’Lose’ your faith, gain your life?

By Ken Perrott 10/05/2012 3


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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3 Responses to “’Lose’ your faith, gain your life?”

  • Nice provocative title Ken. 100% with admiring people who change their beliefs when the evidence warrants it. I also admire people who are honest in their opinions and act accordingly even if I do not agree that “the evidence warrants it.”
    I think amongst Clergy (and I know many) many became clergy out of a sense of calling to help the oppressed, feed the hungry etc. On entry to the clergy they signed on the doted line that they believed in the basic tenets of the faith (belief in the physical resurrection etc). If they no longer can hold to those beliefs and preach them then it is right and proper that they leave the profession. Help from within and without the church is appropriate and there are many other professions where they can continue to care for others (and they may well pay better!). What gets me, though, is the few who purposely stay in paid positions, keep the title, and then deny the basic tenets – this is fraudulent. To take up your example with political parties, it is a bit like a Green party activist denying climate change yet staying on the payroll.

  • Yes, I am not thinking lf the situation you suggest Kiwiski. The examples I know are of people who have just given the lot away – profoundly rejected the basic assumptions or premises. Don’t see any hope for the organisation. I don’t think there is anything else one can do then but pull out and it can be extremely ahrd.

    I think the scenartio you are talking about is the common situation of leaders (paid executives) who wish to move their party forward. Bring it up to date. Etc. I think some religious paid executives come across that way (although the theological language they use seems sensless to me).

    However, the god “hypothesis” is so vague that it is inevitable in their attempt to bring that up to date with scientific knowledge some theologians, probably many theologians, will tweek the hypothesis this way and that. And this will offend others.

    I think this is one reason why the god concept has so many flavours. No empirical evidence to inform it. And it is certainly true that the concept of the theologian and priest is usually very different to that of the lay church attender.