Opinions expressed here are my own and do not represent the views of the congregation I joyfully serve. But my congregation loves me!

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

A Church Without God

An interesting paper has been circling the interwebs. It is by Daniel C. Dennett and Linda LaScola, "Preachers Who Are Not Believers." Read it in PDF.

Dennett is the fourth person of the atheist quaternity along with Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, and Christopher Hitchens who each published books critical of religious supernaturalism a few years ago.


His is entitled, Breaking the Spell: Religion as a Natural Phenomenon.


"Preachers Who Are Not Believers" is a paper that describes the journey of five clergy who have grown intellectually beyond the historic dogmatic assertions of their respective cults yet remain active clergy. It is a fascinating and important paper. In response to this paper, the Washington Post "On Faith" column asked its panelists to respond to this question:
What should pastors do if they no longer hold the defining beliefs of their denomination? Do clergy have a moral obligation not to challenge the sincere faith of their parishioners? If this requires them to dissemble from the pulpit, doesn't this create systematic hypocrisy at the center of religion? What would you want your pastor to do with his or her personal doubts or loss of faith?

Read "Preachers who are not Believers," a study by Daniel C. Dennett and Linda LaScola of the Center for Cognitive Studies at Tufts University.
A number of panelists from a variety of perspectives responded to the question. Read them here.

This issue has been on the lectern of my soapbox for some time. One of the reasons the
Jesus Seminar came into existence was because insights from scholarship were not making their way past the pulpit to the pew. A major reason for that is the creeds of the various cults are based on supernatural assertions that are no longer credible. Yet many clergy feel bound by these creeds. They find themselves caught between creed and credibility. Ergo a supposed "crisis of faith."

The problem with the question posed by the On Faith column is that it focuses the issue on the integrity of the clergy. Clergy become the scapegoat for the larger issue which is the demise of supernaturalism and the creeds that continue to uphold it.


Those who think of themselves as defenders of the faith (bullies of superstition) want to make this crisis about bad clergy who "lose their faith." Then they can pick them off and kick them out one by one. Roy Hoover wrote about this in an essay in the Fourth R,
Tradition and Faith In a New Era:
Those who insist upon the unaltered retention of traditional forms of religious understanding and language and who retreat from the challenge posed by the actual world after Galileo want to direct the Christian community into the confines of a sacred grotto, an enclosed, religiously defined world that is brought completely under the control of scripture and tradition; and they want to turn the ordained clergy into antiquities dealers.
Don't let them. Don't give up without a fight.

We are facing huge changes. Our universe is 13.7 billion years old as of the latest tally. Human beings have evolved as has every species on this beautiful blue ball. We were not placed in any garden by any divine being. No god/man came to Earth, walked on water, rose from the dead and sits on a heavenly throne. That is religious fiction. It is metaphor, story, myth, human invention. It is how our ancestors tried to find meaning. Bless their hearts.

We are still searching for meaning. It won't come for us in some imaginary heaven. It will come as we recognize that Earth is home and we have no more pressing religious duty than to care for our fellow Earthlings and for Earthlings who will come after us.


As we are in a period of transition we will wrestle with our inherited language. For some, the term "God" will have meaning. For others it will not. Religion is moving away from its supernaturalistic roots. "God" will be redefined accordingly. We are in the process of redefining meaning.

As the insights of Galileo and Darwin are finally making their way into popular consciousness, churches and religious institutions need intelligent, courageous leaders to provide the space for people to wrestle with the question of what it means to be a human being.

It could and likely will get ugly. Those who cling to their superstitions will be ruthless. There will be inquisitions. There will be heresy trials. I entered the ministry out of concern for truth as naive as that may sound. I discovered that truth was not the same as a supernaturalistic creed. The search and articulation of truth as I understand it is my integrity.

My advice for clergy and for laypeople who are growing out of a childish supernaturalistic past is to stand your ground. Don't let them set the terms or the rules. Don't resign. Be bold. Tell the truth. Don't call it a loss of faith. It is a growth in understanding. It is waking up from sleep. It is gaining sight from blindness. It is resurrection from death to life.


Happy Easter.
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