Clergy Disbelief Confessions Come to Life

Clergy Disbelief Confessions Come to Life July 8, 2019

Editor’s Note: I’m so happy to reprint this article (with permission) from the current edition of FreeThought Today, published monthly by the Freedom from Religion Foundation, Inc. My colleague, Dan Dennett, wrote this for it’s most recent edition. It’s an update on the play we’ve been working on, which I’ve previously written about here. Now you can hear about it from the guy who made it happen, thanks to an insight from his wife.  /Linda LaScola, Editor


By Daniel C. Dennett

Confidential confessions of disbelief by practicing clergy are gripping revelations of what it is like to be caught in a web of evasion.

When my wife Susan read the final draft of Caught in the Pulpit: Leaving Belief Behind, the book Linda LaScola and I wrote about the confidential interviews Linda had conducted with nearly 30 nonbelieving clergy, her immediate reaction was that this would make a stirring play. She was right. Linda and I joined forces with New York City playwright Marin Gazzaniga, who, supported by a grant from the Richard Dawkins Foundation, combed through the thousands of pages of transcripts and assembled a play drawn directly from their interviews.

As someone with little prior knowledge of the theater world, I have been fascinated by the huge team effort required to bring a play to life. Since our initial project had been under my direction at Tufts University, Gazzaniga had to get certified by Tufts’ Internal Review Board for human subjects research before she could gain access to the highly confidential transcripts. Also, Linda contacted study participants to ask their permission to use their transcripts in the play. Marin’s first script, the product of intense artistic decision-making, guided (and complicated) by intense editorial discussions among the three of us, was given a private reading in New York in 2015. The invited audience of theater people were on the edge of their seats, but our verdict was: electrifying, but too long.

So it was back to the drawing board, this time in partnership with the award-winning New York theater company The Civilians, renowned for its “investigative theater” productions. Through further readings and workshops, our creative team took the script on a journey of simplifications, unifications, re-orderings, subtle tweaks and a bounty of insights from director Steve Cosson, dramaturge Jeremy Stoller and a fine cast of actors. This work culminated in February, in the form of a stunning pair of performances (still “on book,” but highly rehearsed) at Princeton’s Lewis Arts Center.

So, after several years of revisions and workshop readings with professional directors and actors, the play is ready for production, with a new title based on the pseudonym of one of the study participants:

Adam Mann (Not His Real Name)

From left, Dan Barker, Daniel C. Dennett, Carter Warden and Linda LaScola discuss The Clergy Project with audience members during FFRF’s annual convention in Pittsburgh in 2016. Warden, who used the pseudonym Adam Mann, publicly came out as an atheist at the convention after decades as a Christian minister. (Photo by Ingrid Laas)

We can now say (with relief!) that the most uncertain aspects of this project are behind us. Yes, we have a moving, tightly integrated, roller-coaster ride of a play to show the world. We have attracted the interest of a wide swath of people in the world of theater, and our executive producer, Megan Kingery, is hard at work lining up potential theaters, talent, and — most important — the financial support we need to get the play on the boards.

Telling the stories of the courageous participants of the original study through the medium of theater has been fascinating and challenging, and has only deepened how moved I am by their brave and often desperately lonely journeys.

Those who wish to support the future development of Adam Mann: Not His Real Name 

can donate to the show here.


Bio: Daniel C. Dennett, a co-founder of The Clergy Project, is the co-director of the Center for Cognitive Studies and the Austin B. Fletcher Professor of Philosophy at Tufts University and an honorary director of FFRF.

>>>> Photo Credits: Ingrid Laas

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  • mason
  • My husband and I attended a reading of this play in New York. SO well done. It gives you an idea of how painful and stressful the escape from faith can be. The last I heard, The Clergy Project now has about a thousand members. The more the word gets out, I’m confident these numbers will grow. Every story is different, every story deserves to be told.

  • Linda LaScola

    Thanks David — It’s even better now. There’s music and more action and clever interweaving of stories.

  • Linda LaScola

    Good point. I hadn’t thought of it that way in my own case. I ultimately thought of it as giving up something (eternal life) that was never there in the first place.

    The clergy I interviewed had a lot to lose — their livelihood here on earth and their whole social structure.

  • See Noevo

    What percentage of your Clergy Project are homosexuals such as @David Madison?

  • mason

    We haven’t kept statistics regarding LGBT but we are very proud to have members who are “out” homosexuals of both genders, and there may be some transgenders. Proud, because coming out in any society that is backward, scientifically ignorant, and bigoted about valid LGBT knowledge and human sexuality AND ALSO coming out in a culture that is also bigoted, ignorant , and hateful towards rational secular freethinkers humanists agnostics and atheists requires a human with special intellectual fortitude and emotional courage. A double bravo to all TCP members who are LGBT!

  • Sheila chambers I read the bible, I tried to believe but it was filled with so much nonsense, brutality, cruelty, misogyny & hatefulness that I could not swallow it.

    I’ve been an atheist all of my life or at least since grade school.

    I can’t for the life of me understand WHY so many otherwise intelligent people can BELIEVE in such DRIVEL!
    NO GOD would have written what was written in the bible & the so called “son” of the “god” of israel would have known that disease & mental illness is NOT caused by “evil spirits”, “devils”, ‘unclean spirits” etc so he could NOT have “cast them out” to cure anyone!.
    How much more EVIDENCE would an intelligent person need to know that the bible was written by ignorant, CONTROLLING, LYING, PRIESTS!