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Social sciences: Clergy who no longer believe but stay anyway

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Eliminative materialist Daniel Dennett has been doing a study on unbelieving clergy, which he describes in New Statesman:

For the past few years, Linda LaScola, a clinical social worker, qualitative researcher and psychotherapist, and I have been investigating the curious, sad phenomenon of closeted non-believing clergy – well-meaning, hard-working pastors who find they do not believe the creed of their denomination, but also find that they cannot just blow the whistle and abandon the pulpit. We knew that many churchgoers have lost whatever faith they had but continue their membership for social and psychological reasons, and surmised that there might be clergy who were similarly attached to their church. What is it like to be a non-believing pastor? We found some examples who were willing to tell us, and are now completing a second survey of volunteers.

We want to know, ultimately, how this happens, and how common it is. It is apparently not rare – nobody knows what percentage of clergy fall into this category, not surprisingly. Our first study reported on five pastors in different Protestant denominations, who were interviewed in depth and in strict confidence by LaScola. Because it was published electronically (on the website On Faith) and under the headline “Preachers who are not believers” (Evolutionary Psychology, volume eight, issue one), this first pilot study has received considerable attention and brought us a host of new volunteers for our ongoing research.

How many, exactly?

There are many paths into this predicament, we find, but a common thread runs through most of them: a certain sort of innocence and a powerful desire, not for social prestige or riches, but rather the desire to lead a good life, to help other people as much as possible. The tragic trap is baited with goodness itself.

– Daniel Dennett, “The social cell,” April 13, 2012

Curious that people who believe in “goodness” do not believe in God.  And some of us would caution against believing anything that Daniel Dennett says in this area and against anything that could get published in a journal of Evolutionary Psychology , without very considerable other support.

From experience, clergy who lose their faith tend to start promoting political causes from their pulpits instead, often directly at odds with the traditional teachings or social patterns of their churches and the welfare of their congregations. The fact that they do not leave, whether due to “goodness” or whatever, usually results in the exit of traditional members to other churches that have not permitted such people so much power to redirect the organization. See, for example, Anglican use in Canada. (Episcopalians (= Anglicans) becoming Catholics).


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