Here it is:
I came across a fascinating article in the Washington Post by Daniel Dennett entitled, Skeptical Clergy a Silent Majority. The article deals with a study that was done by Dennett and Linda LaScola of the Center for Cognitive Studies at Tufts University. He begins the article by saying:
Here are some questions that have haunted me for years. How many preachers actually believe what they say from the pulpit? We know that every year some clergy abandon their calling, no longer able to execute their duties with conviction. This can never be a decision taken lightly, and many of them labored on for years before taking the leap. Are they the tip of an iceberg? Is there a problem of deep hypocrisy separating many pastors from their flocks? What is it like to be a non-believing preacher? How do they reconcile their private skepticism with the obligations of their position? And how did they get into their predicament?
Dennett and LaScola interviewed five Protestant pastors who are all still currently serving their churches, yet have given up belief in God (you can read full interviews here). Three of these men are in liberal churches and two are in conservative churches. Some people, I think, would initially react by saying, how hypocritical of these men to continue preaching when they no longer believe what they preach. I can sympathize with that sentiment but I can also sympathize with the preachers because I used to be in their same shoes.
I started having serious doubts about my faith sometime in the year 1994. I can remember being in El Paso, Texas preaching in a Baptist church and during the middle of my sermon, the thought hit me, you don't really believe what you are saying. It was a frightening thought and almost disrupted my sermon. I was taught to attribute such thoughts to the devil. So I went back to my room and prayed for the Lord to defeat the devil in my life and to increase my faith. I decided to investigate as thoroughly as I could all of the issues that were causing me to doubt my evangelical theology. I was in my 8th year of teaching in a Bible college. I never shared with anyone the nature of my doubts because frankly that is not allowed in strict evangelical circles. It was okay for students or new Christians to have doubts but not for a leader and especially not for someone with a Ph.D. in Theology who was entrusted to teach young people studying for the ministry.
At the end of the 1995 school year, I decided that maybe what I needed was a less academic role and a more pastoral role. Thus, I accepted a position as a Pastor at a local Baptist church in Arizona. I spent two years there and my doubts became worse. The last 6 months of my stay, I was convinced that the Bible was not the Word of God and that evangelical Christianity was like every other religion that exists, man-made. Those 6 months were difficult because I felt like a complete hypocrite. I had to get up and teach something that I personally could no longer believe.
The honorable thing, some would say, would have been to resign immediately. I agree but its difficult when you are married, your wife doesn't work, you have two small children, a mortgage and no marketable skills. What could I do? Resign and go to work at Walmart? It was a very difficult situation. Fortunately, in my case, someone approached me who was starting a new business, a recruiting business, and asked me if I would like to run the administrative part of it. I was delighted. I resigned the church and began my new career. It has worked out very well for me and I have been in the executive recruiting business now for 13 years.
So, I do sympathize with these men, but I also think that they need to find a way to get out of the ministry for the sake of their own sanity and self-esteem. In addition, they need to get out for the sake of their parishoners. I believe its wrong to intentionally mislead them. One of the pastors had this to say about his role:
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. Because I know what to say. I know how to pray publicly. I can lead singing. I love singing. I don’t believe what I’m saying anymore in some of these songs. But I see it as taking on the role and performing. Maybe that’s what it takes for me to get myself through this, but that’s what I’m doing.
I think that is sad and its unhealthy for the church and for the preacher. I wonder how many preachers are doing the same thing as this man every Sunday?
Here is the story of Scott Campbell , an evangelical Baptist pastor who found himself in the pulpit although he no longer believed.
I must also ask why do Christians have so many doubts if the Christian religion is true? Someone in the comment section on the article by Dennett and LaScola said this: Even the most devout and confident among us will have days when we step into the pulpit praying, "Lord, I believe; help my unbelief." To which another person replied:
I have often heard religious people say this, and frankly, it boggles my mind. This kind of crisis of confidence seldom, if ever, happen to people in other lines of work. A programmer does not wake up thinking that computers don't really work after all. Biologists don't worry that natural selection doesn't exist. Farmers do not question the wisdom or benefit of growing carrots. With all due respect, it seems to me that if you have difficulty believing something, or you keep coming up with reasons to doubt, you should immediately stop trying to believe it. Put aside religion and if compelling evidence emerges later on, you can always go back to believing. (I'll grant it would hard to do that if religion is your livelihood.) When a programmer develops grave doubts about a design, it is time to abandon that approach and try something new. A Democrat who decides Republican ideology makes more sense should change parties (and vice versa!). What possible benefit can there be to holding back and trying to persuade yourself to ignore a logical conclusion that fits the facts? It is an abuse of your own intellect. You can't do it anyway; your mind rebels. You just give yourself a headache -- or neurosis. It is like trying to eat food that tastes rotten.
He is correct. We don't doubt most things that we believe. Why do so many doubt Christianity? Could it be because its really not true?