Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Unbelieving Pastors

I was much moved by this article on pastors who have lost their faith in god, by Daniel C. Dennett and Linda LaScola. Of course Dennett is a notedly aggressive atheist, and in a few places a bit of his smugness about religion comes through, but the heart of the piece is the interviews in which five Protestant pastors, three from liberal denominations and two from conservative, tell their stories.

Most of these men have retained a sort of faith in, or at least a fondness for, Christianity, but shifted into the metaphorical realm. One said,

I’ve thought of God as a kind of poetry that’s written by human beings. As a way of dealing with the fact that we’re finite. We’re vulnerable.

Another thinks of Jesus as a social reformer. All emphasize how much they enjoy the community of the church. Only one seems to be hostile toward religion, and he seems to be a screwed-up person in a lot of ways.

One of the things they all have in common is that their doubts started or were solidified by their experience in the seminary. Being forced to study the Bible in detail, including the history of the text, made all of them doubt that it could be literally true. The study of theology showed them how many ways there are to think about God. One said, "Oh, you can't go through a seminary and come out believing in God!" They explore the gap this creates between them and their parishoners, and they assert that all pastors have to deal with this problem.

These stories made me meditate on the question of loneliness. We all crave connection, but we all have thoughts and feelings we are afraid to share. We create communities to ease our loneliness, but every community creates a pressure to conform to the values of the group. If we no longer share those values, the community can become a source of increased loneliness, rather than a comfort. We can continue to belong and keep our thoughts to ourselves, and we may even get a great deal out of such communion, but in part of our minds we will still be alone.

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