Preachers who are not believers

In Preachers who are not believers, a provocative new paper in Evolutionary Psychology, Daniel Dennett and Linda LaScola interview five preachers who no longer believe in God.  Here's one bit:

A gulf opened up between what one says from the pulpit and what one has been taught in seminary. This gulf is well-known in religious circles. The eminent biblical scholar Bart D. Ehrman’s widely read book, Misquoting Jesus (2005), recounts his own odyssey from the seminary into secular scholarship, beginning in the Moody Bible Institute in Chicago, a famously conservative seminary which required its professors to sign a statement declaring the Bible to be the inerrant word of God, a declaration that was increasingly hard for Ehrman to underwrite by his own research. The Dishonest Church (2003), by retired United Church of Christ minister, Jack Good, explores this “tragic divide” that poisons the relationship between the laity and the clergy. Every Christian minister, not just those in our little study, has to confront this awkwardness, and no doubt there are many more ways of responding to it than our small sample illustrates. How widespread is this phenomenon? When we asked one of the other pastors we talked with initially if he thought clergy with his views were rare in the church, he responded, “Oh, you can’t go through seminary and come out believing in God!” Surely an overstatement, but a telling one. As Wes put it:

…there are a lot of clergy out there who — if you were to ask them — if you were to list the five things that you think may be the most central beliefs of Christianity, they would reject every one of them.

One can be initiated into a conspiracy without a single word exchanged or secret handshake; all it takes is the dawning realization, beginning in seminary, that you and the others are privy to a secret, and that they know that you know, and you know that they know that you know. This is what is known to philosophers and linguists as mutual knowledge, and it plays a potent role in many social circumstances. Without any explicit agreement, mutual knowledge seals the deal: you then have no right to betray this bond by unilaterally divulging it, or even discussing it.

It was interesting to me that this account is related to the ideas of preference falsification developed by Timur Kuran, sacrifice and stigma developed by Larry Iannaccone and common knowledge by Robert Aumann.


While no doubt such people persons exist, the final paragraph could equally well describe a person who is resolving intellectual tension by imputing their awkward beliefs to those around them while refusing to acquire any evidence to confirm or refute that imputation.

Isn't this maybe a little bit about seminaries? My tour of duty in science school has certainly killed my enthusiasm if not my belief in science.

I've long thought that genuine belief in god makes one unfit for the clergy. If you really believe in god and devote your life to discovering what god requires, then surely you have a high chance of changing your mind. At 22 or however old you are when you enter the seminary, how could you know your mind on all of the things you have to believe in. Members of the clergy commit to a very limited set of beliefs about god, and generally they are out of a job if they come to publicly believe something else. And this isn't just the big stuff, as in belief or disbelief of god, or whether god is budda or jesus, but far more arcane stuff, like what the proper method for baptism is.

Thanks for the fantastic link and references!

Some decades ago there was quite a famous book
of literary criticism about the Disapppearance
of God even in such a seemingly orthodox poet
as Gerard Manly Hopkins, a Catholic priest.
This is a complex question. A faith which can
survive Darwin (or should I say Dawkins?) and
the pretty thorough analytic tools of 19th-century
German criticism is still possible but the world seems
increasingly to divide between those who think God
obsolete and those who refer everything to God.
As an example of the latter I cite a man who hails
someone surviving an earthquake as a work of divine mercy
and who at the same time thinks that natural calamities
show the power of God and the puniness of human beings.
(Sorry about the jagged indentation.)

I liked your article, it's a great help,hope you like what.

Chris E. Is on tge right track, look at the denominations mentioned.

These are all very mainstream, liberal denominations. This is however not a completely new phenomena. The priest or minister who has lost his faith is a common trope, especially in religions that are so focussed on such concepts as "conviction."

As a Catholic, I would be far more worried about the nature of the seminary. It is very easy to screw up formation with religious education, but it is almost always a sign of moral corruption in those appointed to the task

Doubters are welcome in the church, as are non-believers.

Oh, you can’t go through a PhD program and come out believing in Higher Ed.!

Oh, you can’t go through Law School and come out believing in our legal system!

Oh, you can’t go through Med. School and come out believing in our system of medicine!

But you still have to get a job.

An article written by an avowed atheist studying a self-selected sample of N = 5. It doesn't appear that you are applying the same rigor as you would to a paper on a standard economic question here.

I read the paper quickly and it seemed that all or most of the subjects were very lukewarm about their faith from the start. Consequently, their secret rejections of Christianity were not surprising.

This phenomenon is not exactly new. Matthew says "Many are invited, but few are chosen." From Revelation - "So, because you are lukewarm, neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth." And finally, just to wrap it up - "What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun. Ecclesiastes.

Bible Verse of the Day
Faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.
— Hebrews 11:1 (NIV)

That is from Classic Arms website, where they also have a darn good Deal on an FAL (have faith, but verify).

Martin Gardner wrote a novel (_The Flight of Peter Fromm_) about an evangelical man who goes to seminary school and gradually loses his faith and sanity. The narrator is one of his seminary professors, who starts the book by proclaiming, "I can safely say that not one of the professors at the School of Theology believes in the existence of God."


I expect the officials associated with those seminaries would officially disagree strongly with these claims. Is there any sort of survey that can help settle the question?

Yeah. Go read their websites. Or call them up and ask them.

But we already know what the answer will be: "Nope, wrong, we really believe this stuff."

The point of the article is not to suggest or argue that the mainstream clergy is tending towards non-belief. This is a psychology paper using the case study method to highlight how these people deal with and justify having personal beliefs that sharply contradict their roles in life and society as well as the paths that led them to this situation.

"you then have no right to betray this bond by unilaterally divulging it, or even discussing it..." but we interviewed 5 who did and some of them wrote books about it. Wait a sec!

Sharing this information is vital.Most people do not really believe chirstians clam in themselves, go to church read the Bible, but if that was true, I mean the real experience would be a wonderful world.

Why should it be surprising to discover that human beings have a hard time believing in a story about someone they never met doing things they have never seen in a time period they have never experienced?

The thing I find amazing is that, at the same time, many people do not have a hard time believing that the universe appeared out of thin air in spite of the fact that this is in defiance of the most basic law of physics (the law of conservation of matter and energy).

To me, both explanations for how the universe came to be are illogical and impossible. As a result, I rely on intuition and feelings. I think (and want) that there a god, therefore there is a god.

Real educated crowd they interviewed, too. Actual quote from one of the "southern" baptists:

Let me tell you; ain’t nothing anybody did in a church can compare to what my parents did to me, OK?

Caroline, since the bible contradicts itself hundreds if not thousands of times, it is impossible for a sane person to believe everything it says. Are you sure you've really read it?

Did you notice that chapter 1 of Genesis tells one creation story, and chapter 2 tells a different one? If you don't believe this, it's only because you haven't read it ;) Go ahead, sit down and read those two chapters right now. Now tell me, was man created before or after the animals?

Anyway, I have no interest in trying to change your mind, but you would do well to understand why many people disbelieve in christianity because they *have* read the bible and the many absurd things it says, not because they *haven't* read it.

The question is not what Seminaries teach, it's what the Bible says. That's why most true-believers, go to fundamental Bible colleges, not liberal Seminaries. The essence of the Gospel can be gleaned from reading the Gospel of John in a good King James Version of the Bible. And, I'm sorry, the Bible does say this is a life and death matter. Now if you don't believe the Bible, that's only because you haven't really read it. Not reading it doesn't render it not true.

I thought before they were the most intelligent people on earth but then reality strikes and my perception of them changed. Preachers preach because that's their profession and they just make money out of it. Thanks.

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