Editor’s Note: This post points out how requirements and expectations for religious affiliation have changed over the years. I know this from my experience as a layperson. When my husband and I were leaving the Episcopal Church because I no longer believed in God (he hadn’t believed for a long time), several of our church friends confided that they didn’t believe either, but liked the community, so why not stay? Good question – which a lot of people in the liberal churches have answered by staying on. Personally, as much as I liked the community, I couldn’t stand going through the motions every week and couldn’t understand how they could either. Whatever floats your boat. /Linda LaScola, Editor
By Bob Ripley
It’s a sad irony for those clergy who lost their vocation when they left their faith in a god they once imagined. The irony is that fellow clergy continue their vocation proclaiming a god former clergy could never have imagined or proclaimed.
I’ve been acutely aware of this since leaving the faith after my retirement from ministry. While I once embraced a conservative theology of a god who made the world and was active in Creation, colleagues who embrace a more radically liberal theology continue to proclaim a god I cannot comprehend, let alone worship.
This is all because while monotheism says there is one god, there is no one understanding of the one god. Believers have their own belief system, which tends to evolve with life’s twists and turns.
Case in point. I did a little experiment last week and asked my Facebook friends who are believers to share some definition of their deity.
The responses include:
the Universe is God … no heaven, no hell
all loving but not governing
Life is way too miraculous to be random.
A source of power within me, to be channeled to do my best in whatever I choose.
Heaven is created by people. So is hell.
Then I perused the worship of congregations in my city. One refers to “God the still-point of the circle, ‘round whom all creation turns”.
I even looked at the website of the denomination I served for 34 years, the United Church of Canada. Under the rubric ‘What we Believe’ it says that
“God is Holy Mystery, beyond complete knowledge, above perfect description….”
Under Faith and the Bible, I read,
“The Bible is the shared standard for our faith, but members are not required to adhere to any particular creed or formulation of doctrine.”
To me, it reads like,
“Hey, whatever floats your boat.”
Rather than having my former conservative theology get bent out of shape, maybe I should honor the honesty. After all, no Christian is required to adhere to any particular creed. Faith is fluid. Believe in the god with whom you feel comfortable, or the one you can imagine at this point in your life even if it’s different than an earlier understanding of god. As a former, still active, United Church colleague said to me recently over lunch, with a straight clerical face, god is like the Force in Star Wars.
So what about clergy who could no longer hold to their idea of god and chose or, sadly, were forced to leave their job with the residual perks of finance and prestige? It feels ironic that others can continue when they couldn’t. Even a tad unfair.
Maybe they could have just gravitated to a god who is an ethereal force of love in the cosmos, and carried on.
Nah. I couldn’t have done it then. And can’t do it now. Despite the anguish and losses, I tip my hat to all who have the integrity to leave the ministry when faith leaves.
**Editor’s Questions: Those of you who, like Bob, left religion or were forced to leave because you stopped believing in the God of the Bible – What do you think about all this. Any Liberal clergy or churchgoers reading here? What’s your opinion of this?
Bio: Bob Ripleywas a syndicated religion columnist, broadcaster, former preacher and author of Christian devotional material. His book which came out in October, 2014 is titled Life Beyond Belief: A Preacher’s Deconversion. Find out more about the book and his other writing here.