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.