From Nun to “None” to Clergy Project Activist

From Nun to “None” to Clergy Project Activist September 26, 2019

Editor’s Note:  After a quiet life, raising her kids and forgetting about the power that religion once had in her life, she met famous atheist Dan Barker. That changed everything. /Linda LaScola, Editor

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By Maureen Hart

After 18 years in the convent as a Catholic nursing nun, I had an “aha” realization, recognized the God myth, and left religion. It was a whirlwind time of years adjusting to the newness of secular life, finding housing and employment and meeting and marrying my fine husband (a non-believer, former Catholic). We had our family and careers. I was busy and content with life. Introspective analysis of my God-to-Godless transition was not high on the to-do list.

Fast-forward 25 years post-faith. We were now retired and moved from NY to rural Maine. As fate would have it, I received a life-changing gift in the guise of an elderly delightful Danish curmudgeon. Gunnar was deeply philosophical, schooled in classical literature and music and a devout atheist. I admired his wisdom. With lots of thinking, I formulated my godless perspective. He introduced us to the Freedom From Religion Foundation. In the FFRF newsletter we learned that co-president Dan Barker, a former minister, would be speaking to atheists in Maine. We took the opportunity to attend the event.

At that April 2011 meeting I had a chance to talk with Dan. He was interested in my religion-to-atheism history and invited me to join the new organization he was currently working on with Richard Dawkins, Daniel Dennett, and Linda LaScola — the future “Clergy Project“. (Later, Linda and I would become virtual friends as I commented on her always-lively Rational Doubt blog.)

I wasn’t conscious of any compelling need to be a part of a group of non-believing clergy, nor did I feel I had anything to offer, but out of curiosity I reluctantly joined The Clergy Project.

When I set out to write a just a few lines for my online profile, I was astonished to learn how much I had to say, writing page after page, recalling my journey, remembering long forgotten events, spiritual experiences and important influences. It turned out to be a valuable lesson, an exercise in self- knowledge, coming to terms with my transformed credo.

In my time with TCP I’ve observed and learned so much about what religion can do to lives. I find it unfortunate that Catholics are in the minority there. I suspect it’s the result of our intense indoctrination. I think that loyalty and guilt make priests reluctant to admit the loss of faith, even after leaving the priesthood. There is a Stockholm Syndrome-like experience, seeing the falsity of the religion but remaining emotionally attached to the church.

I made an amusing discovery while getting acquainted with TCP buddies. As Catholics we were absolutely convinced that we were the elite members of the one true church. All other denominations were dismissed as counterfeit rebels. In Clergy Project online discussions, I was surprised to learn that those same rebels held us in disdain as papist antichrists. Each was certain that our own flavor of Kool-Aide was best. We now smile as we compare delusions. I’ve become cyber-friends and often trade war stories with a hard-core former Evangelical preacher.

Reviewing members’ biographies and joining the many discussions on the forums is a window into the lives of the participants. There’s an exchange of ideas, encouragement and words of wisdom. One of the greatest insights and TCP lessons I’ve learned is respect for the dedicated clerics of mainline protestant ministers and Fundamentalist preachers. Even more than with Catholics, I’ve seen the pain and devastation they experience as rational thought happens and God no longer makes sense. They pray and desperately try to hang on to faith, to keep their world and their families from falling apart. The good Rabbi’s, Mormons, Imam’s, Jehovah Witnesses, Salvation Army officers, etc., are all part of the TCP family and all share their stories and find understanding. It is indeed a unique place.

As we reach our 1000 milestone my wish would be that those unbelieving clerics still caught in the pulpit would know they are not alone and find their way to the camaraderie of TCP.

I couldn’t have predicted how relevant The Clergy Project would become to me.

I am now VP and Chair of two committees.

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Bio: Maureen Hart was a Catholic nun for twenty years. It was the inability to reconcile the human misery and suffering she observed with the notion of an all-loving and all-merciful God that caused her to reject theism.  She is a retired registered nurse and lives in New England with her Jesuit-educated atheist husband.She is Vice President of The Clergy Project and serves on the Screening committee.  She is an avid reader, and spends time with her husband engaged in environmental causes, animal welfare, political activism, and enjoying their grandson


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  • Jim Jones

    ISTM that if ever someone’s brain starts to work it’s almost impossible to put the cork back in the bottle.

    Scientology, with its private prisons for non-conformists, is solid proof of that. And then there’s the history of all religion.

  • mason

    Maureen, Getting to know you and your husband Gene has been a real personal joy and edifying experience for me. The Clergy Project just wouldn’t be the same and as dynamic and effective with out you!

    Your very well written article really captures the flavor of The Clergy Project experience and the brave journey that apostates undertake in the still very backward era of cultural theistic superstition and bigotry. Every day in the US and around the world millions of people, clergy & non-clergy, are breaking free of religious mental bondage. You and I made our way out, and so can they.

    Thank you for all the excellent work you do on behalf of TCP.

  • mason

    One of Maureen’s favorite sayings is, “Once you see it, you can’t un-see it.”

  • See Noevo

    It was the inability to reconcile the
    human misery and suffering she observed with the notion of an all-loving and
    all-merciful God that caused her to reject theism…
    She is Vice President of The Clergy Project and serves
    on the Screening committee.

    Hopefully you’ll do a better job of screening for real atheists
    than your nunnery did in screening for real Catholics.

    I guess one of the mistakes the nunnery screeners made with
    you was assuming you were already aware of human misery and suffering.

  • carolyntclark

    I’ll be sure to advise the Nunnery to do a better job in screening applicants. : )