Skeptical clergy a silent majority?
By DANIEL C. DENNETT - THE WASHINGTON POST
Added: Thu, 18 Mar 2010 00:00:00 UTC
Read "Preachers who are not Believers," a study by Daniel C. Dennett and Linda LaScola of the Center for Cognitive Studies at Tufts University.
Here are some questions that have haunted me for years. How many preachers actually believe what they say from the pulpit? We know that every year some clergy abandon their calling, no longer able to execute their duties with conviction. This can never be a decision taken lightly, and many of them labored on for years before taking the leap. Are they the tip of an iceberg? Is there a problem of deep hypocrisy separating many pastors from their flocks? What is it like to be a non-believing preacher? How do they reconcile their private skepticism with the obligations of their position? And how did they get into their predicament?
Several years ago I set out to get some answers, in collaboration with Linda LaScola, a clinical social worker with years of experience as a qualitative researcher. I had told her of my interviews with deeply religious people while writing my book, "Breaking the Spell" (2006), and of my surprise at how many of them were eager to tell me, in confidence, that they didn't believe a word of the doctrines of the faith to which they were devoting their lives. Was this also true of ordained clergy? With some help from me and a network of advisers, LaScola identified some brave informants, all currently Protestant pastors with congregations, and interviewed them at length and in depth--and of course in deep confidence.
Post by Jerry Coyne on WEIT
Dennett and LaScola study of nonbelieving clergy
Imagine being forced to go to work every day and, as part of the job, profess something that you absolutely donât believe. More than that: at least once a week you have to publicly profess it, and also counsel other people on the explicit premise that you share the beliefs you reject. In other words, youâre forced to live a lie.
Such is the position of clergy who donât believe in God. Yes, there are some of them, and theyâre the subject of a new study by Daniel Dennett and Linda LaScola from Tufts University, âPreachers who are not believers.â You can find that 28-page study at the Washingon Postâs âOn Faithâ section (click the link on that page to download the pdf). I recommend reading it if you have time.
Dennett and LaScola managed to find and interview five Protestant ânonbelievers.â Given the liberality of todayâs clergy, and the resistance of many nonbelieving preachers to participate in the study, this may be only the tip of the iceberg. Although some interviewees accept a numinous notion that might be termed âGod,â none of them believe in the theistic God limned by the faith they profess. Hereâs the testimony of âJack,â a Southern Baptist preacher:
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