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Catherine Dunphy came to seminary in her mid-20s, full of passion to work in the service of the Catholic Church. By the time she left, for many reasons, she had lost her faith. Photo courtesy of Catherine Dunphy


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(RNS) Catherine Dunphy came to seminary in her mid-20s, full of passion to work in the service of the Catholic Church. By the time she left, for many reasons, she had lost her faith.

“I had this struggle where I thought, ‘I don’t believe this anymore,’” said Dunphy, now 40 and living in Toronto. “I felt I had no space to move or breathe. I felt like an outcast.”

Now, 10 years later, she is part of a new online project aimed at helping others like herself who are isolated by doubt in a sea of believers. Called Rational Doubt: The Clergy Project Blog, it debuts this week on Patheos, an online host of religion and spirituality blogs.

Rational Doubt is an extension of The Clergy Project, a private online community of clergy who, for a range of reasons, no longer believe in God. Started three years ago, the initiative has grown from just a handful of anonymous members who supported each other on online forums and discussions to a current roster of more than 550 priests, ministers, nuns, rabbis and even a few imams.

The blog’s goal is lofty: to engage and support clergy and laypeople who are not members of The Clergy Project but who doubt or reject religion and feel they cannot confide in friends, family and colleagues. Clergy Project members — all former clergy who no longer believe in God — will write posts, answer questions and engage in discussions about religion, nonbelief and the journey between the two.

Linda LaScola, a founder of the Clergy Project and editor of Rational Doubt. RNS photo by Adelle M. Banks

Linda LaScola, a founder of The Clergy Project and editor of Rational Doubt. RNS photo by Adelle M. Banks


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“There are a lot of nonbelieving clergy, and the fact that they can’t come out is having a negative effect on their lives,” said Linda LaScola, a founder of The Clergy Project and editor of Rational Doubt.

“People should not have to suffer that way.”

And they do seem to suffer. LaScola, a qualitative researcher, studied nonbelieving clergy with Daniel Dennett, a Tufts University professor. The two researchers found signs of depression, stress and debilitating anxiety.

After publishing their work, they helped found The Clergy Project with Richard Dawkins, the atheist and evolutionary biologist, and Dan Barker, a former minister who is now a secular activist.

“I hope the blog will provide encouragement and support to people who are in the same predicament as the people in The Clergy Project,” Dennett said. “I think there are a lot of them out there.”

The blog follows the recent publication of “Caught in the Pulpit: Leaving Belief Behind,” Dennett and LaScola’s book based on additional research among nonbelieving clergy. In interviews with 32 men and women from Pentecostal, evangelical, mainline Protestant, Catholic, Jewish and Mormon backgrounds, they discovered that many, like Dunphy, started wrestling with doubt in seminary.

Most said they kept quiet out of fear of disappointing others or because they didn’t have anyone to talk things through with.

“I wanted to believe in God; all those years, I wanted to,” one former Presbyterian clergywoman says in the book of her time in seminary. “I wasn’t really sure if I did or not, but I wanted to.”

LaScola was so struck by the universality of doubt among seminarians — one called it the “dirty little secret” of seminary life — that she interviewed three seminary professors about how they handle (or avoid) their students’ more probing questions about faith.

“They were accessible people, they were nice people, but they were kind of ivory towerish,” she said. “They were sensitive to their students’ plight, but firm in their role as conveying the academic information about religion.”

And once the seminarians were leading congregations, they reported even more isolation and frustration.

“You do a lot of crying,” a Mormon bishop says in the book. “You try to talk to your wife about it, but she’s still pretty orthodox, so it’s hard on her. You’re alone. You’ve got no one to talk to because you’re a bishop … So it tears you apart.”

Will Willimon, a former United Methodist bishop and now professor of Christian ministry at Duke Divinity School, said seminaries and religious institutions do not usually have formal programs or resources to aid those struggling with faith. As a campus minister, he has counseled seminary students deep in doubt, and as a bishop in Alabama he helped several doubting pastors leave their congregations.

He says he respects those who find the strength to raise their doubts and leave the seminary or the church if it is no longer the right place for them.

“I consider that a victory,” he said. “Better now than when you are 50 and you’ve had your first heart attack and are miserable.”

The founders of Rational Doubt hope it will alleviate some of that misery. LaScola did not want to reveal planned discussions or articles but said contributors will range from former nuns to lifelong atheists. Many will be clergy who have left the pulpit after lengthy battles with a diminishing, and ultimately extinguished, faith.

Among them will be Dunphy — a founding member of The Clergy Project and its former executive director.

“We are all swimming in the same pool, but we are in the deep end and they are in the shallows,” she said of Clergy Project members and readers of Rational Doubt. “The blog will bridge that gap.”

KRE/MG END WINSTON

113 Comments

    • Frank,
      The preachers who taught you how to hate Atheists, so long ago,
      Have come to their senses and are today’s loudest Atheists.

      “Someone was tortured for your benefit” – Pastor _________ .

      It is not believable. Nobody can believe this nonsense anymore.

        • @Carlo,

          I’m not imagining that Frank hates Atheists.
          Frank lives by Psalm 139:21-22 which says “I hate them with complete hatred.”

          Here are the smug, condescending claims of Jesus who sees hatred everywhere:

          “You will be hated by everyone because of me…” (Matthew 10:22)

          “If anyone comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters–yes, even their own life…cannot be my disciple.” (Luke 14:26)

          HOWEVER..

          “If anyone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar” (1 John 4:20)

          HOWEVER..

          “If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you. (John 15:18)

          AND THIS IS FRANK’S TRUE GOSPEL:

          “Do I not hate those who hate you, O Lord? And do I not loathe those who rise up against you? I hate them with complete hatred; I count them my enemies.” (Psalm 139:21-22)

          • Max — Max– if you have the time, would you please take a little scripture course to understand the Arabic and Hebrew interpretations of those lines of scripture. You can not put them in the English of today. You would make a very strong fundamentalists in how you are quoting scripture literally. When your read scripture it must be used in the context of the time, culture and other realities. Of course you can also read scripture prayerfully seeking God’s invitation to grow closer to him and come to a better self knowledge and love of God. Scripture, for those who believe, is inspired by God. Yet, it is not like the Koran dictated by the mouth of God word for word as Muslims believe, at least that is what I have read regarding the Islam faith. There seems to be a lot of strong sentiments in what you write about God, you must believe in him if you have such anger and hate, for how can one hate or have anger towards nothing? As they say– if there was no God, there would be no atheists. Or is your anger and hate towards those who believe? If so, you are angry at the belief and put your anger towards the believer.

          • @Noel,

            Wait.
            Let’s put aside the Hebrew and Arabic class for a moment.

            Does one need to be a fundamentalist to see the important parts of the Bible as literal?
            As in:

            Literal: “He is risen.”
            Literal: “Thomas put his hand in his side.”
            Literal: “God is love”
            Literal: “Love your neighbor”

            Yet these are not:

            Not literal: “Whatever you ask, I will do it for you…”
            Not literal: “You shall not taste of death before I return…”
            NOT Literal: “For my flesh is meat indeed, and my blood is drink indeed.” (John 6:55-59)
            Not Literal: “I am the door”
            Not literal: “Be baptized and believe, or you will be condemned to Hell”

            Noel, my question to you is this, where does the Bible clarify what is literal and what is NOT literal?
            And if we can’t really know, why shouldn’t we dismiss the whole book as metaphor?

          • Noel,

            You said, “if there was no God there would be no Atheists.”

            That is like saying “if there were no Leprechauns, there would be no skeptic against Leprechauns.”

            Does that prove Leprechauns are real?

            “If there were no Loch Ness monster, there would be no Loch Ness Monster deniers.”
            Does that prove the Loch Ness Monster?

            Notice that the existence of doubters does not help the cause which is doubted.

            Imagine the ancient Pagans coming to terms with their doubts about Mithras this way.
            “If there were no God Mithras, there would be no Christians”

            So using this fallacy will get you to the point where you can argue that the fact that Christians exist proves that God Mithras exists.

            Completely ridiculous.

          • I am familiar with STRANGENOTIONS.COM and I sometimes post there as X-Christian. I’m not too impressed with the site.

            Fr. Barron’s defense of Christopher Hitchens is an example of the recent bizarre points of view I find there. Hitchens destroys religion on every level – yet the priest shrugs and calls upon the same thing which fuels Islam. He inadvertently defends the logic of faith itself . Congrats, Father – you just proved that Islam and Hinduism are true. Even though they are at odds.

            Literal vs. Metaphoric is the argument which kills the Bible as authoritative on anything.
            Nobody can refute it and nobody would try.

        • You say I am smug and condescending but look at the claims I am up against:

          “..bring to me those enemies of mine who would not have me as their King, and execute them in front of me.” – Jesus, God of love (Luke 19:27)

          Of course I must dismiss the whole Bible as worthless nonsense.

          • Hello Max! I will try to answer your points but I am preparing for the big day tomorrow — Mercy Sunday and the canonization of 2 men. Can’t wait to watch it on EWTN– I wish you would too but what I really wonder is if you would have the courage to argue some of your points on this very good theists and atheists site. Here is the link Hope to see you there — http://www.strangenotions.com/
            Well, yes of course there are littoral translations of scripture and I do not go by my own onion at all, I use a very wholesome source — Biblical scholars etc. In the religion I am a part of we go by 3 realities, Sacred Scripture, Sacred Tradition and the teaching magisterium guided by the Holy Spirit. Have a peaceful day!

      • No all preachers taught people to hate atheists any more than all atheists teach people to hate Christians. Some certainly are hateful. Many developed thoughtful ways of holding their faith and taught members to love everyone.

        • @Ryan,

          Well…Not all Preachers teach people to hate Atheists directly.

          But A Preacher who teaches Salvation must claim that Jesus
          offers an absolute exit off the conveyor belt to Hell. The “Devil” is anything which interferes in that effort.

          The Devil is ONE THING Christians are encouraged to hate.
          All sorts of people can manifest as the Devil – Jews, Atheists, tax collectors…even other Christians depending on who is making news that week.

          Only religion, with its absolutist theory of Salvation and Love – automatically preaches hatred in the same breath.

          Sick.

          • you got to watch us Christians we are out to hate you atheists all the way into being Christians and heaven with us ..

            mean while a max prefers that we just loved you all the way to hell..

            funny

            .

          • @Robert Boe,

            I don’t care whether you love or not. Who loves me or you is no matter to me at all – that is not my point.

            Jesus preaches ‘love your enemy’ but it is a directive of Jesus to execute HIS enemies:

            “Execute them” – (Luke 19:27)

            Religion is delusional. You are instructed by god to divide the world up and in return he grants you eternal life and you don’t have to die.
            What nonsense!

  1. An interesting article that I’m not sure what to do with. On one note, I must say that my seminary experience was phenomenal and solidified my faith more than I could have imagined before I started. Still, I was well aware that many call it ‘cemetary’ for a reason. I’m partially compassionate because many people struggle with faith and its is not always as easy as some would like to believe. I’m partially mad that these pastors would lead a church while not believing in God. What did they teach?

    • It’s easy as far as an intellectual endeavor. All you have to do is know the Bible. And the other part of being a pastor, service, requires simply a compassionate personality. Tons of secularists have that.

      The only one who suffers is the pastor. They live in a closet where it’s lonely and dark. My heart goes out to them.

  2. I have enormous sympathy with doubt-plagued ministers, because they are human beings just like us after all, many no doubt with families, who have to carry on with feeding their families despite their doubts or even atheism. Many are also middle-aged career changers who don’t have viable alternatives.

  3. The Great God Pan

    Is Ed the kind of person RNS’ own Chris Stedman had in mind when he said religious believers are inherently “neighborly” people? I wouldn’t want to be Ed’s neighbor. Stedman is welcome to him.

  4. Clinton Johnsnon

    Ed Giebel- children are safer in the care of those running the church? History has shown that the opposite is true. Unless you are in favor of molesting children. Got sure does work in mysterious ways. Just say two Hail Marys and see you next Sunday:)

    • …Which logically leads to a well-deserved Memo to all denonimational senior officials:

      Either YOU, the trusted top officials, git those “just-a-jobbers” outta our pulpits, or WE, the laypeople, will have to do it for you!

      And if WE have to do it for you…YOU gonna git some good ousting too!!! You better say bye-bye to ALL your Pension Perks (and that includes the pension itself)!!!

      • @DOC,

        Strip them of their pensions?? How cruel ! You are so unfair!

        These PASTORS WENT TO HOSPITALS TO BRING COMMUNION TO SICK PEOPLE! THEY GAVE ALL THEY HAD TO PEOPLE LIKE *YOU*!

        And on beautiful Sunday mornings these Pastors were not out fishing – they were at the church, opening the doors and cleaning the pews – FOR YOU!

        And if you went fishing instead, they FORGAVE YOU for YOUR absence!

        If any Pastor is out there hanging by a thread they need help and love – not cruelty from merciless congregations.

        Such is the counter-intuitive horror of religion – it is truly the seat of evil.
        Religion sadly reaps what it sows.

        • Oh, don’t worry Max, I’m just trying to get those senior execs’ attention. You hit ‘em with the loss of the Pension Perks, they start listening.

          But check this out: Back in the old days, out on the back 40, the clergy couldn’t even count on decent WAGES from their congregation, let alone pension perks!

          Back then, you didn’t DARE attempt to be a clergy, unless you were totally sure that God Himself would provide clothes on your back and food on your table…AND your family’s food too!

          You were hanging on to Jesus for dear life, no matter what the situation or how long the pain, because you knew that OTHER people would go down the toilet if they saw YOU getting flushed! You knew that YOU would never have any other safety net in life, except for God Himself!

          That’s why no “Clergy Project” and “Rational Doubt” mess existed back then, Max. You say you want mercy for “atheist clergy”, but YOUR atheism can’t rescue nor comfort them at all.

          Plus your atheism doesn’t give any clergy accountability. Gotta remove “atheist clergy” from their church pulpits, lest they send listeners straight to Hell on the ‘A’ train!

          It should be the Christian leaders, NOT the enemy leaders, who wrap their feathers around the younger birds (Luke 13:34).

          • @Doc Anthony,

            You are completely wrong.
            Atheism does give accountability. And protection to priests. It always has.

            Long ago in Greece the priests preached Goddess Athena. The ceremonies are lost today but the reliefs on the Acropolis give us a glimpse of elaborate rituals they performed.

            Before than, In Egypt we know from the Book of the Dead how important were the ceremonies – the population lived in preparation for an afterlife with Osiris and Isis, just as Evangelicals plan on an afterlife with Jesus and Yahweh today.

            Who came to their rescue those priests when these religions died? Who protected them when the old religions wore out their welcome and the Gods died?
            The Atheists! Those who never believed any of it.

            Today Yahweh, Jesus, Holy Spirit and the Theotokos are dying the multi-god death… and it is too much overdue.

            And the Atheists again are at the ready to help these people. The Gods must die. They never lived.

        • Looks like the “pension perks” proposal got YOUR attention to. See my reply to Atheist Max, see what you think about its specific points.

          PS…Will Durant and his atheism, has NOTHING to offer the Christian clergyman or clergywoman, whether they are doing well or doing troubled on any given day.

          A possible exception would be if the clergyman or clergywoman is in the restroom but discovers that the roll of toilet paper is empty. In such a case, a nearby copy of any Durant book provides a morally appropriate solution to the problem at hand.

          • @DOC,

            Please let the Seminarians know your feelings. These young guys need to know just what sort of work they have ahead of them if they become priests.

            Jesus said to judge others harshly, “if you deem “the house unworthy remove your blessings of peace.” (Matthew 10:13)

            Nobody is more unforgiving and cruel than Jesus – except his followers!

            Thanks for proving it, Doc!

  5. Ed, ever read the Bible? Many many people in the Bible who are seen as leaders committed adultery, killed others, were betrayers of Christ, and were not at all nice people. Yet the Lord according to the Bible used these same people and made them leaders. What does that say?

    • descriptive text’s are not prescriptive texts.

      just because some one jumps off a cliff and God allows them to live and later do something good does not mean you should jump off a cliff and expect to live and do some thing good..

  6. The sincere question might be were they ever 100% Bible believers to begin with. Maybe they went into the ministry because they had altruistic leanings and wanted to be of service to others and ministry seemed a logical choice.

    Or they admired a religious leader and wanted to emulate them. Or grew up in a Christian home and as they became adults were more what is known as cultural Christians rather than Bible believing Christians.

    • the question may be sincere, but it is a question which casts doubt on the sincerity of others in the process.

      several of them have written books on the subject of their de-conversion. why not read “godless” by dan barker, or “the rector who wouldnt pray for rain” by pat semple, or “hope after faith” by jerry dewitt

      why postulate speculative reasons for their departure from christianity when they are willing to tell you how it came about in their own words.

    • Gotta love “No True Scotsman” fallacies!

      Read Bart Ehrman’s “God’s Problem: How the Bible Fails to Answer Our Most Important Question–Why We Suffer” for a description of how and why Ehrman now describes himself as “agnostic leaning heavily atheist.” Or look into why Matt Dillahunty of the Atheist Community of Austin came to be an atheist. True, 100% believers in the bible? You bet! And it was exactly that certainty that drove them to non-belief.

  7. Stephen_Schlarb

    The worst cases are those pastors who lose their faith in the literal Christ as explained in the Gospel: that he may not have said what it credits him with; that he may not have literally resurrected or healed anybody; that there are other religions equally “partially” valid and equally subject to error, and may only represent people’s high aspirations, not an actual revelation from a “real” God.

    This type of non-believer, rather than being depressed, is energized and has a fervor for teaching this relativism and doubt to the church members. It becomes a “mission” for them to undermine traditional faith, and they gain adherents as people who have a superior intellectual understanding of these ancient “mythological” beliefs. I have had a pastor refer to the New Testament as “primitive”; elders who say the New Testament is merely the “words of men”, etc.

    They emphasize helping the poor and downtrodden in the world, in league with other humanitarian people of other faiths, who also do not take their original religion seriously anymore.

    • “They emphasize helping the poor and downtrodden in the world, in league with other humanitarian people of other faiths, who also do not take their original religion seriously anymore.”

      That’s so awful. They should be ashamed.

      Seriously though this type of religion is extraordinary beneficial for mankind unlike fundamentalism and those who practice it take it very seriously. That’s why it’s becoming so popular. Granted fundamentalists as a whole are very generous but the charities they tend to give to are questionable and their voting practices are discriminatory against all who are different from them. In other words, the fundamentalist faith is perceived as being the exact opposite of beneficial. If that bothers you or anyone else then work within to change how society perceives you.

  8. These Pastors who came to their senses are true heroes and heroines.
    Honesty and courage is desperately needed.

    Religion must die. And it will die if enough preachers
    start doing this one dangerous thing: THINK.

  9. These Pastors are not losing anything.
    They are gaining: honesty, self-worth, truth, real beauty, real dignity, and humanity.

    Religion is the smoke screen of life.

  10. samuel Johnston

    Somehow, ideas take Decades or Centuries to become widespread, especially when there are well funded interests to block the way. Will Durant published Transition (a youthful autobiography) in 1927. It details his alienation from his family and mentor, as result of his exposure to Modernism, while in Catholic Seminary. The book is especially important, because after its publication he went on to worldwide success as an Historian and commentator.
    In recent years, far too many well meaning people have not been introduced to Dr. Durant and his exemplary life. I fault the publishing industry bean counters who care only for sales, not content.

  11. Depressing. I’d bet that about 40% of clergy in my (liberal) denomination are atheists. I’ve even had some “come out” to me, imagining that I’d approve because I’m an academic.

    I’ve lived most of my life in social worlds were atheism is the default and religious belief is viewed as, at best, peculiar. I look to the church to provide a place where religious belief is socially acceptable, and to clergy to support me, to get across the message that religious belief isn’t just stupid. But it’s pretty clear to me that a minority, and I’d guess a significant minority of clergy not only don’t believe the stuff but have the sort of well-meaning patronizing attitude to us, the laity, that is seriously offensive.

    • @Thecla,

      You are lucky that somebody trusted you and respected you enough that they spoke honestly to you about their Atheism.
      Stupidity of religion? That’s easy. But you need to figure that one out for yourself.

      • Dubious yes but not stupid. Theology is a sub-field of metaphysics–you know, the philosophical specialty that deals with questions about the existence of numbers, Platonic forms and such, whether ordinary material things, if they exist at all, are best understood as 3-dimensional objects that endure or 4-dimensional objects that perdure. All this is esoteric and controversial but not stupid–in the way that (I would emphatically agree) Biblical literalists’ claims about the age of the universe, the origin of species, and middle eastern history are.

        Of course any reasonable person will have doubts about theological doctrines, and more broadly metaphysical claims: they are controversial and thoroughly dubitable. Anyone who says ‘I know that my Redeemer liveth’ is either a fool or a knave. Theological claims are speculative but not stupid. There are arguments, and logic games you can play with them.

        I repeat though: even if academic philosophers, including the majority who are atheists, recognize theological claims as interesting, worthy of examination and not plain ‘stupid’ the Folk, like Atheist Max and the majority of clergy are philosophically untrained and naive. They aren’t in any position to make sense of theological claims.

        • @Thecla,

          Here’s the problem: Why bother with gods?
          Metaphysics, theological possibilities, this, that, maybe, could be, might be…who knows?

          Atheism means “I do not believe in a God”
          Atheism isn’t the claim that God is impossible.

          So if there is NO REASON to believe why bother? Why invest another moment trying to believe when time is precious? Why not just speculate when the mood is right and treat it as a parlor game?

          Yet…I am told that I am doomed. It isn’t a game. These are the claims.
          And it is nonsense.

          • That’s exactly what it is–a parlor game. Of course no intelligent Christian believes that God give theology tests, or that one is “doomed” for getting the theology wrong. Theology, like all metaphysics, is inconsequential. Why bother with gods? Because RELIGION IS FUN! It’s a hobby, a source of harmless entertainment.

  12. Sister Geraldine Marie

    My problems with faith always stemmed from the problem of pain. As a nurse, I was filled with dismay when I couldn’t relieve a patient’s pain. I could support the patient as much as possible, mainly by listening. Still, pain was a great difficulty. As I’ve thought about it over a period of 50 years, I’ve come to this conclusion: Any break (intentional or not) in the physical or moral law causes pain and/or death. Frequently, in the physical realm, we don’t know precisely what we have done (or not done), to cause the pain, such as with multiple sclerosis; I use MS as an example, because although the symptoms can be described, the etiology or cause cannot. In the moral realm, it’s usually easier: a person steals a car and is caught and punished, causing pain, more or less, depending on the person.
    Now, is God responsible? I once thought He was but as I’ve written, a break in the physical or moral law(s) that I believe He created for our good, occurred. What else could be the result but pain? In the case of MS, He can cure it if He wills to or not. If we were “big enough” to understand His reasons, we would be Gods! That is where trust comes in. I can’t imagine a universe without a great intelligence behind it and a very kind one, too! I have found that truly intelligent people are kind people and I imagine that God is like that too.
    I hope these comments, brief as they are, will be helpful to someone who is struggling with faith.

  13. samuel Johnston

    Hi Sister Geraldine Marie,
    You are apparently an empathetic and useful person, but you have answered your own question by acknowledging “I can’t imagine a universe without a great intelligence behind it”. Darwin and many others can, but what I cannot imagine is trusting a God who has the power to cure an innocent suffering child yet refuses to do so. I know a woman who works at our local Children’s Hospital. She refuses to accept the God theory for that reason. Any any event, than you for your service to the suffering.

    • Or a God who will at least relive their pain even if he doesn’t cure them. What’s the lesson learned from watching those you love in agony? I can see a God who may choose not to cure a person for reasons that I don’t understand. But a God who stands by and observes a parent as they suffer with their suffering child, everything inside of them wanting to relieve and yet not being able to do anything….that’s not okay. Having lost a child is bad enough but to have to live with the memories of what they went through before you lost them is unimaginable to me. Since that child is not Jesus being tortured on the cross for all humanity there is nothing to be gained for the parent but PTSD.

      • KMR,
        Very well said.
        PTSD indeed. I know some people have removed crosses from hospital rooms because the idea of torture is a trigger.
        Just being humane and caring toward others is so much more helpful than these cruel, primitive ideas that God exacts a price for ‘sins’ from the sinless.

    • My three-year-old grandson’s diagnosis with cancer seven years ago was the death knell for any belief that I ever had. No “loving God” would allow the torment and torture that these children experience through NO FAULT OF THEIR OWN. I am an academic; I studied comparative religion in undergrad; I tried to believe. Then I spent a solid year on the pediatric cancer wards of various hospitals. I truly have no words for what I experienced and witnessed, but I became convinced that my time and money would be better spent trying to DO something, rather than praying that some nebulous “God” take care of everything.

      • @Rebecca – thanks for sharing that story.
        I lost a little cousin to Tay-Sach’s disease. There are no words for what these innocent little children endure. And the idea that they suffer for sins of others is too unspeakably cruel – especially as religious people so glibly toss bon mots like “at least they are with Jesus”.
        Such cold heartedness only adds to the pain.
        It is so much better when humanity steps in and makes a difference: offers pain medicine, brings a laugh, lends a hand.
        Life is hard enough without the burden of religion.

      • Yep. After reading numerous on-line journals of those whose children had cancer that was my conclusion also. Prayer is useless. Find some pediatric cancer organization and give every bit of money you can afford to give. That is what has the potential to change the world in a positive way.

        I am so sorry for your loss.

      • God has taken care of every thing in Jesus that’s why I will see my loved ones again. God even says this is not THE place of righteousness.. you may mean well but you can give me no comfort at all Only Jesus can because I believe..

        • @Robert,
          Your Wishful thinking is not heartwarming nor is it life-affirming.
          You have no evidence for your claim. The arrogance that says this life is not enough for you and so you will get another one in which you will better prevail – is an insult to this life and it deserves no respect.

          Rebecca has demolished such childish notions and shown the true value of life – if you cared to notice.

  14. These kinds of articles are often written in a way that make people of faith feel like “Oops, maybe I’m on the wrong team.” And those who hold to an atheist view feel affirmed that more are dropping the Christian fairy tale and “coming to the light” of contemporary humanism.

    But not everyone who has called Jesus “Lord! Lord!” has ever truly entered the Kingdom.

    Going to seminary, isn’t the same as knowing the reality of God’s Story.

    Loving a job, isn’t the same as loving the Lord and others.

    Servicing a religious organization, is not the same as being a servant.

  15. samuel Johnston

    Hi Know,
    I have no team, nor do I want one. Only those who wish to attach themselves to power think that way. Virtue, insight, wisdom, empathy, etc., are not group activities, though groups of common interest form around them. “Solders” or “servants” of God are simply excuses for persons to loose themselves in the larger cause. The problem is that the Nuremberg defense will not work at the “Last Judgement”. The heart that is not light as a feather, will be eaten by the crocodile. (ancient Egyptian belief)

  16. “There are a lot of nonbelieving clergy, and the fact that they can’t come out is having a negative effect on their lives,” said Linda LaScola, a founder of The Clergy Project and editor of Rational Doubt.

    “People should not have to suffer that way.”

    It’s having a negative effect on other people’s lives too. Devout believers trust clergy with their most intimate concerns, such as their struggle to adhere to their church’s teaching on sexual morality. They have a right to know whether the person they seek help from is a sincere believer or faking it.

    • The problem is that people are trying to use clergy for a role they are unsuited for and in many cases not even want. Clergy are not psychologists or licensed counselors, nor do they have a duty or skill-set to instruct those on the subject of marital relations. People should seek more professional help in this sort of thing.

      People struggling to adhere to church teachings on intimate relations are giving arbitrary and capricious rules more precedence over the people around them. People don’t sincerely look for help on this subject from clergy. They look for either validation or to absolve themselves of making a decision.

  17. Thank you for this report. As a member of The Clergy Project and a former pastor, I affirm its value to clergy who are trying to figure out what to do that has integrity toward all involved, oneself, one’s family, and one’s congregation. Having this public blog can only help.

    • @Mark,

      Congratulations to you. Your courage lifts me up.
      Thank you so much – it could not have been easy for you.
      Some of the saddest stories in religion are those told by the pastors who found out in the middle of their lives that religion is a huge blunder – but they kept on preaching!

      There is so much to celebrate in your story. I hope you will share more of it if you ever feel ready. Cheers, and welcome to reality!

  18. So much polarization here. In the space between “religious” and “atheist” is this vast continuum of ideas and ways of being.

    I know so many people who are doing the best work on Earth, helping people, feeding people, curing people, showing compassion to people, loving others in real tangible ways. Some of these people have “religious” identification – others consider themselves “spiritual but not religious” – while some are not interested in a “spiritual” identity at all, but simply feel that love is life’s highest calling.

          • To support your point you’re going to have to state a provable difference in how Christians love versus how an atheist loves. Because the Bible says so is not that proof.

          • The one who send us to Hell cannot be the one of infinite love.
            Love is actually impossible WITH such a god.

          • People choose to go to hell no one sends them there.

            Amazing how ignorant you are of simple Christian theology.

          • I see it every day. Love without God is not love at all. Love is not emotions or feelings, it’s not tolerant of sinful behavior, it refuses to leave peopel where they are. Real love is actually transformative both temporarily, circumstantially and eternally.

            I pray one day you discover it.

          • I am lucky enough to see real love all the time although not particularly from Christians. Objectively speaking the progressives among you for the most part seem to have a good grasp though.

            I lost my mother two months ago to a very quick cancer. The worst and least loving behavior without a doubt came from those who were the most religious around her.

          • “People choose to go to hell no one sends them there.”

            This makes no sense. No one would choose to be tortured for eternity. The conservative theologies of Christianity teach that hell is a consequence of one’s choice to refuse Jesus as one’s Lord and Savior. When my child disobeys me they don’t choose to be put into timeout. I set that as a consequence. I choose it for them. And if I chose no punishment that would be my choice too. And I could do that if I wanted to. If God is omnipotent, omniscient, and omnipresent he could choose the no punishment route or different punishment route also. According to conservatives he doesn’t because he can apparently do all things but choose a less harrowing punishment for the critical thinkers among us. Whatever. But don’t claim I am choosing to go to hell by not believing in something I find wholly unconvincing and completely contradictory. That is patently false.

          • @Frank,
            “Nobody sends us to Hell”
            What? Are you sure it is me who does not know this religion?
            Of course Jesus judges: He condemns to Hell.

            “or be condemned to Hell” – Jesus
            See John 6:53-54 and Mark 16:16

            God drops us over the deep ravine and tells us to pull the Jesus cord. But we are confused, or cannot find the cord – or misunderstand what that means… so Jesus cannot save us.

            What kind of love is this? What sort of theory of life?
            To whom is this intelligible?

        • “why do we need organized religion at all?”

          People seem to need structure and identity and tribe. I don’t fault people for this, it seems just a part of human nature. The problem is that people confuse their structures and identities and tribes with a sense of “WE have the truth, YOU don’t, therefore you need to join our structure, identity, tribe, etc.” To me, that’s religion. It creates a sense of “us and them”. It doesn’t love its enemy, but marginalizes anyone who doesn’t self-identify with the tribe. This looks nothing like love, charity, compassion, empathy, grace, forgiveness, or any of the wonderful attributes we would call “spiritual”.

          Frank says God is love. If that’s the case, then I love God :-). But, Frank, I don’t worship love (God), I simply try to live it, be it, give it, and understand it. I don’t interchange the nouns “God” and “love”, and that’s OK because real love isn’t bound to our languages. If the language of God helps you love people, then I say that’s a good thing.

          • JL-If you say you love God/Jesus and then don’t follow the
            Bible/religion no Truth is in you! Jesus said many will say
            to Me Lord,Lord and not enter heaven! We must follow Him!

          • Karla A says “JL-If you say you love God/Jesus and then don’t follow the Bible/religion no Truth is in you!”

            My truth is my love. The more I love others, perhaps even my enemies, the more I am a reflection of truth. Those souls throughout history who have loved others unconditionally, whether they had heard of Jesus, or not, are living truth. If you say that God’s love is not possible without first hearing about Judeo-Christian history, then you have made God into a reflection of yourself. If God is truly omnipotent, omnipresent, omniscient, and unconditionally loving, then any attempt to limit that God to some temporal history is a dangerous folly. True Love is not limited to Christianity.

            I do love Jesus, and by following the way of love, I am following Jesus. I don’t believe in God’s eternal punishment, I don’t believe the cross was God causing his son to suffer torment for our sake, I don’t believe that these particular religious ideas reflect Love. And if you think that God will condemn me for these ideas, then I respect your opinion, but would suggest that your ideas don’t reflect real love.

    • Love is the greatest gift, for God is love, but their works alone will not get any of us to heaven unless we believe.. We must believe and not doubt. Oh, I pray that turning back to God will happen in Jesus name, Amen

    • samuel Johnston

      Hi JL,
      “In the space between “religious” and “atheist” is this vast continuum of ideas and ways of being.” Well, yes and no, but mainly no.
      You raise an important point, however, except perhaps for my buddy Max, atheist
      only means non believer in any theism (and there are lots). It does not mean non- spiritual or anything else except to the “believers”. They are the ones who demand adherence to doctrine, loyalty to abstract propositions, and so on. Please consider this proposal: I will give any religion the same loyalty and devotion that I give atheism – namely none. I reserve the right to change my mind twice a day, and to hold contradictory positions (heck they do). What religion would accept me on those terms, despite any good works and/or loving kindness? I suspect that you have not put much effort into thinking about religion. It is difficult I will grant you, but it is such an important part of life and history, that it is worth the effort.

      • I don’t rule out the possibility that God exists.
        But I don’t believe it is real.

        Until there is some clear, simple demonstration to show that God exists, I can’t accept the claim based on somebody’s ‘authority’ or their ‘personal witness testimony’.
        Nobody appears to have the real demonstration that can be shared.

        Praying and ‘trusting’ seems like a very cheap and inconclusive method when it is the same method used by Muslims to reach Allah who is mortally opposed to Yahweh and the resurrection of Jesus.
        It cannot be enough.

        The more I look at it, the more religion looks like a mass cultural delusion.

  19. A man by the name of Milton Green wrote the book, “The Great Falling Away Today.” He said that this was coming and it is here.
    Whether you believe in God, or not will NEVER change the fact that He does exist and that those of you who do not believe have just allowed Satan to plant seeds of doubt in your mind, you feasted on it and now he has you exactly where he has been leading you for years.
    You say that you do not believe in God, then you don’t believe that there is a devil. If you don’t believe that there is a devil, then you cannot possibly believe in hell, death or the grave, since they are all talked about in the Bible.
    Who is to say that when a person is no longer with us that they are dead, or that they died. Oh! right!, because they stopped breathing. Well, where did breath go, when it left them? If you don’t believe in God then you cannot believe in hell, death, grave, air (which you cannot see), but you will say that you are breathing it. What makes you think it is air that you are breathing? You can’t see it. How are those trees really moving?. How do you that that is the wind? Who named these things and where did they all come from if not from God? I say to those of you who say you no longer believe sadly that you have been bamboozled, hoodwinked and sideswiped by that old sly fox…
    Come on ya’ll, don’t let that old sly fox take you with him where he is going… I say in love that you should fall on your faces before God and stay there until you hear from HIM!!!!

  20. It appears that several responses to Kimberly’s article are just bitter attacks on religion, with bitter responses. These attacks contribute nothing to a rational discussion of religion as a part of human experience over thousands of years.
    For Example, a comment by Atheist Max states that “Religion must die. And it will die if enough preachers start doing this one dangerous thing: THINK.” A statement that religion itself will die if religious people just think demeans at least 4000 years of great thinkers who were in fact the greatest minds, and religious believers of their time periods. More to the point, recent Pew research tells us that more than 90% of all United States citizens believe in God, however they define God.

    The Rational Doubt Blog (by its very name) implies that the purpose is to rationally look at issues of doubt and faith. I plan to follow the blog, and when possible add to the discussion. Is it possible for people at opposite ends of the “God Issue” to present their points of view without attacking each other?

    I am unashamedly an evangelical Christian, a pastor for more than 40 years, and hold four advanced University degrees in philosophy, theology, counseling, and education. I do not attack any person for believing or not believing in any idea. I would hope the same courtesy would be extended to me and to all who participate.

    I would love to interact with former clergy who no longer believe, and analyze all the strengths and weaknesses of religious belief.

    • Even though I come from the opposite end than you yeah I’ll have to agree that this blog seems like a great idea IF people remain respectful of all who choose to participate. Lots of opportunities to learn from one another if we don’t hang on to our own worldview with stubborn and closed mindedness fists.

      It won’t happen. Few people can tolerate doubt in one’s life as a permanent bedfellow. Desire for surety and the comfort it brings appears to be almost universal regardless if one’s intelligence. So people “fight”.

    • samuel Johnston

      Hi Dr. Mike,
      “I do not attack any person for believing or not believing in any idea.”
      Perhaps that is so, but your God (i.e., the Christian faith) does. As you are aware,
      the idea of faith as the litmus test originated with the Letters of Paul and not with Jesus. Neither did the doctrine of Hell as a just reward for the non believer. I ask only one thing of any academic, be transparent, do not mislead, and support your position with facts. Quoting the writings of men and attributing them to God is at the very least blasphemy, and trying to cover this fraud with another fraud – the fig leaf of “inspiration” would not be accepted in any discipline except religion. I stand as did Martin Luther to the Pope- Show me where I am in error and I will recant.

    • @Dr. Mike,

      My Atheism is a response to your claims. You have claimed something to be true so you must understand there will be a response to that claim.

      Do you preach that Hell is real?

      See John 6:53-54 and Mark 16:16:
      Jesus says one must “Eat of my body” and “Be baptized and believe” or “be condemned to Hell”, accordingly the beatitudes and doing good works are not relevant to avoiding Hell.

      That is quite a claim. It isn’t my claim, but yours.
      I simply say it is unbelievable.

      If nothing personal is meant by your claim.
      Nothing personal can be meant by my response to that claim.

      If it is not bigoted for you to preach Salvation to strangers.
      It cannot be bigoted to me to preach the truth to strangers.

    • @Dr. Mike,

      1. If you reject Hell, then you are rejecting
      “4000 years of great thinkers who were in fact the greatest minds,” (your words) and all their beliefs which were the foundation of God’s Salvation hypothesis.
      So don’t be upset with me for doing exactly what you have done.

      2. If “most Americans” were polled on any number of topics
      I’m sure you would find that Most Americans today believe Armageddon will happen in their lifetime.
      And this will be exactly as accurate as “Most Americans” who agreed the same thing in 1932.
      Polls are not a way to determine the truth of anything, except to see just how ignorant people can be.

      • Atheist Max,
        On April 25 I responded to your statement that “Religion must die. And it will die if enough preachers start doing this one dangerous thing: THINK.”

        I stand by my evaluation that your statement clearly equates being religious with not thinking. I also stand by by my evaluation that men such as Plato, Aristotle, Augustine, Aquinas, Kant, Bonhoeffer, and a host of others were great thinkers, and religious. True, they may not have been labeled with terms such as “evangelical”, but they wrestled with human existence and the great questions of life and came to conclusions that included the existence of God.

        No doubt you have wrestled with questions of purpose, and meaning in life as I have. I look at causality in the universe, purpose in existence, and life after death, and clearly see God’s activity. That does not indicate I do not think deeply. On the contrary, it indicates the opposite.

        Best Wishes
        Mike Hopper

        • @Mike,

          Aquinas and Augustine believed in killing people who were heretics.
          Religion must die because it makes smart people say stupid things.
          Though there are people who think and still believe,
          they meanwhile support a way of thinking that leads only to trouble.

          I’m not impressed with thinking people unless they apply that critical thought to their own beliefs.

          If God cannot stand such scrutiny that will not be my problem.

          “The further a society drifts from the truth the more it will hate those who speak it.” – George Orwell

  21. Romans 1:18-25 makes it plain to all that God is real. Creation itself
    shows God is real. The Bible prophecy that came true with 100%
    accuracy also proves God is who He says He is and that’s why we
    can trust Jesus Christ to be the Messiah/the Bible to be the Truth.

    • samuel Johnston

      Hi Karla,
      A naked declarative statement is not an argument unless it is apparent to all (Judicial Notice).
      In the pre-modern era there was no alternative to the creator God theory, so the only argument (in the popular mind) was whose God was valid.
      Since Darwin, we Moderns have advanced Evolution by Natural Selection as an alternative to the conscious creator, or God theory. Therefore, the mere fact of the natural world is no longer accepted as an apparent- to- all argument that does not need additional support.
      That leaves the God creation theory to be only supported by authority, in this case the Bible. Using the Bible as authority opens a host of problems not the least of which is who wrote what, when, and why………(certainly not God).

      • Samuel- Read Romans 1:18-25 and there is a great book called the
        Case for Christ by Lee Strobel. Creation alone proves that God is
        real and you can trust the Bible because of prophecy accuracy. Do
        some research/look into Bible prophecy that came true. People say
        they don’t have faith in God but it takes more faith to believe that the
        world just came about by chance/formed out of nothing and the Sun
        is set perfect so we don’t burn up or freeze. That is not just by some
        random chance. God is real/Bible holds up cause of prophecy accuracy!

  22. The strongest arguments can answer questions. The weakest arguments crumble in the face of the simplest questions. When those studying to be pastors and priests actually start reading their “holy books”, they finally start asking questions and religion always falls apart. It can’t stand up to scrutiny.

    It’s only iin the addled minds of the blindly obedient and fervently obsessed of willing slaves that belief can be maintained. Religious belief is VERY much like the blind belief in “big brother” found in Orwell’s “1984″. You have to be deluded and unthinking not to see the conradictions, impossibilities and hypocrisy.

    • P. Smith-Explain how the universe got here? You can trust Jesus/the Bible
      because of all the prophecy that came true with 100% accuracy. There is a
      great book called the Case for Christ by Lee Strobel that you should read.
      You can also read the Bible and research all the prophecy that came true
      with 100% accuracy/detail and that’s why the Bible holds up. Man is very
      disobedient and sinful so if you look to man you will get let down and that’s
      why the exact middle of the Bible…Psalm 118:8 says it’s better to take refuge
      in the Lord than to trust in man! Bible prophecy like Psalm 22 just can’t be
      refuted. Read Romans 1:18-25 as well. God is real/the Bible is the Truth!

      • samuel Johnston

        “You can trust Jesus/the Bible because of all the prophecy that came true with 100% accuracy.”

        In all seriousness, would it affect your behavior in any way if it were merely 99%? 98,97,96,……0. Would you care any less about your fellow man? Would you commit great crimes to demonstrate your despair, or would you just whimper away?

        • Samuel- Explain how the universe got here. For you to say that
          this world and all the wonder/design formed out of nothing takes
          more faith to believe in that than to believe in God.

          • samuel Johnston

            “Samuel- Explain how the universe got here.”
            You show how little interest and effort you have put into the subject.
            Try Stephen Hawking. He has several popular books and he is one of the best qualified experts in the world. I have read the Bible since I was a child some 60 odd years ago. You have not bothered yourself to read about science.

      • Evidence points to the Big Bang as how the universe got here. Now what caused it or what was before it no one has any idea. That lack of knowledge, however, doesn’t prove God exists It just leaves room for the possibility that he does exist and if a diety does indeed exist he may or may not be the one that Christianity purports to be real. At any rate, it is poor form to put God in the gaps for a variety of reasons.

        I’ve read Lee Strobel’s book. It is only convincing to those already convinced. It is not a strong argument even a little bit for a learned atheist.

        • KMR-The Bible holds up because of prophecy accuracy. You have faith
          that this world just came about by random chance? Look around at all
          the universe and all the wonder/splendor. That is not by random chance! Read Romans 1:18-25.

          • “the bible holds up because of prophecy accuracy”

            Nonsense.
            Jesus said, “Go get that donkey so that I may fulfill the prophecy”.

            Ridiculous! If I order a steak well-done and the waiter brings it to me he isn’t ‘fulfilling prophecy’. You are deluded.

      • Claims made without evidence can be dismissed without evidence. Darwin’s “Origin Of The Species In Nature” is backed with facts and evidence. Your origins of a specious nature are backed with fictions and religious violence.

        If you want me to listen to you and take you seriously, you’ll need to prove your claims first. Travel to where I live, come with me to a local hospital and visit the morgue. You raise a three day old dead body back to life. It has to be someone dismembered (e.g. decapitated, eviscerated, crushed) so there’s no chance that he’s still alive in a coma.

        If the dead guy gets up, I’ll believe. I’ll even reimburse you for your travel costs.

        If you can’t do it, get your “god” to do it.

        If your “god” can’t do it, then it doesn’t exist.

        If you refuse to come here and try, then stop claiming it’s possible and stop trying to tell me your “god” exists.

        Making dead people walk is YOUR claim, not mine, so you have to prove it. It’s not up to me to disprove it.

  23. Max Regrets about the typing errors — I don’t go by an “onion” at all (now that would be ridiculous) — I meant opinion and regrets about other misspelled realities.

  24. The bible tells all about people who ship wreck there own faith .
    it tells all about people who believe for a while and in the time of testing they fall away .
    now you know why Luther insisted God’s word should be pope over us not some human
    preacher

    www.whataboutjesus.com

  25. All men of all ages know there is a God

    The natural knowledge of God is simply a fact a item of Devine revelation

    .. The testimony of history simply bears this out Paul’s statement on Romans 1.

    the worship and the religions still found AMONG all the heathen testify
    sufficiently to ROMANS 1. that all men have a certain general knowledge of God

    Whether truly by nature or by tradition from their parents I am not disputing at this time
    Martin Luther

    from
    Siegbert w Becker in his book
    TITLED THE FOOLISHNESS OF God
    cf–1 Corinthians 1:25 about title..

    • @Robert Boe,

      “All men know there is a god”

      Nonsense.
      We are born looking for our parents. Evolution gives us this natural sense and we do not grow out of it because our culture nurtures it…for a fee. It is called religion.

      Like chicks who are never shoved out of the nest and learn to fly, the religious people go back to the well of comfort – the Paraclete – the inside of the egg.

      Your interest in Jesus, the sense that your prayers are being heard – is a carefully choreographed evolutionary brainwash. For a fee…and a very high price you pay indeed.

  26. all those 550 or more clergy members are just the tip of a vast iceberg as in fact many people drift into becoming some sort of clergy by parents or ministers.
    All they have to do to overcome their doubts is pray for guidance – they will be given the way forward.
    Joining some nonsensical evolutionistaas movement such as The Clergy project will do no good.

  27. I am a struggling Christian (almost non-Christian).
    Why don’t more people have a problem with the fact that a non-virgin was to be stoned in the old testament? This makes absolutely no sense to me. NONE

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