Dan Dennett has been studying the phenomenon of preachers who don’t believe what they preach, and the paper and commentary are available at the Washington post. Strangely, the newspaper has headlined it as “Skeptical clergy a silent majority?”, which is odd — the work doesn’t attempt to quantify how many unbelievers there are in the ministry, but is more of a case study of those they’ve found…and since they are only describing the in-depth interviews of five people, it’s absurd to try and draw conclusions about proportions.
It’s interesting stuff, but utterly unsurprising to atheists. These are people who entered the ministry out of a sincere desire to do good in the world, and as they delved into religious scholarship, they discovered they couldn’t believe anymore…but hey, they were still humane and concerned about their fellow human beings. They’re also concerned about what will happen to their income if they leave the church, and what will happen to the opinion others have of them. And they engage in some difficult and twisty rationalizations for their situations.
One other interesting point is that several of them came to their atheism by way of reading books by Ehrman and Spong, and also Harris and Hitchens. These works do make a difference. Unfortunately, we also learn that while they have received enlightenment, they’re very, very reluctant to share that shameful knowledge with their congregations, and continue to reassure them about belief in god.
Unfortunately, the WaPo couldn’t just put up Dennett’s bombshell on its own: they’ve surrounded it with a confusing cloud of commissioned articles to answer the question, “What should pastors do if they no longer hold the defining beliefs of their denomination?”. Most of them are believers, except for Rebecca Goldstein and Tom Flynn and Herb Silverman, and most of them are making excuses. You just knew that someone would make the inane argument that “doubt is part of faith.” No, it’s not. Faith is the blunt instrument used to crush doubt.
The comments on Dennett’s article are also fascinating. There are people who are quite upset about his revelation. And there is even a Cracker Catholic there, claiming that an atheist priest at communion turned a wafer into a hunk of bloody meat — therefore, god, apparently.
Just watch. This is news that will provoke protests and complaints and lots of excuses. I hope it also encourages more ministers to come out of the closet and face reality, instead of making it their profession to obscure the truth.