views shared among humanists, whether religious or irreligious, and they’re the fruit of Enlightenment philosophy.

        • ObscurelyAgnostic

          Nullifidian yes, ‘humanist’ is one of those terms that a broad range of ideologies and movements desperately want to ascribe to themselves and deny to their adversaries! Your reply motivated me to do a little research into the term and I found a well balanced article on the American Humanist website (see link below). I learned the following (to quote from the AH article) …

          “Secular and Religious Humanists both share the same worldview and the same basic principles. This is made evident by the fact that both Secular and Religious Humanists were among the signers of Humanist Manifesto I in 1933, Humanist Manifesto II in 1973, and Humanist Manifesto III in 2003. From the standpoint of philosophy alone, there is no difference between the two. It is only in the definition of religion and in the practice of the philosophy that Religious and Secular Humanists effectively disagree.”

          I also found this great quote there from a UU minister, to which I fully subscribe myself as an agnostic minister …

          “Humanism teaches us that it is immoral to wait for God to act for us. We must act to stop the wars and the crimes and the brutality of this and future ages. We have powers of a remarkable kind. We have a high degree of freedom in choosing what we will do. Humanism tells us that whatever our philosophy of the universe may be, ultimately the responsibility for the kind of world in which we live rests with us.”

          http://americanhumanist.org/Humanism/What_is_Humanism

          • Elizabeth.

            Very helpful article… thank you, O.A.! I plan to read it again, but before the R.D. blog moves on, I’ll just say that what I would need to add in the “religious humanist” principles for myself would be something about the possibility of something like a spiritual dimension. (is that obscure enough?) Sort of like whatever the mystics in any religious tradition talk about. I like the way the Sufis talk… so far as I have seen, they don’t seem to have baggage — they just connect with a great Love.

          • ObscurelyAgnostic

            Yes, I agree with you! Even hard core atheists now have Sam Harris’s permission to be spiritual — his latest book is called “Waking Up — A Guide to Spirituality Without Religion” …

    • slowe11

      Most atheists know more about religion than the theists. THis is and has always been true of the oppressed minorities. Women (oppressed) understnad men better than the reverse. Blacks understand Whites better, Gay folks understand Straights better, This is the nature of privilege. Religious (Christian ) privilege allows theists to proceed through life without having to think about it very hard or analysis it very much or even know it very well. Atheists, as a group, have probably thought more and considered their postion much more than most theists.

      • Nullifidian

        The fact that most people in general are unreflective about the positions they hold is hardly a stirring defense of atheists. Being moderately more aware than the average Sunday pew-warmer isn’t a high hurdle to surpass.

        Nor does it excuse the issue that I am talking about and which the OP addresses: the embarrassing sight of atheists telling someone who has trained and thought in-depth about his religion that he’s practicing his religion the ‘wrong’ way because it doesn’t fit their preconceptions of what a Christian is ‘supposed’ to affirm. Often, these ‘common sense’ impressions of what Christian thought ought to be like are uninformed by the long history of what Christian thought actually is. For example, I’ve seen atheists affirm that all Christians have to take the Bible literalistically and anyone who doesn’t is an insincere faker. I pointed out to them that this idea is denied by even such major figures (and early ones) as St. Augustine, and that the idea of a literal Bible and of plain reading is comparatively late, post-Reformation (the editors of the Oxford World’s Classics edition of the KJV have a brief, interesting introduction dealing in part with how the notions of approaching the Bible as a text changed over the centuries). To this, I was accused of being a closet apologist, of rationalizing my supposed ‘belief’, of bad faith, etc. It’s crap like that that I’m addressing, and which I also see in too many comments from atheists over at Hemant’s site.

      • ObscurelyAgnostic

        As Nullifidian stated so well, atheists who make self-serving assertions like, “Atheists, as a group, have probably thought more and considered their position much more than most theists” aren’t doing much that counts for real “thinking” 😉

        • John Lombard

          OA — This isn’t just a vain claim, several different surveys have demonstrated that, at least within the North American context, a larger percentage of atheists DO understand the claims of Christianity better than Christians do. This is a quantifiable, demonstrable reality.

          Given that the majority of North American atheists have had to actively reject religious belief — and therefore study and understand the beliefs that they are rejecting — it is not terribly surprising that they’d have a greater overall understanding of the claims, than would a great many Christians who have never in their lives really questioned what they’ve been taught, but just accepted it because that’s what they were told to believe.

          In short — I know of few North American atheists who are atheists just because they were told by someone else to reject god…they examined the information, and reached their decision based on that; but I know of a great many North American Christians who have never really questioned or examined their beliefs at all

          • ObscurelyAgnostic

            John, you’re using FAR too narrow and parochial an understanding of “understanding” — you can understand exactly how a Ferrari is manufactured, but until you actually DRIVE one, you haven’t understood it at all … as for your patronizing claim that many Christians don’t question or examine their faith, maybe the inbred cretins at Westboro Baptist Church have no doubts, but the rest of us Christians wrestle with them privately every day …

          • John Lombard

            OA — the questionnaires I am discussing gave detailed questions about the content of the Bible…how much did people know about what the Bible actually said. Which, at least to me, is a pretty fundamental aspect of “understanding” one’s beliefs (of course, you may wish to argue that not knowing what the scriptures upon which one’s beliefs are based is not relevant to “understanding”…but then, you’d be contradicting what those scriptures themselves say). And consistently, atheists did better at answering those questions than theists.

            As to the rest of the argument…this claim that “the rest of us Christians wrestle with our doubts every day”…please, be honest with me? You yourself are in a position of religious leadership, and I’m CERTAIN that I’ve heard you in the past comment on the passivity of people in various Christian congregations — you know, the ones who show up on Sunday, listen obediently to the sermon, then go home without ever bothering to crack open a Bible (if they even own one). In fact, I’m VERY confident that I could walk into over 80% of Christian churches in North America, and find a significant majority of people in those churches who rarely or never actually read their Bibles, much less had any significant struggle over their beliefs. They just listen obediently to their preacher, observe the formalities they are told to follow, and leave the rest up to God.

            The ONLY way you can justify your argument above is by resorting to another logical fallacy…the “No True Scotsman” fallacy, whereby you claim, “Anyone who doesn’t read their Bible or wrestle with their beliefs is not a Christian.” I have no doubt at all that YOU struggle with your beliefs (and for the record, personally disagree with your expulsion from TCP, but that’s another issue entirely); but you seem to be engaging in rather excessive projection to assume that everyone else goes through the same.

          • Linda_LaScola

            HI, John — nice to see you here. I’ve asked TCP members not to refer to private TCP matters here on the blog.

          • ObscurelyAgnostic

            John, you are now the SECOND person from TCP to violate my privacy there (by mentioning my comment about people in the pew, which I neither confirm nor deny) — and so you are now at risk (if standards are to be consistent) of being censored by the RD moderator …

          • Linda_LaScola

            John has not been present on the blog for a while. As you can see, I’ve already asked him not to mention TCP matters and am now asking you not to perpetuate the discussion.

          • ObscurelyAgnostic

            Thanks for enforcing a consistent standard of censorship! … and btw (privacy issues aside), I still don’t understand why TCP should be immune from general criticism here — because if not here, then WHERE?

          • ObscurelyAgnostic

            Again, you’ve dodged my modest and abundantly self-evident point — you, John Lombard, only get to decide what counts as “understanding” one’s faith for YOU, John Lombard …

    • John Lombard

      Nullifidian, while I’d agree that atheists who speak from a position of ignorance should be cautious in what they say, the fact is that this site is frequented by members of TCP…that is, ex-religious leaders who’ve mostly had very extensive religious education, and are far more knowledgeable on these issues than the vast majority of Christians would be.

      And there is no “right or wrong view” of Christianity, in my opinion. There are just dozens/hundreds/thousands of different groups each claiming that their view is the “right view”, and everyone else is wrong. Given that there is not only no universally accepted definition of “Christian”, but that it would be literally impossible to create a definition that everyone would agree with, the very claim that ANYONE (atheist or theist) can be educated to have an understanding of the “right” or “wrong” view of Christianity is patently absurd.

      But what we CAN and DO claim as atheists is that the vast majority of TESTABLE claims regarding the Bible are demonstrably false. Which, at least to me, renders the entirety of the rest of the conversation irrelevant.

      • ObscurelyAgnostic

        Irrelevant to YOU, not the world at large 😉

        • John Lombard

          OA — Seriously, you’re using what “the world at large” believes as the standard for what is relevant or not? That’s one of the most fundamental logical fallacies out there. There are TONS of things that a great many people believe are true, that are demonstrably untrue…the question of HOW MANY PEOPLE BELIEVE IT IS TRUE is irrelevant to the question of how true it actually is. The fact that at one time the majority of people believed the sun orbited the Earth didn’t make that claim any more TRUE than it is today.

          And the fact that THIS is your go-to defense speaks rather poorly to the position as a whole 🙂 Talk about EVIDENCE, it is relevant; just make vague claims about how many people BELIEVE it is true, it is irrelevant.

          • ObscurelyAgnostic

            With respect, my point was a very modest but self-evident one — that you, John Lombard, don’t get to decide what’s “relevant” for anyone except you, John Lombard …

      • Nullifidian

        the fact is that this site is frequented by members of TCP…that is, ex-religious leaders who’ve mostly had very extensive religious education, and are far more knowledgeable on these issues than the vast majority of Christians would be.

        Yes, but the subject was what was going on over at the Friendly Atheist, which is a much more frequented site and evidently home to a lot more ignorance. I was simply adding my support to the points made by the author here.

        …the very claim that ANYONE (atheist or theist) can be educated to have
        an understanding of the “right” or “wrong” view of Christianity is patently absurd.

        Then it’s a good thing that I didn’t make that claim, isn’t it? It’s a bizarre thing to have my very own points reiterated back at me as a ‘refutation’.

        What I was clearly saying, if you’ll look again, is that many atheists hold that a “fundagelical” view of religion is the normative one, and get upset with those, like Rev. Shuck, who affirm a moderate or liberal stance. Granted, few would go so far as to say that they don’t believe in God, but they’d often have some view of God that is deistic, pantheistic, or so mystical that it comes close to affirming atheism. I’m the one who’s actually saying that all these atheists at Hemant’s site should take people at their word about what they believe, rather than trying to stretch or chop their beliefs to fit a Procrustean bed of their own preconceptions.

        But what we CAN and DO claim as atheists is that the vast majority of TESTABLE claims regarding the Bible are demonstrably false. Which, at least to me, renders the entirety of the rest of the conversation irrelevant.

        Does it? I can’t actually think of any core doctrines of Christianity or Judaism about which one could say that they’ve been tested and found to be false, even from a conservative theological standpoint. Creationism may be a crock, but creationism is a mid-20th century offshoot of Seventh Day Adventist apologetics, not a longstanding theological position. Core tenets of conservative views of Christianity would be the existence of a personal, creator God, the prophecies of the Jews reaching their culmination in the person of Jesus Christ, the virgin birth, Jesus’ sinless life and His ministry, Jesus’ redemptive sacrifice by crucifixion and His resurrection, and finally the ultimate bodily resurrection of the saints in glory at the end of days. I could go to the most conservative, Bible-thumping Pentecostal church in the country, preach a sermon on the points I’ve outlined, and never say anything for which testing has shown it to be definitively false.

        At most, you could cavil that resurrection and virgin birth are impossibilities (and even the second would need some nuance, as parthenogenesis is known in other animals, although the offspring are always female), but the ability to do the impossible is what makes a miracle. You could complain as a good Humean that we should reject all reports of miracles unless the testimony was such that explaining away the miracle would be even more miraculous, but then that wouldn’t be a question of submitting the proposition to empirical testing, but to scrutiny according to a particular philosophical position. It also might be objected that original sin cannot be conceived of without a creationist view of human origins, but that isn’t necessarily true and a lot of ink has been spilled by theologians showing that fact. Nor is it all post hoc rationalizing. The thoughts of some of the Church Fathers, including Irenaeus, who got the ball rolling on the topic, can be harmonized with evolution by taking the Biblical language as figurative.

        • Forerunner

          John and Nullifidean, Even though I’m in broad agreement with one
          of John Lombard’s points here, I think the various comments about “the vast majority of TESTABLE claims” need to be nuanced. N, you write “I can’t actually think of any core doctrines of Christianity or Judaism about which one could say that they’ve been tested and found to be false” and later give some examples of such “core tenets” such
          as “existence of a personal creator God, the prophesies of the Jews…the virgin birth, his sinless life…his redemptive sacrifice…and resurrection”.

          I’d maintain that the reason they haven’t “been tested and found to be false” is because these doctrines – as doctrines – are not strictly speaking testable, and are therefore not confirmable or falsifiable. As I see it, a doctrine is not the same as a single, testable fact. A doctrine (i.e. a teaching) is actually an amalgam of numerous fact claims and interpretations of those claims. A doctrine is usually too generalized to
          be subject to testing. However, some of what makes up a doctrine is at least hypothetically open to testing.

          To use the resurrection as an example, the various components making up the doctrine as a whole, would be matters such as: matters relating to the nature, purpose, historicity and reliability of the extant texts;
          an adequate accounting for the differences between the resurrection narratives, as well as for the varying conceptions of “resurrection” itself that exist within and outside the New Testament (ranging from spiritualized to quite corporeal notions); questions concerning the nature of visions, hallucinations (especially in connection with times of stress, grief and cognitive dissonance); the nature oral testimony and supposed eye-witness accounts; the likelihood of certain aspects of the resurrection narratives in the light of socio-historical knowledge (burial customs, the behaviour of Roman and Jewish authorities, the likelihood
          of theft, etc).

          Even some of these components are more or less testable, and would
          need to broken down into ever smaller units that could be subjected to some sort of falsifiable inquiry. And that’s if we could go back in time! So it seems that much of what we debate about is not strictly speaking TESTABLE in any satisfying sense of the word, and instead, we have to conjecture what is most PLAUSIBLE given a number of presuppositions (and yes, then we can debate the plausibility of our presuppositions!).

          Anyway, as a religiously educated closet apostate, I’m persuaded (to a strong degree of certainty) that given the human track record of constructing religious systems that provide meaning, security and purpose, it’s more PLAUSIBLE, if not PROVABLE, that the core Christian doctrines form part of a coherent and highly successful fiction, rather than referring to things that actually happened or states that actually exist.

          • Forerunner

            On further reflection I think there ARE some doctrines (or fact
            claims making up the more generalized doctrine) that are for all purposes as good as testable, and have been found to be a good as falsified. A case in point concerns the return of Christ. I’m persuaded that the New Testament record itself reveals that Jesus expected he (or the Son of Man) would return within a literal generation, that it failed to happen, and that the early Christian community subsequently revised its hopes, even re-framing and rephrasing what Jesus must have “really” meant. The current doctrine of the second coming places itself outside of the orbit of testability – but it was not so at the beginning! The Son of Man was meant to turn up SOON – but he didn’t! But research has shown that time and again, groups can overwrite their beliefs when reality comes crashing home.

            By the way, this points to another problem of dealing with doctrines as we have them now. The resurrection and second coming were not originally separate issues, as they are often discussed today. The return of Christ was instead seen as part and parcel of his rising from the dead. Another reason I regard the resurrection as without literal basis.

  • Dana Tucker Royalty

    This is utterly ridiculous! Start a social club or something. But do not pretend to be a “Christian” pastor while denying Christianity. That is so strange, I cant even comprehend it. That’s like me joining the KKK and claiming that racism doesnt exist! I fear for this man when he stands before a Holy God in judgement one day after leading so many astray. I pray he repents while there is time…..God can take him out of the world any time.

    • WeldonScott

      You’re just another authoritarian sadist.

      • ObscurelyAgnostic

        Didn’t we all give up name calling as a way to “debate” those we disagreed with when we were in grade school? Apparently not … 😉

        • WeldonScott

          Not name-calling. You’ve apparently never heard of authoritarianism. It’s a subject you should be familiar with.

          Bob Altemeyer (2006) The Authoritarians. Department of Psychology, University of Manitoba. home.cc.umanitoba.ca/~altemey/

          • ObscurelyAgnostic

            WTF? — I’m a liberal agnostic dewd …

          • WeldonScott

            WTF indeed, dewd.

          • ObscurelyAgnostic

            Like I said FIRST bro — WTF dewd???

    • Linda_LaScola

      Dana — As far as I known there’s only one branch of the KKK, whereas there are many different types of “Christianity” as practiced in numerous denominations, especially over the last few centuries, since the beginning of the protestant reformation in 1517 (after the Roman Catholics had cornered the market in the council of Nicaea in 325 CE).

      I agree, though, that it gets confusing when the same word means different things to different people. Hopefully we’re starting to sort all that out right now.

    • LinCA

      Which one of the over 40,000 different cults, sects and denominations of Christianity represents True Christians™? What makes it so?

      A god who hides all evidence of itself but punishes those that use their brain and come to the (only rational) conclusion that it isn’t real, is a monster of otherworldly proportions. It isn’t worthy of worship. It is only worthy of contempt.

      • ObscurelyAgnostic

        Are you whipping a ‘straw man’ here? 😉

    • ObscurelyAgnostic

      Dana, in the spirit of free and full inquiry, I’m obliged to deplore a theist fundamentalism that is just as lethal to debate and dialogue here as atheist orthodoxy. Although “I disapprove of what you say, but will defend to the death your right to say or believe it,” * your evangelizing is only going to give many here a reason to tune out and/or ridicule you. Because I think it’s so important for fundamentalists of ANY stripe to have a voice at the table in this blog, would you consider (or even pray about?) engaging others here a way that displays your God’s mercy and not just his violent judgment?

      [ *A maxim often attributed to Voltaire, but in fact written by one of his biographers in 1906, according to Wikipedia. ]

    • Scott Lane

      Considering just how varied christianity is, he is being honest which is not true with all christian evangelist. For some reason, I have a hard time accepting that the Creflo Dollar and Jimmy Swaggarts have an ounce of honesty.
      The Christian faith swings from one end where crazed snake handlers dance around and speak in tongues to the other end where they view the bible as stories and inspirations to live by. I’m sorry, but your view, doesn’t own christianity. No view does.
      This is not to say I believe all ministers are lying, that would be ridiculous. Still, the more educated on the bible and it’s history, the more difficult it is to accept the generally held assumptions.

      • slowe11

        “the more educated on the bible and it’s history” one is, the more one is given to rejecting it as an applicable moral guide or model of behavior for modern times. It is a story book of ancient, out of date, ignorant tribes in the Middle East with their own evolved social problems and solutions applicable to THEIR times, but certainly not to ours. It belongs on the shelf with the other myths.

        • Dana Tucker Royalty

          My husband and I are educated on the Bible and it’s history and the more I learn, the more amazed I am at how the Bible….written by over 40 people over a span of a couple thousand years, all fits together perfectly. The Bible is still 100% relevant for every need we have. There is no problem I have that I cant go to God’s Word to solve. Our society is in moral decline, however, and we love our sin more than we love God. So, we have to excuse Him away in order to live in a way that indulges and satisfies our flesh. But again….failure to believe in God, can not and will not make Him go away. One day every knee will bow to our Maker….I pray that people will know Him and trust Him for their salvation so they may know eternal life with Him rather than eternal judgement in hell.

          • slowe11

            “all fits together perfectly”. Ha! ” The God Delusion” is exemplified by this post.

          • Dana Tucker Royalty

            And the “Satan Deception” is exemplified in this one, sadly.

      • Dana Tucker Royalty

        Scott, you are absolutely correct in that, you see a lot of crazy in churches. Part of the reason for that, is that the church is a target of satan and full of false teaching and false believers. God warned in His Word that there would be false teachers….wolves in sheeps clothing, that would come in to attempt to deceive the believers. But He was also clear that those who are true believers will not be deceived. God warns us to know His Word, to have sound doctrine, so that we are firm and not swayed by these things.

        The best way to guard against false teaching is to fill your heart with what God teaches us in the Bible. The first 31 years of my life, I did not do that and I was easily swayed and lying to myself about my own sin. I didn’t believe it was that bad. But at 31 years of age, God saved me and totally transformed me into a new person, with new desires, and opened my eyes to the depths of my sin. I am now 44, and the past 13 years with God have been the best years of my life. I have studied His Word and I know Him. So, when I hear preaching that is to the contrary, I recognize it for what it is…..false teaching. People say you can’t believe in something you don’t see…..but I feel the wind and I know it’s real even though I can’t see it. And I have a relationship with God that is real. He made me, He speaks to me, He loves me, And He saved me. And I will spend eternity with Him in heaven. I want others to know Him too….and I do not want them to buy the lies of satan that are spoken through false teachers, such as this man.

      • Guthrum

        What is hard to understand is how the PC USA allows him to continue as a practicing pastor. It certainly shows how far down that once great denomination has fallen. The Bible has clear qualifications for a person to be a bishop, pastor, and church leader. I would say that the PC is unaware of those or no longer has any standards at all. Sad, especially when it is his flock who being misled and not being fed the Gospel.

        • Scott Lane

          It’s not PC, it’s study and knowledge. When you understand the bible and all the history and variations, it no longer holds any authority. Granted, there are some christians that tend to worship the bible or some special tenet and I doubt knowledge in any degree will alleviate that in christianity any more than in any other religious fervor.

    • John Lombard

      Dana, it should be pointed out that his church chose him, KNOWING his beliefs. You may personally conclude that he’s “not a real Christian”, but there are other people out there who’d likewise say that YOU are not a “real Christian”, according to their definitions (the Westboro Baptist Church, for example, would certainly conclude that you are not a “real Christian”, and are going to Hell).

      So are you now attempting to take a position that not only do you get to define what a “real Christian” is, but to dictate to other churches who they should choose as their leader? I can tell you with certainty that there are many other religious leaders out there who don’t really believe what they are preaching…at least John Shuck has the integrity to be openly honest about his beliefs. And, having done that, there are STILL churches that want him to lead them. The arrogance implicit in your ‘proclamations’ is really quite disheartening.

      But perhaps the most ridiculous part of your response is the whole “fearing for this man” thing. First, he doesn’t believe in Hell, so your ‘threat’ has no meaning whatsoever. Second, even if we accept the reality of Hell, his punishment won’t be ANY WORSE than that of any other believer (an eternity suffering in Hell), yet you seem to be trying to claim that he will suffer some sort of ‘special’ punishment. And third, the very fact that you seem to rely on a Gospel message based primarily on fear really demonstrates, to me, the paucity of your beliefs.

      And by the way, there ARE KKK members who are not racists; they join the group for political reasons, or for a sense of belonging, or just out of fear of being punished if they AREN’T members. So even your choice of argument is irrelevant to the question at hand.

      • Dana Tucker Royalty

        John, whether he or you or anyone else “believes” in hell or the judgement to come, does not make it any less a reality. If I go out and rob a bank and “believe” that I won’t get caught and put in jail, my opinion is really nothing….because if I am brought before the judge, I am going to jail. When we stand before God upon our death, we will be jugded….whether we believe it or not.

        If God is real, and I fully believe that He is, because I know Him, and He saved me, then His Word is true. So, the only basis for truth and knowing Who He is and how we are to live is though His Word He gave us.

        I do not fear God in a way that means I’m scared of Him. I fear Him with respect and reverence as one who has all power and authority. Similar to the fear I had of my parents when I was a child. But I also have a very deep love for God, and a deep thankfulness that He made me, that he loved me enough to send His Son to die for me, and that He has given me eternal life. And He did that for me while I was still a sinner rebelling against Him!

        Satan will use anything he can to deceive people’s hearts. That is why God warns us in the Bible, that we are to beware of false teachers….wolves in sheeps clothing, that come in disguising themselves as good….but who are truly evil. God also say that we are to have sound doctrine, because of we don’t know the Bible, then we will be easily deceived. This man is not of God, he is a deceiver, and any church that would have this man in their pulpit is not a Christian church…..it is at best, a Universalist church.

        • John Lombard

          Dana…and thus, you amply demonstrate the paradox of the True Believer. Allow me to explain.

          Let’s say that we had a Muslim who came to you and said, “If you don’t believe in and follow Mohammed, you will go to Hell”…would that convince you to follow Mohammed? Of course not. Yet you somehow think that muttering, “If you don’t believe in and follow Jesus, you will go to Hell” should somehow have greater substance. In short, if OTHER people make this claim about other religions, you’ll IMMEDIATELY reject is as invalid and illogical…but if YOU make this claim about YOUR religion, suddenly you think it becomes a valid and reasonable argument.

          Same thing with the whole “personal experience” thing. If a Hindu said, “I’ve had personal experience with the Hindu gods”, would you consider that ‘proof’ of their claims, and consider their religion valid? Of course not. In fact, for any religion EXCEPT Christianity, you would very readily and willingly reject ALL such claims of personal experience, saying either that A) they are lying, B) they imagined it, or C) it was the work of demons/evil forces. Yet when YOU turn around and make claims based on personal experience, suddenly it becomes a valid and reasonable argument.

          This is the paradox of EVERY RELIGION — the blatantly hypocritical and illogical argument that, “If this argument supports my religion, it is true; but if the EXACT SAME ARGUMENT is used for any OTHER religion, it is false.”

          And for the record — I was once an evangelical fundamentalist Christian. I not only went to Bible College, but worked as a street evangelist, and ultimately came to China as a missionary, church planter and evangelist. So I assure you that not only do I understand your arguments, I once made the same arguments myself. And it was RECOGNIZING the hypocrisy and self-serving nature of those arguments that helped start me down the road to ultimately rejecting those beliefs. Now, most likely, you’ll dismiss all of this under the heading of “You were never a real Christian”, and that’s fine; but you certainly can’t accuse me of “not knowing my Bible”…I’d bet that I actually know my Bible (and the various history/theology surrounding it) better than you do. And, as I mentioned above, I can just as easily find a great many people claiming to be Christians who will likewise state that, according to THEIR understanding of the Bible, and based on THEIR relationship with God and his teachings, that YOU are not a “real Christian”.

          It’s a dead-end argument, with EVERY SINGLE GROUP claiming that THEY are the “true believers”, and everyone else are deceivers.

          • Dana Tucker Royalty

            I absolutely understand your argument John. I absolutely realize that unless God opens the eyes of the unbeliever to “see” the truth….that he will not understand it. And yes….you are correct….I do not believe you were ever a Christian, because one who has truly been born again, will NOT turn away. Again….the Bible is my source for all that I believe, and it confirms what I am saying. Here is THE difference between all of those religions and Christianity. They serve a dead god. They either follow a man that died or things made by human hands. I serve the Creator God who is alive, and HIs Son Jesus Christ, who showed His power over life and death by raising from the dead…..as witnessed by hundreds of people. Jesus is the most documented historical figure of all time….in both Biblical writings and secular writings. So….yes, I say with confidence, that all will stand before God in judgement one day. The only way to see eternal life in heaven is through the shed blood of His Son, Jesus. And yes….I realize that the cross is foolishness and a stumbling block to those who are perishing. But I will share Him until I die, knowing that He uses His people in His plan of redemption.

          • Nullifidian

            Jesus is the most documented historical figure of all time….in both Biblical writings and secular writings.

            Please tell me that this is a joke, and you’re merely trolling as a Christian. Otherwise, I;m gobsmacked by the ignorance of history that this statement represents. Taken uncharitably, this would even include figures like Franklin Roosevelt, of whom we have actual photographs, newsreels, and audiotape. But even taken charitably to refer to the ancient world, it’s practically an equivalent absurdity, because the lives of Roman emperors, consuls, and other prominent men (and I use the gendered noun deliberately), etc. are far better attested, have actual contemporary attestation, and sometimes we even have their own writings. How can you possibly think that the life of someone like Cicero, whose writings (including his letters) survive in abundance, is less well-attested than Jesus, who left no writings of his own?

          • I suppose it’s possible that there was a Jesus, or a Jesus-like person, leading a small band of followers. Even if there was such a person, though, it certainly doesn’t validate any of the ludicrous supernatural claims in the Gospels.

            I could pick up a pen right now and write that there’s a three-headed dragon in the street outside, and that she’s munching on an SUV, but writing something down doesn’t make it true. Likewise, when I’m told that Jesus walked on water, turned water into wine and came back from the dead, I am somewhat less than convinced.

  • Scott Lane

    Way to go with being honest. As I consider Jerry Dewitt a friend, I have come to understand his and John Shuck’s vision and passion of serving people and community. As someone who is in a position to be a moral guide, their integrity and honesty lives up to the demand.

  • bradley pride

    I am increasingly amused at the number of people who are incredibly happy to tell others what they should or should not do or think or be a part of. Ironically, these are the same folks who decry anyone telling them what they should do or think or be a part of.
    We all are walking our path. For some, it goes one way, for others it goes another.

    • ObscurelyAgnostic

      Bradley, YES, the irony (or hypocrisy really) of that IS very rich, isn’t it?
      “Live and let live” is the only rule for the truly enlightened …

  • Guthrum

    “A Bible that’s falling apart belongs to someone who isn’t “

  • Big Giant Head

    I might suggest that you rename your article “what Many LIBERAL Ministers Secretly Believe.” fortunately, most pastors are not as lost as this man.

    • Guest

      Not just liberal ministers, my friend. I was once conservative and as fundamentalist as they come. In fact, if you want have a duel using the Bible, feel free to take me on but be prepared to lose.

  • Debbie Copeland Wilkins

    Only if we as individuals try and develop the qualities of the people that we supposedly worship can we call ourselves true devotees. The truest measure of a person is to look at the quality of their mind at the moment of death. Jesus christ was tortured to death, crucified, yet he held nothing but love and compassion for the people who were hurting him. “Forgive them father for they know now what they do” What is God? Love is God, Truth is God, compassion is God, purity is God. And this man was a product of those things. If we don’t do anything to develop these qualities in ourselves then calling ourselves devotees of jesus christ has no use. Faith without works is dead. These are the works. We must all purify our minds. Be happy my family.

    • ObscurelyAgnostic

      I am DIGGGINGG your spiritual earth mother VIBE right now … not a joke, it’s beautifully and inspiringly (from Latin inspirere, to breath) MATERNAL agape …