Atheists Who Are Preachers

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What does it mean to be a nonbelieving pastor? How can a person preach belief in something he or she does not believe in? Does this mean they are hypocrites? Or that they have a family to feed and support?  As spiritual seekers, many began their adult lives and careers convinced they found the answer to life's quest and chose to stand behind the pulpit but, as seekers typically do, they turned up new thoughts and evidence that changed their minds.

Daniel C. Dennett, philosopher at Tufts University, and social worker Linda LaScola discreetly identified and interviewed five “closeted” nonbelieving ministers to better understand this “invisible phenomenon.” The pastors, all Protestant men (Dennett and LaScola couldn’t identify any nonbelieving Catholic or Orthodox priests), expressed skepticism about a host of fundamental Christian teachings, including the virgin birth of Jesus, the existence of heaven and hell, and the status of the Bible as the inerrant word of God. Some admitted that their religious stance might be best described as atheist. “The whole grand scheme of Christianity, for me, is just a bunch of bunk,” said Jack, a Southern Baptist minister of 15 years.

Three of the five pastors felt stuck in a purgatory of sorts: They wanted to leave the church, but felt they lacked options. “If I had an alternative, a comfortable paying job, something I was interested in doing, and a move that wouldn’t destroy my family, that’s where I’d go,” said Adam, a Church of Christ minister with a very religious wife and children. He regularly chided himself, “Just stick with what you’re doing; it pays good.... You’re doing good in your community; you’re respected. But it’s just gnawing away inside.” MoreBookmark and Share

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