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Richard Dawkins and Michael Aus discuss The Clergy Project.

I look up to people who change their beliefs when the evidence warrants it. It’s just so easy to invent arguments protecting unwarranted belief. So I have a soft spot for honest sceptics and contrarians.

Even more so I admire people who change a (previously held) ideological outlook in the face of evidence. Particularly if this results in a drop of income, loss of a profession, destruction of friendships and loss of emotional security.

Just imagine devoting one’s life to a political cause, even being employed as a political party activist, because of a strong and genuine belief in one’s youth. Then later in life deciding you had been wrong. Do you stick with it – become cynical, continue to perform your expected role. Or do you front up, admit your changes in belief, look for a new job, ride out the hostility of your former ideological friends, etc.

I think this dilemma must be common with religious ministers, priests, Imams, and so on. If only because there are far more of those around than there are paid political party activists. Surely a significant proportion of these people must “lose” their faith. What should they do?

The above interview is of one such minister. Reverend Michael Aus came out as a non-believer on US national television on March 25th 2012. He was helped in his brave decision by the Clergy Project. This project was initiated by Daniel Dennett‘s research into the phenomena of atheist ministers of religion. It provides moral support and practical help and advice to people like Michael Aus.

I know of a few priests and ministers in New Zealand who have “lost” their faith, fronted up and so lost their job. These cases illustrate to me what a huge emotional and moral leap is involved. Quite apart from all the practical issues some of these people, Catholic priests in particular, have been thoroughly institutionalised by their Church. Their decision involves more than a change of job and friends.

I wonder if there is scope for a “Clergy project” in New Zealand.

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