On Not being Adam … Thankfully

In retrospect, it was highly fortuitous that I missed my real or imagined calling to the ministry.

After continuing to be very keen in the faith through university and well into my teaching career, I suddenly found myself beginning to perceive and think differently about matters of faith. It wasn’t that I chose to change my views; it just happened in a natural and ineluctable sort of way. As I look back, I can say that most of the shift occurred over a few months when I was in my mid-thirties.

If I had chosen to go into the ministry instead of teaching back in the day, it would have been in an evangelical denomination, and that would have been totally incompatible with the new beliefs, or lack of same, that emerged in me during this period. With a young family to support, I would have been between a rock and a very hard place: i.e. being in an highly inappropriate job for me but needing to support my family. I can barely imagine how difficult and untenable my situation would have become.

I would have been like Adam (not his real name), a minister in a literal church who finds himself in that exact position. He didn’t mean to lose his faith either, but it happened, and he now struggles to find his way out of a very unfortunate situation. So far, he has been unable to find an alternative job that would allow him to continue to support his family. Even should he be able to do so, his change of heart would seemingly be a bitter pill for his wife to swallow. It’s truly an unhappy situation.

Here are a few excerpts from what Adam has said or written as reported in a study, called Preachers who are not Believers, by Daniel C. Dennett and Linda LaScola of Tufts University. What is not altogether clear from these excerpts is that he desperately didn’t want to become a non-believer. In fact, when doubts began to occur, he earnestly prayed for God to take his life before he lost his faith. These points are much clearer in the CBC interview (more podcast info at the end of the post).

“I wanted my life to matter. To connect. For something bigger and better, beyond what I was doing.”

“And if they knew what I believe right now…some [of his church people] would [be against me] and some would try to keep working with me, and minister to me, and help me.”

“Here’s how I’m handling my job on Sunday mornings: I see it as play acting. I kind of see myself as taking on a role of a believer in a worship service, and performing … Maybe that’s what it takes for me to get myself through this, but that’s what I’m doing.”

“I’m where I am because I need the job still. If I had an alternative, a comfortable paying job, something I was interested in doing, and a move that wouldn’t destroy my family, that’s where I’d go. Because I do feel kind of hypocritical … I’m in the situation I’m in, and rationally thinking about it is what I’ve got to do right now.”

“I’ve got to the point where I can’t find meaning in something that I don’t think is real anymore.”

“Honestly, there’s been times when I thought, ‘You’re going to drive yourself crazy dealing with all this.’ It’s like, I just — I get through it, kind of keep plugging along even though I don’t know what is ultimately going to happen. So it’s just kind of like — take a day at a time; a week at a time. Kind of look at certain things. Keep studying; keep my options open.”

PS: When I use the term such as “lose the/my faith”, I am reverting to general usage and understanding. It’s a convenient term that everyone understands, but I don’t mean to imply that I have a sense of loss. In truth, I find my new understandings to be somewhat satisfying and liberating. I do know, however, that sentiment will not be understood by most who think that we agnostic-atheists must be miserable and forlorn specimens of humanity. And that’s okay. 🙂

  • Click here to read or download the twenty-eight page study that includes four other non-believing ministers in addition to Adam: three clergy from more liberal churches and another from a literal church.
  • A brief article at the NIFTY Christian.
  • Atheist Preachers article at About.com.
  • A fifty minute, CBC podcast interviewing Adam, another minister in the study, and study author, Daniel Dennett. It’s informative to hear Adam attempt to articulate his difficulty if you can spare the time. One can appreciate his dilemmas much more by hearing him speak of his struggles.
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14 Responses to On Not being Adam … Thankfully

  1. Mara says:

    I feel for that ‘Adam’, it must be so incredibly hard to continue as if you were a believer, while all the while you know you’re not!

    I’ve given up on religion a few years ago and can’t say I miss it massively. I certainly don’t miss the requests for money every other week or so (at least it felt like that at the time).

  2. Man’s Religion is what I call it…I’m SO sad that Man’s Way is not always God’s Way. I was a constant “searcher” for my path and eventually reverted back to my ancestors beliefs…spiritual. I’m happier…open to life and new adventures!Hahaa…I refused to let May’s Way, confine OR define, what God means to me.
    Happy day Ac….

  3. QMM says:

    Well A/C what a wonderful discussion subject. I have lost my interest in church, that is the church of today, but not my faith. I feel Jesus would not be happy about the way His church comes across today. I always go back to Acts of the Apostles to get the true feeling of church. The word religion is nowhere in that book of sages.

  4. judy says:

    I haven’t lost faith in God, but I have certainly lost faith in those who claim to represent Him.
    I find Him closest when He speaks for Himself.
    At present my emotions are raw on this subject, as the wolves in sheeps clothing are all about us.

  5. Ginger says:

    Very interesting post. I must say I do feel sorry for the play-acting preacher. It’s a tough thing to respect oneself in such a situation.

    The research on spiritual development shows that it’s very common for people to renegotiate their meanings and commitments in middle-to-later life, however that ends up. Sometimes it’s just that previous meanings have become flat and sterile, and sometimes it’s started off because of the loss of a family member or some other life-changing experience.

    Most of my extended family members–who I find to be delightful and enjoyable people to be around–have made such a shift, having come from conservative Christian backgrounds. What is nice is that they don’t feel a need to beat up on their past or belittle it.

  6. Pearl says:

    ah, tough spot to be in. when you don’t believe in the system you are a cog of, for mental health you have to leave. I suppose in his case his last bit of theatre could be to announce a vision from god for a new calling and dissappear to a retreat to sort of his of retraining job options.

  7. Dimple says:

    Hmm. I recently left “man’s religion,” as Donna said, but definitely have NOT left my Savior. There is a huge amount of unbiblical teaching in today’s “church,” to the point that it can be hard to find God. But when one looks for Him, He will be found. It is surprising to find Him in the grocery store, but He is there, and any other place where those He loves (which is everyone) gather.

    I feel sorry for “Adam.” He is, by his own account, a hypocrite (defined: an actor, someone who pretends to be something he is not). It is very sad.

  8. Bernie says:

    I almost feel sorry for anyone who is not White, speaks English and is Christian. They are the ones who “fit”in. I say one has to be true to oneself and the truth is always there in our hearts. We can fool others but who would want too, all that energy wasted.
    Good post my friend…….:-)Hugs

  9. KGmom says:

    What to say–first, of course your awareness that you picked the right path is good.
    Second, as for “Adam”–I think the fact that he feels he no longer believes shouldn’t completely negate what he has done. A minister cares for a flock, not just because of faith, but because of caring for people.

  10. Grenville T Boyd says:

    I must start off by saying ‘Ditto” to all of the above. I find that, today especially, organized religion or the ‘institution of church’ is vastly different than belief or faith in God (you may insert what ever you name you use to refer to our Creator). There seems to be too many ‘man-made’ rules, cerimony, rituals, and pomp in todays churchs. Organized religion seems to have become a fund raising operation to see who can have the bigger building, prettier grounds, best dressed congregation. Funny how Jesus usually hung out with us common folk. I think Dimple is right that you can find Him everywhere starting within each of us. Quakers have made that the basis of their beliefs, “That of God Within”. So simple and straight forward. Hopefully Adam will look within and find what he needs.

  11. Ruth says:

    Interesting post, interesting comments. Many of my “baby boomer” friends who were members of the huge youth groups of the 60s and 70s have dropped out too, but sadly, with bitterness and anger toward the church and God. (I like that you have not written an angry post) I totally understand why people leave churches and organized religion. But I do believe that we all have a spiritual nature that looks for fulfillment eventually. I will have to read your links on the weekend.

  12. Kila says:

    I’ve always thought that ministers go through cycles. They’re human. Sometimes they are close to God, and sometimes they struggle. A lot of spiritual warfare going on.

    A lot of people fake their way through their careers, not just ministers. (People change throughout their lives. Many go back to school, or would like to, in order to change their career path.)

    My faith has always been there through my life, but the strength of it fluctuates a lot. It can be easy to let it slide. It takes effort to strengthen it and get closer to God. I have definitely become more spiritual but less religious over the years. I would guess you are a spiritual person in your daily life, just not in line with any one religion, more of a mix of a little of this and a little of that.

  13. AC, I am a bit late in reading both this post and the comments. It was quite thought provoking. My childhood was spent growing up in the Catholic faith and attending Catholic schools from grade through high school. Once in college, my beliefs wavered and church attendance was not on a regular basis. A few years ago, after relocating here, Grenville and I attended a Methodist church within walking distance of our home. We got to know folks and they were nice, but within a couple of years, we were not feeling fulfilled and (to us) attendance seemed more of a social event. After being away for several weeks, we opted not to return and decided to keep faith on a personal level – prayers in our home and giving thanks – without need of organized worship. After a few weeks, the minister saw me in passing one day and asked “if it was something he had said.” I invited him to visit and talk about our personal reasons, after assuring him it was only a personal decision. He never called/visited and to this day hardly acknowledges us in passing. Other church-goers aside from saying they “missed” us at services (only when they would see us in the post office, supermarket) also never talked further and after a month or so never even brought up the subject. We noticed some folks seemed to avoid us once we stopped attending services. We have stopped thinking about it and just try to live our lives the best and most christian way possible.

  14. Regenia says:

    I don’t know how many of the people who commented are from Canada versus the US. I assume at least some live in Canada? I had begun to assume that we Christians here in the States were a pretty good example of why not to want to bother with Christianity. But from some of the comments, it sounds like universally, across national borders, we Christians can put people off, doesn’t it?

    Note: I say “we” because I am a Christian. But I have been distressed about what I will call the Christian “movement” (for lack of a better word) here in the States. I have some things I am going to write about that. The voices that are not totally “me” oriented, that are not predominantly political, are the loudest. To me they sound mean and at times truly hateful. I can sincerely say that we seem pretty obnoxious. No argue from me on that!

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