Daniel Dennett is my favorite philosopher. He wrote a piece for the New York Daily News talking about the Pew poll published last week. It showed atheists (followed closely by Jews) receiving the highest scores on a test of basic religious knowledge. After he goes over some things discussed in this blog before, he makes a new point.
…the Pew results are no doubt actually somewhat stronger than they first appear: The more you know about religions, the less likely you are to believe religious creeds and myths and thus the more likely you are to be an atheist or agnostic, whether or not you are affiliated with, or even clergy in, a church.
…One effect is widespread and most unfortunate. We increasingly see pastors who no longer hold the beliefs they are professionally obliged to preach, but go on executing their duties for various reasons, some good, some not so good. These folks are caught in a web of what might be called designed miscommunication, and it takes an unmeasured toll on their consciences.
My colleague Linda LaScola and I are currently studying this phenomenon, and when discussing our first pilot study of closeted non-believing (or other-believing) clergy, we often heard two jokes about the seminary experience that was part of the training of most clergy: “If you emerge from seminary still believing in God, you haven’t been paying attention,” and “Seminary is where God goes to die.”
I have no personal experience with Christians in this position. I do, however, know something about the Jews. I have had it intimated and whispered to me by more than one colleague that she or he basically shares my beliefs. It’s apparently also a problem for at least one Orthodox rabbi who has acquired some notoriety for his confession of atheism on his blog, The Orthoprax Rabbi’s Blog.
I’ll hasten to add that liberal rabbis in this position probably don’t suffer an “unmeasured toll on their consciences.” The basic lack of dogmatism in Reform and the other non-Orthodox movements quite often transforms theology into one big word game. Because, you know, “God” could mean a lot of things.
Oh how I wish that my like-minded colleagues would simply get up on their pulpits and say, “Folks, we need to put these prayer books down. We all know that there’s no one listening. Let’s write some new poetry.” That would revolutionize Judaism. The people who whittled the pantheon down to one god could take the ultimate step, doing away with the final fictional deity.
When that day comes, the members of the Association of Humanistic Rabbis will be here, ready to process their membership applications!
(Obviously there are plenty of others, many of whom write books, who are really, really into God.)